First, while it's obvious the topic is on Oregon timber, "old growth forest" harvesting is a far more broad topic since so many contemporary Oregonians are -- like me -- relocated from other places. We come here with many diverse and often contradictory preconceived notions of society, science and industry. I am a centrist in my early 50s in favor of carefully managed and harvested forests whether these are private or government owned. Untouched forests of any age ore wildfires waiting to happen and are far from the pristine wildlife habitats that some pro-environmental people would have us all believe.
I grew up with and am writing a history of a now-gone major California redwood lumber company, Union Lumber Company of Fort Bragg, which got is start in the 1880s and set its sights early-on as a sustainable harvest, growth management outfit. This worked well until they could no longer compete against the mega-mills, the conglomerates like Boise-Cascade, Georgia Pacific and Louisiana Pacific. Indeed, Union Lumber was owned by a small family with few stockholders, never went public, and held its own with large second growth and early third growth forest reserves (with staggered plantings in all) until 1969 when Boise-Cascade bought them out. Almost immediately B-C got into clear-cutting the immature second growth, and went nuts working through the remaining old growth redwood and Douglas fir. The federal government forced B-C to divest Union Lumber properties in an Sherman anti-trust act and Georgia Pacific/Louisiana Pacific took over. It ended badly with LP closing its plywood and small stuff mill first and GP finally shut and dismantled the large log mill that had run consistently since 1906 (and earlier if you don't count an interruption from a certain major earthquake).
So, old growth forests matter whether we're talking timber with minimal human contact or thriving, tax and employment-producing lumber mill properties. In terms of redwood, old growth has to be more than 80% heartwood and this takes more than 80 years to achieve assuming the tree is in a mixed-age stand and has ideal growing conditions. As commercial lumber redwood sapwood, the pale near white immature fibers, will quickly rot. Sadly, more recently milled redwood is hardly mature, full of sapwood and it's mostly a waste of the buyer's money. In North Coastal California forests, Douglas fir is the secondary tree, was often seen as junk and stove wood (until the mid-20th century) and seldom achieved the large size of old growth Oregon or Washington fir.
Now that I have established myself as an Oregonian I try to promote the concept of sustainable harvest logging and timber management to those who will listen. So many won't even pay attention, especially those with no interest in history and no investment in our past. There were horrible mistakes made here as anywhere between San Francisco and Seattle in the timber industry. But there were timber firms that cared, and those provided jobs and tax revenue where it counted most. If Canadian lumber hadn't become so inexpensive in the last 25 or so years, and had environmental legislation become so much the chokehold it has become, we might not be having some of the socio-economic problems we see today. While the timber industry was full of booms and busts I still think a modestly regulated revived version is possible.
But we aren't likely to ever see true old growth fir, spruce or redwood in our lifetimes or in the lifetimes of the next two generations. And unless we find a way to make law work both to the good of forests and the good of society in balance, all we will see is more of the same mess we've been watching since the late 1970s. This has to stop.
The issue synopsis accurately indicates that old growth forests and old-growth trees are different in each forest type. As a result, management actions directed at old growth should never become a one size fits all approach.
Old growth in the Ponderosa Pine dominated forests east of the Cascades are threatened by unnatural crown fire. These systems evolved over thousands of years with regular fire, but fire that stayed on the ground. These ground fires reduced seedlings, recycled nutrients and regulated forest structure (age and spacing). In the abscence of these ground fires (caused by fire suppression aka Smokey Bear) these forests are jammed with too many small trees. The result is that fire that now moves up the small trees into the crowns and burns these forests severely--a form of fire that is unnatural and way outside their evolutionary framework.
Although it seems counter-intuitive to argue that thinning is important in old growth in the case of Ponderosa Pine forests it is critical. If we do not treat these forests they will be even more vulnerable to fire, insect outbreaks and climate change. Given the genetic importance of these legacy trees we need to act now.
My name is Jeff Bennett and I am a student at Willamette University currently studying forest ecology and policy.
The term old growth forest is not used in the Oregon Department of Forestry?s Northwest Oregon State Forests Management Plan. Instead the term ?Older Forest Structure? is used comprising approximately 2% of the ODF holdings at present. The state is not interested in owning or managing lands that might be considered old growth forests because the term old growth forests as well as the public understanding of what an old growth forest is, represent a threat to the revenue generation possibilities from state lands. If we value the complex and diverse ecosystems represented in old growth forests as well as their connectivity to our own well being, it will be imperative that we remove the economic incentives driving their destruction.
As a professional wildlife biologist I have the view of a scientist, not an environmentalist and am propelled forward in my thinking through the process of deductive reasoning and critical analysis. I have worked on the Northwet Forest Plan, helped to write the Aquatic Conservation Strategy to recover anadromous fisheries, and simply have taken numerous hikes in a daily interaction with old growth forests. The key to defininging, hence understanding, old growth forests is to view the landscape as a continuum of mixed ages of trees. An old growth stand is a multi-story community with trees of different ages, with multi-stages of canopy closure accompanied by ddowned logs and standing dead trees or snags of various sizes and heights. Sizes of trees arent important as all these fetures combined. Higher elevation stands do not fit the "eyes" sense of an old growth forest, but may function as one with all the aforementioned parameters.
Timber harvest is not the stand replacement event that was created with fire and wind in pre-settlement times. Planting after timber harvest with Douglas fir seedlings is not natural regeneration - it is creating a plantation of trees. But the following fact cannot be dismissed: in order to supply timber for houses which is required to shelter young couples who still are having babies and buying new homes (once the recession is over) then this is how the forest must be managed and this system of harvest will not create old growth forest.
I have neither scientific nor socio-economic interests in the old-growth forest issue but I have spent a lot of time walking in old growth. There are a few areas that were set aside by people with passion and insight and allowed me the opportunity to experience a real forest for which I am endlessly indebted to them. There is no cathedral so breathtaking and alive.
I have seen where these forests survived wildfire because there is no underbrush to encourage the fire. A few minor scars that are survivable. So...
My thoughts are that a forest has to survive the developmental stage to become an old growth (without intervention or population) and we need more of them. I live in forestry areas and have worked in the reforestation industry but I feel we need to show some responsibility to the future and not just look at the economic returns. It's time for us, as a population, to slow down and enjoy our world. An old growth forest is alive. A managed forest is a dead thing that ruins the sense of growth and renewal.
This is a very tough topic - any approach needs to balance a number of competing interests and address a variety of goals:
a) the majesty of an old-growth forest has a large value in and of itself.
b) global warming - is it better to harvest and re-plant with new trees for carbon sink?
c) global warming - forest management practices vs. massive forest fires.
d) sustainable harvest for industry
e) watershed quality
f) wildlife habitat preservation
I suspect a conservative sustainable harvest approach may provide the long term answer.
My family has a small parcel of 2nd growth Redwood trees and proper management is an ongoing debate. Should we thin the trees? How much? What will provide the best fire protection for the tall trees? How do we preserve our beloved mini-forest?
No easy answers for this topic!
OPB has been baited by a red herring dangled by the timber industry. Old forests are hard to define. So what. This complication is raised again and again by the timber industry and their allies in the agencies in order to prevent the old-growth discussion from moving forward.
The Oregon Department of Forestry recently framed the issue as "What is old growth?" and "How much old growth do we need?" In reality, we can act decisively and meaningfully without answering either one of these questions.
What is old growth? Answer: It does not really matter where on the forest continuum we draw a precise line that defines old growth, because there is currently such an extreme deficit of old forests that in order to restore old forest ecosystems that adequately provide habitat for endangered species, clean water, and carbon stores we need to protect and restore both mature and old growth.
The real question is NOT "What is old growth?" but rather "Which forests will benefit from human interventions such as prescribed fire and thinning and which forests already have the building blocks of recovery and do not require human intervention?" There is general agreement among scientists and conservationists and the authors of the Northwest Forest Plan and the Eastside Screens that stand-based protection of older forests (>80 years) is appropriate on the moist/westside, while tree-based protection (>21" dbh) is appropriate on the dry/eastside. These standards allow high priority restoration activities such as variable density thinning in dense young plantations on the westside and treating surface and ladder fuels to protect large old trees on the eastside. There is no basis for weakening these science-based standards.
How much old growth is enough? Answer: We don't need to know 'how much is enough' for another 50-150 years, so let's take our time and not be distracted by trying to answer this question prematurely. In order to start acting, we only need to know which direction to move. This much is clear - we logged too much old growth in the past, so there is too little old growth today. Our immediate objective should be to protect all we have and then restore much of what has been destroyed. This is recognized in the Northwest Forest Plan, the Eastside Screens and the statements of elected officials. Since we know which direction we need to move the system, we can start now without answering precisely where we will end up.
A wise conservationist once said, "We all want to save the old growth. The question is: What do you mean by 'save' and what do you mean by 'old.'"
While there is merit in debating the minutiae of the definition of what an ancient forest is, where we can certainly move beyond debate is in deciding what to do with our old growth. The answer is pretty simple. We need to protect it.
With just 1% of nation's old growth remaining (most of that standing in the Pacific Northwest) we have a duty to future generations to make sure there is old growth left for them to enjoy. And when I say enjoy, I don't just mean marvel at during a hike through the forest (although walking through an ancient forest is a transformational experience).
Enjoying our old growth forests is also about saving millions of dollars through the natural water cleansing properties of older trees. Enjoying our old growth forests is about keeping them standing to fight global warming by storing carbon pollution more efficiently than any type of land in the world. Enjoying our old growth is about maintaining habitat for fish and wildlife to support salmon economies and maintain essential biodiversity.
Old growth will not exist in a tree farm. So it seems to me that the issue is that a tree farm is NOT a forest. The experts that come from the logging industry only see trees as resources to be extracted. We need to decide what is going to be wilderness and what is going to be a farm. We need wild areas and we need lumber so there needs to be a compromise but I hate seeing our forests ground up to be shipped over to China to be made into cheap furniture and sold back to us in as crap in some WalMart.
i'm a remodeling contractor here in oregon, and i routinely find old doug fir lumber in the houses i work on. its not uncommon for find boards with 30-40 growth rings/inch. assuming a house built in the early 20th century, how old were the trees that this lumber was milled from. i've always wondered.
Our research forester is no longer on the line, and I think he'd be best to answer your question. But I'll ask him after the show and post his reply here.
I second Seans statement. While this is a worthwhile and interesting conversation, the more important question is how do we best protect all of our forests, wild places, and old growth. There is not much left. I am tempted to say old-growth fits the old definition of "you know it when you see it". Oregonians (and our visitors) value a stand of old-growth (whether 80 or 100 years old) much more than a clear-cut and a box of kleenex. Healthy, intact forests, however defined, do much more for our state than the clearcuts. In our states national forests, outdoor recreation generates five times more revenue than logging. It certainly inspires more wonder, encourages more tourism, better protects our planet from global warming, keeps our water sources cleaner, provides for better best recreational areas and wildlife habitat in the state, and improves our quality of life better than a clearcut.
Regardless of how you define the age of old growth, it is easy to figure out what forests are virgin forests and have never been touched by a chainsaw. These virgin forests are almost always old growth, though often of poorer quality than the old growth that used to blanket our state, because the best was the first to be cut. But even these virgin forests that remain, about 10% of our current forests, are being pursued tirelessly by logging interests. Logging companies have never been satisfied with the number of massive trees that they cash in on, and they never will be until permanent old growth protections are in place.
Old growth is not only about the trees, but about the condition of the forest - the amount of time the forest itself has been left to do what it does without human intervention. It includes disturbance too, such as fire or wind blowdown.
Old Growth is a tricky topic because humans have altered the landscape enough that now even the natural disturbance regime is no longer allowed to "work" as it used to (for examples, because of our fear of fire and our resulting fire suppression techniques, fires that do manage to ignite, burn too hot and become a real threat.
Old growth forests are important for the soul (we can really feel the synergy, and life-death-life force when we visit these rare places) and are important for science (these areas allow us to see how nature works on its own).
When we talk about managing old growth forests, we must do so with the utmost respect for the ecological processes that result in "old growth" forests. I feel its the realm of the top scientists, and that any forest management policy dealing with OLD GROWTH should have absolutely no input from the timber industry or politicians whatsoever.
The way this discussion is being framed - "What is old growth?" - merely provides a platform for panelists to take off on their broken record arguments. Everyone seems to be answering with a 20 second acknowledgment of the disagreement on terms followed by a canned diatribe. Especially the industry guy, who is paid to "get out the cut", not define terms.
The definition of an old growth is simple. "A forest that is self sustaining". One thing I know is that management is not the answer. Forests survive just fine without us..The biscuit fire will recover by itself. Old growth forests are not impacted by wildfires. Managed forests are subject to wildfire because they encourage undergrowth witch in turn fuels the fire. In the forests where I like to walk you can see where the fires have come through and the scars are minimal.
I also used to work in the woods. One of the chores we were assigned by the management team was to clean the creeks after logging. A HUGE MISTAKE! It destroyed the fish habitat. To think that we know more than nature is egotistical at best. We need to stand in awe of what is our legacy.
Tom Partin's focus on fire and disease in forests is another red herring, and one often used by the timber industry, which he is speaking for. The timber industry wants you to think that they simply want to manage our forests and "fix" them, but it's just an excuse they're using to take down the big timber that remains on public land. As long as we don't have permanent protection of old growth, they will try every excuse they can think of. Fire and disease are NATURAL processes, and a normal part of our forests.
Someone once told me -- "never ask a barber if you need a haircut". I might change that to say -- "never ask a 'forest products advocate'(Tom Partin) if you need to 'manage' a forest"
We have a small undeveloped acreage adjacent to the W. side of the Mt. Hood National Forest. It contains Doug firs of moderate size ( 2' to 4' dia at the base) soem soft wood and some cedars 5' to 7' dia at the base. Every 20 years or so we "thin" the firs and softwood taking only those that are of significant mature size leaving the slash on the ground and the smaller diameter trees - and never-never taking the cedars that we consider 'old growth' so that our kids and grandkids can experience the temple-like canopy and solemnity of a pre-historic forest enviornment. Six months after the thinning, it is not obvious that the tract has ever been logged. Clear cut swaths drive us nuts - because it is so unnecessary!~
I'm less concerned how many extraction units (millions of acres or board feet) of old growth remain for humans to consume, but rather what percentage of the old growth forest HABITAT remains standing compared to 1800, 1900 or 1950? That kind of measurement is more likely to help us visualize the scope of human drastic impact on 'old growth' forest. Can old growth ever be replaced? Should we log any or all of it or, set all old growth aside as an irreplaceable natural resource as wildlife habitat?
For years we've known about the many values of old-growth forests: some of the cleanest drinking water in the world, critical wildlife and salmon habitat, and world class recreational opportunities. But in recent years, there's a rapidly growing abundance of research citing the carbon storage capabilities of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. PNW old-growth forests can store more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem on the planet. As we've already lost up to 90% of the historic old-growth forests in the NW, isn't it our obligation to preserve these areas - not just for future generations, but for the future preservation of the planet. For more info, go to:
Tom Partin's comments about old growth and fire reflect the same old timber industry views that have been widely discredited. Treating all forests as though they need to be managed by the hand of man is ridiculous. Someone should bring up the recent papers published in the journal Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that describe the real factors that affect when forest fires occur and how they recover after fires. Findings also show that when forests are "managed" vs. left alone for nature to work unassisted by man they are much more likely to burn at higher intensity when fire returns. By putting off fires with the 100% suppression policy of the USFS the situation is only made worse. By the way some of the previously mentioned academic work was done by students and professors at Oregon State University. Mr. Partin talking about management of old growth through "thinning" and helicopter logging, etc is nonsense.
Fire is a natural part of the system and is driven primarily by natural processes. The attitude that when a forest burns it is dead and ruined needs to be dispelled. Fires are natures way of reducing biomass while and creating a diverse, mosaic of habitats. Nutrients are cycled, snags are created, wildflowers flourish.
I had the benefit of assisting the Portland-based organization Ascending the Giants that measures our nation's 'Champion Trees.' As I held the measuring tape at one end of a Doug Fir with a 9' wide trunk and looking up 220', I couldn't help but feel I was standing next to an historic monument as valuable to our nation's heritage as any historic building. With just 1% of our nation?s old growth forest left, we loose our heritage if log these trees. They are irreplaceable. Why is there even a discussion?
You can have old growth and harvest it and have plenty of jobs. New rule: All timber harvest MUST be done with muscle power - buck saws and horses. Maybe hot air balloons as an exception to remove the cut logs from really hard to reach areas. This increases employment - not only for the lumberjacks (real lumberjacks) but also people who care for, train and supply the horses. This protects the forest by not trashing everything - roads can be smaller and less developed, horses and men will not completely remove or crush every stick of wood. It helps to protect the climate as there is less pollution - yes, horses release gas, but not at the rate heavy equipment does. It protects streams - even if they harvest right up to the edge of a stream, the horses do not deform the banks like heavy equipment does. It does mean that the fat cats at the top will make less money and the local people will earn more. So it will probably never be implemented, more's the pity.
Logging is already one of the most dangerous jobs in the US. I don't think that making it harder for the people on the ground is the solution.
When I was a forester there was a guy in Northern California who had developed a yarder that sat on a pickup, which allowed selection cutting with much less damage to standing trees. He presented it to several of the timber companies in the area, but as far as I know they weren't able to use it since he was the only one who could operate it.
My point is, there is still opportunity for developing technology to improve forest management, perhaps through smaller landowners like Critias the Elder hiring innovative loggers to thin their land.
I think we ought to be preserving the fragments of old growth left on our public lands. More importantly, we should be preserving roadless forests. Timber production should be a secondary goal or purpose of our public lands.
We should be managing older second growth forests to recreate old growth characteristics, especially where we can reconnect old growth fragments. It is obvious that active timber management to protect old growth and roadless areas is necessary given the threat of wildfire.
The problem we face with regard to timber management is poor management, where industry and managers take the biggest, most valuable trees in the name of "fire hazard reduction". Worse are management policies that place timber production above all other uses or values.
The BLM guy just said that BLM was not meeting it's timber targets, but the attached file shows he's not telling the whole story. The BLM lands are in fact producing significant amounts of timber and meeting the timber targets that Congress establishes in each years budget. The short-fall in 1999 and 2000 was due to a huge batch of illegal timber sales that BLM tried to push through and those sales were stopped by concerned citizens who just wanted BLM to do what was promised in terms of wildlife protection. BLM needs to serve the people not the timber industry. The people want clean water, fish & wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and quality of life, not more old-growth clearcuts on our public lands.
The timber industry blames habitat loss on fire, but in fact fire is a natural process that does not destroy habitat, it renews habitat. Also, harmful logging still affects far more habitat than fire. See attached.
Thanks for discussing this important topic. As a retired forester, living in the heart of the Cascades, I was encouraged that you had a balanced set of speakers starting with Dr. Tom Spies. I have missed much of the discussion, but there are a couple of salient points to keep in mind if they have not been mentioned already. First, "old growth" has general regional ecological definitions; next, the amount of old growth changes over time; according to folks who study it, we are now at or somewhat below minimal level, thus attempting to rebuild the extent of "old growth" is likely a good thing, but on the other hand the Pacific Northwest was never a "sea" of unbroken old growth; diversity in forest age is good. Forests, including "old growth" change over time, sometimes very quickly, somtimes very slowly (the point being, this ain't Disneyland). Climate changes could have major effects on tree species distribution and fire in the not very distant future (decades). Tied to global warming and carbon storage arguments is the fact that solid wood is about the most energy effective building product we have, much better than concrete, steel or aluminum. Last, pressure from non-native weeds (scotch broom, garlic mustard, holly, etc) and animals (possums, barred owls, etc) have likely changed "old growth" and other forests in ways that we may not fully perceive, the changes brought about by these and native organisms, such as bark beetles and black pine scale may be amplified by global warming. Bottom line? Using strict age or size definitions of "old growth" is counter productive. Forest ecologists and managers will need all the flexibility they can get to protect all of our forests from impending ecologic and social changes. As for Oregon's Congressional delegation attempting to legislate a cutting limit based on age or size, that makes about as much sense as them passing a law requiring pigs to fly. We would likely be better served, in fact if they did the latter.
As a former forester and current insurance adjuster, I would like the posters who want to "leave the forest alone" to consider the big, complicated picture in land use. If you were the one with the responsibility to make these decisions, looking at 10 little redwoods sprouts coming out of one stump choking each other out for the sun, I think you'd start to understand the complexity of issue.
Some things to consider:
1. We all use wood, whether it comes from our forests or is shipped in from Canada or New Zealand. Everything we buy is shipped on a palette made of wood.
2. Killing the timber industry locally leads to private forest lands being sold off into smaller tracts and houses, which leads to more roads and traffic that is more frequent than logging operations, where roads are used during the summer (creating exponentially less runoff into rivers) and then not used for 10 or more years. Small housing units out in the wilderness are a big reason why the Forest Service and state governments expend so much money fighting forest fires rather than letting them burn.
I worked in 80 year old second and third growth forests that activists were calling old growth. They were beautiful forests, which should be a relief and an inspiration to us to work together to sustainably harvest local timber. We can have wood and healthy forests, but we have to be on the same page about what that means. 80 year old trees, while they may be "large" (whatever that means), are still young and fast growing, and usually crowded so close together that crown fires are more likely. You can remove 1/4 of the trees in the stand and make the whole stand more healthy (less susceptible to disease and crown fire.)
Your experts on both sides have agreed that old growth should not be defined by a tree's age, yet you seem to continue to push that agenda. This idea is primarily proposed by those who want to prevent any tree over an "accepted age" of "Old Growth" to be cut. Old Growth is a system and any forest as a continuum can grow into that system if allowed time and the surrounding forests around are not so poorly managed that they cause the subject area to be destroyed by fire or pest. So many view all man's activity in the forest as bad and only "natural" events as good. This is too simplistic and ignorant of our current situation, the fact that humans are part of nature, and we don't have the luxury of letting 500,000-15 million acre fires (as ice cores suggest) burn just because it's "natural". Furthermore, this idea that fires don't harm old growth, just the under brush is classic environmental romanticism. Harvesting through thinning AND clear cuts are a way to more beneficially replace the healthy effects of fire, provide products that we need, jobs we desire and "sustainable" communities.
I think the best scenario would be to have so much "Old Growth" that we felt good about harvesting some. We are not there yet, but I can clearly see many actions of those wanting to "protect" the forests are having the opposite effect. The reason to ask "How much Old Growth do we need" is to reduce the log jamb of lawsuits that prevent of getting anything done to both protect our endangered forests from lack of management and provide products.
I think the guests facts are worth repeating as I recall them, (for Or & WA) we are harvesting 4% of the annual biomass, 46% is lost to fire and pests, and we are growing 50% more every year. Wouldn't you like to have that return in your 401K. We are clearly heading towards more "old growth" just with incredible inefficiency and with a terrible waste of a valuable resource whose substitutes we use with a greater cost to our planet.
The most overused and abused term by all around here is "sustainable harvest". Here in NW Oregon we are blessed with soil and climate conditions such that we have been harvesting for over 50 years from 2nd growth clear cuts that grew up after the previous so called "unsustainable" harvest methods of our ancestors. 50 years of evidence that is routinely ignored again and again by all.
One of the many indirect consequence of shutting down the federal forests to harvesting, (for all practical purposes) besides the now 20 times annual loss of wood to fire and pest verse harvest, is the increase in pressure on private lands (and re-tooling of mills for small wood) that has reduced their harvest cycle time by decades and the loss of most mills that can handle large wood, thus dramatically reducing its value. With little value, there is little economic incentive for private land owners to let their trees get over 32".
On a side note, a 24" DBH tree has 5-7 times the wood of a 12" tree. You could argue to save the big tree and thin the others or to cut the big tree and let 5 survive for much less cost and energy output for the same material. Or as often the case, don't touch any of them and ignore the fact that you now import wood or use plastic or steel in their place.
Finally, what is seldom ever asked of opponents to (name your subject) (harvesting in this case ) is, what is the alternative substitute product they suggest and why is that better? The "save all trees" attitude seems to ignore there are 7 billion people that wake up everyday that need things. And what better product than one that is renewable, solar powered, reduces green house gases, provides habitat, clean water & other services (even as a clear cut), jobs, taxes etc. Instead, even with our vast timber resources, the US is now a net timber importer, figure that carbon foot print out!
As an alternative view to the "thinning only approach" espoused by so many, admittedly or not, for aesthetic reasons, small clear cuts are a way, way more efficient (the same reason you drive your Prius), method to harvest wood, provide many of the benefits of fire and can leave more area undisturbed for much longer time periods, perhaps even to to become old growth!
I encourage all to read "Green Spirit" by Patrick Moore (co-founder of Green Peace and pro-logging) for enlightenment. www.greenspirit.com
"The most difficult to educate about forestry are those that are educated" Old time logger.
Just over a month ago I was privileged to go on a whale-watching jaunt off Tofino, BC, in the Canadian Pacific Rim National Park. The park is home to what is said to be the world's second largest old-growth temperate rain forest. Even so, according to our guide, the park's "protected" ecology is very much under threat from logging and other developments outside the park.
For example, he pointed out that up until about 10 years ago the average yearly rainfall amount in Tofino was 12 feet. Over the last several years, as more logging and development have threatened Western Vancouver Island, that amount has dropped one quarter to 9 feet annually. Most of the logging, sadly, was clear cutting, which raises other issues of erosion and riches of biodiversity lost--likely never to be replaced--in the logging process. But it also illustrates how interdependent our world is. Protecting species only within certain boundaries is not enough to ensure their survival. And micro-climates are very much affected by what happens outside those boundaries.
That same weekend I visited a very small reserve (probably fewer than 20 acres) back toward the east side of Vancouver Island. In the reserve I encountered the shell of a tree a nearby interpretative sign explained had been the victim of arson in the 1970s. The tree, at the time of the fire, had been more than 300 years old. It broke my heart realizing that anyone could be so cruel to deliberately set fire to such a grand monument of life.
Long-lived forests are important for watersheds, erosion prevention, plant diversity, wildlife habitat, and ever-present reminders to humanity of our part, our intregration in life systems locally and globally. No matter how carefully a timber company manages a logging area, it can never restore a logged area to what it was before "harvesting." It's no accident old-growth forests are referred to as "virgin."
I find it disturbing that of the four guests invited to speak, three of them represent organizations that depend on unsustainable logging. The content of the posts on this discussion page were much more thoughtful and informative than the sound bites and slogans offered by the likes of Tom, Tom, and Mike.
I currently work in and was born and raised in the forests of western Oregon. The old growth forests are close to my heart. In my opinion many members of the forestry industry and many forest policy workers could benefit from a broader and more long term perspective, as well as a reassessment of value. For all practical purposes the old growth forests are irreplaceable, at least in terms of the human lifespan, it takes many hundreds of years (or thousands in the case of virgin forests) to develop the ecological balance and complexity represented in an ancient forest. So the question I would pose is this. What is more valuable at this time in history, a relatively small amount of money, or an irreplaceable and ancient expression of nature? In my opinion money is cheap, especially from a global perspective, there is just so much of it, and the revenue generated from the removal of these forests would be practically imperceivable in the global economic context. Not only would the revenue be relatively small but there are so many different opportunities to produce revenue, and money is just money, it looks and performs the same no matter how it was obtained. But the ancient forests are becoming rare, and once you remove them they are gone for good, at least within the human timescale. It is my opinion that the remaining ancient forests are FAR more valuable to the human community as forests than any potential financial gains would be that were obtained through their removal.
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