Your Green Home: John Muir Update: Save Our Forests and the Planet | Columnists
“…bold action is needed immediately to preserve not only old and mature trees, but entire national forest ecosystems…” — Carole King, composer and conservationist
Drive on the back roads of America and you will always see pretty countries, farms and villages, small waterways. Well, almost always.
Passing through lovely Olympia, Washington recently, my wife and I decided to continue heading back into Oregon not on the main road, I-5, but west on a winding country road to the Pacific coast, then south. I was looking forward to driving through the legendary forests of western Washington, snapping some photos along the way, and returning home inspired.
But instead of enjoying the forests, we drove through 40 continuous, depressing kilometers of huge stumps, clear-cut in every direction as far as the eye could see. Not a tree, not a village; a single isolated trailer on the entire course.
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I conjured this image to point out some men I had met at a recent party on the Oregon coast. One had claimed it was the state governor’s fault that the local economy was depressed – it wouldn’t allow enough logging, and it’s county taxes on logging companies who supported public schools in the region.
This conversation took place a few miles from the once thriving sawmill town of Toledo. There, the logging companies had indeed had carte blanche and had carried out a clear cutting of the entire area before withdrawing, leaving the city on the verge of collapse in the 1950s.
Luckily for Toledo, a national forest products company bought the facility and turned it into a pulp mill, making paperboard. However, not all former logging towns were so lucky, and many are essentially abandoned.
The remaining forests scattered along the coast would disappear within a few years if forestry interests had unrestricted access to harvest. And it’s doubtful that a local revenue tax will sustain modern schools with their cafeterias, playgrounds, buses, and diverse staff. The often dubious rationalizations for unfettered logging must be replaced with conservation laws if we are to preserve what is left of our coastal ecosystem.
But today there is more at stake than the preservation of forests, especially ancient forests, for themselves – for their intrinsic magnificence and unrivaled biodiversity. What’s at stake is the health, and perhaps the survival, of the entire biosphere, as ancient forests remain one of the planet’s major carbon sinks.
Currently, according to the US Forest Service, our forests sequester 866 million tons, or 16% of US emissions each year, at virtually no cost to taxpayers. But, according to a November 2021 letter to the Biden administration and Congress signed by 200 leading environmentalists, climate scientists and forest management experts, logging on federal lands emits 766 million tons of ‘unaccounted CO2’. per year, which is comparable to our emissions from burning coal. and the construction of combined buildings.
Clearly, deforestation must be largely halted if we are to meet our emissions targets.
Yet we need forest products for construction and other purposes. An instantaneous cut in forestry supplies would mean the almost instantaneous collapse of our building, paper and biofuel industries. So the question is how to preserve our forests while continuing to provide reasonable levels of forest products – how to harvest sustainably.
The answers are complex, but some solutions quickly become obvious. First, stop cutting America’s forests for export. While this would hurt some companies’ profits, it will simultaneously make more products available to the US construction industry, restoring some balance to the overall national economy.
Second, stop cutting down natural forests for biomass, much of which is exported to the EU as ‘sustainable’ fuel.
Finally, retool to produce paper products from hemp, not trees. We’ll explore these and other strategies in future articles in our Green Home.
Philip S. Wenz is an environmental researcher and writer. Read more articles from his series Your Ecological Home on his website at firebirdjournal.com.
So the EPA can simply tell coal plants to clean up their act and, unable to offer them any positive alternatives, let them figure out how to do it – force a much more costly transition in the long run. Preventing this would require a much deeper foray into the legal quagmire of adjudicating Congress’ regulatory intent than the Court likely should have plunged into in the first place.