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Are Forests Still Green After the Leaves Fall?


The September 2003 issue of PERC Reports, a publication of the prestigious Center for Free Market Environmentalism in Bozeman, Montana, contains a sure to be controversial article entitled "Keeping Forests Green" by J. Bishop Grewell.

Focus of the piece is environmental certification of those in the forest products industry and the standards that should be imposed. The author states that such a process helps consumers select products that experts have deemed eco-conscious. Who are these experts and what are their credentials? It would appear that they are not members of the well-educated, experienced forest management profession, who for years had the distinction of being the experts. And, indeed a very noble profession.

Proceeding through the article it becomes more and more apparent that the so-called experts are to be found in the radical, decidedly left environmental movement. If it were comprised of common-sensical, objective, honest, pro-traditional American values individuals, participation in some type of certification might be appropriate. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more evident that the interests of the environmentalists are not about the welfare of the forests and the creatures they support, but rather on power and the control of people's lives. And, if any cave-ins dealing with certification are deemed able to satisfy the movement's insatiable appetites, those buying into such are committing gross errors.

Unfortunately, the true conservationists and wise-users have fallen down, allowing the radical left to get the upper hand with their effective distortions, deceptions, lies, plays on emotions, and unscientific rantings. There is a crying need for a counterattack, but certainly not on the radical's terms. It is not really a major challenge since it is so easy to blow the left's arguments out of the water.

Grewell notes that in the early 1990's the forest product industry came under fire for clearcutting, chemical use, and inadequate protection of wildlife habitat, but he fails to mention whether or not he feels these were legitimate concerns. First, what the devil is wrong with a clearcut? And since by law the trees belong to the property owner, is not this a property rights issue? Should not a landowner be able to do anything he desires with his property unless activities have a significant effect on his neighbors or a public resource?

Clearcutting is a very sensible professionally accepted forest management practice, especially when dealing with short-lived, shallow-rooted tree species that are highly vulnerable to blowdown. Partial cuts can increase the risk of subsequent blowdown. Clearcutting does not destroy wildlife habitat, as often claimed, but modifies it to the benefit of some species and the detriment of others. Openings are generally very short-lived, with Mother Nature filling the voids with sapling forests. And, clearcuts help to maximize floral and faunal diversity. Are not biological diversity and all sorts of other diversities the pets of environmentalists? Extensive unicultures can be quite monotonous both from an aesthetic standpoint and in respect to biodiversity. Speaking of aesthetics, what a pleasant experience it is to behold the splendor of fireweed in full bloom on a recent clearcut site.

The author offers no explanation of the supposed problems with the use of chemicals. And, is the reader to assume that the private landowner is responsible for the protection and management of the wildlife resource? Those versed in the law know that such responsibilities are vested in each of the states, except for migratory species which are delegated to the federal government.

This discussion brings back memories of the very successful resolution of conflicts between the use of the land for forest products and critical wildlife habitat in the spruce-fir country of northern Maine and New Hampshire long before Earth Day was ever thought of. This success story did not receive the attention it deserved, probably because of the courteous way it was conducted. Mature softwood shelter is critical habitat for the white-tailed deer during the winter months. State wildlife biologists contacted the various paper companies when scheduled pulp operations threatened an established deer wintering area. All the involved companies were very cooperative and many acres of softwood shelter were set aside, perpetuating the wintering areas in question.

The biologists did not scold the companies, but rather told them they recognized that: they owned the properties, the need for them to conduct economical operations, the tightness of their schedules, and that they were not delegated the responsibility for the welfare of wildlife. Certainly a gentlemanly way to behave with none of the name calling or rock throwing that is so common in present day dealings.

Getting back to basics, which seems to be neglected in this green forest article, has anyone truly analyzed problems and identified needs that would lead to the conclusion that some type of certification is essential? Of course, in this modern age of environmentalism the essential elements of planning seem to have become passé. Often the important thing is not what makes sense, but rather what gives one a good feeling.

Once again going back in history, in 1991 there appeared a publication entitled Montana Forestry BMPs (Best Management Practices) authored jointly by a specialist with the Montana State University Extension Service and the Education Coordinator with the Montana Logging Association. It appeared that the assumption was that there was a need for tighter control of operations. The booklet dealt with road construction, streamside management, and timber harvesting. And, it was very sensible. A subsequent followup indicated that the vast majority of the forest owners were already voluntarily complying with the BMP's. This does not seem out of the ordinary, since most sensible people realize that the private landowners are the best stewards. Hopefully, Montana still makes sense.

Despite the serious questions regarding problems and needs, J. Bishop Grewell appears to be supportive of some sort of mandatory certification over the forest products industry. One would hope that a graduate of the noble Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies would exhibit a greater degree of objectivity. In her "From the Editor" preface, Jane Shaw states that Grewell offers a qualified yes for certification. It appears that the qualified yes refers to the nature of the process. Two such are discussed in some detail.

One is the Sustainable Forest Initiative which resulted from International Paper Company taking the charge and using its influence to push the American Forest and Paper Association to develop certification of its own. It requires: research into pest management, that clearcuts be no larger than 120 acres, "green up" requirements, and numerous other standards and measures. All this would be fine if it were sensible and necessary, but to what extent does this represent a cave-in to the bullying and intimidation of the power hungry, radical, well-healed environmental movement? A spokesman for International is quoted as saying that the SFI originated with the realization that the Forest Industry lacked credibility with the American public. If this were the case, why did not they take their case to the people, rather than pandering to those who are out to adversely effect their ability to exist, or, even worse, to destroy them?

The other one is the Forest Stewardship Council, which, in contrast, is an international certification program developed by environmental organizations, led by the radical World Wide Fund for Nature. It was founded after the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit failed to achieve a binding forestry convention. And, it is funded by private foundations. Does not this all have a bad taste and odor? It certainly should to those knowledgeable individuals who truly appreciate traditional American values and way of life.

This Council claims to have the most rigorous standards. What a claim to fame. It limits clearcuts to 40 acres, a size they contend mimics the range of a natural fire. What nonsense. And, as to be expected, there are a number of socio-economic requirements that include consultations with indigenous peoples, standards that address the general welfare and finances of employees, and assessments of social impacts of logging operations. Indeed, the Council wants to conform to all the rules of political correctness. Is any consideration given to landowner rights? The thought comes to mind as to whether in the United States the people or the government truly appreciates the vast amount of habitat the private landowner provides for the public's wildlife, free of charge? And, in respect to third countries, why so many of them are in dire straits from big brotherism and goody-goodness?

The author goes on to pose the question as to which system is better. Again, he definitely appears to be all for certification. Certainly, those sympathetic with free market environmentalism should find this quite bothersome. Grewell compares the above choice to asking whether Coke or Pepsi is empirically better and which should dominate the world market. A rather absurd analogy. Get real. Then he says healthy competition between the two brands of certification has provided benefits: environmental innovation for the Initiative and practical restraints with the Council. Hopefully, this discussion has made it clear that the entire matter is unhealthy.

But the author continues with the diatribe. The Forest initiative is tailored more for large forest product companies which, oh my gosh, often grow trees on plantations, while the Council works better for small landowners who do not use intensive forest management and produce wood for niche products or green buildings. One must consult an ultra-modern forestry textbook to figure what this is all about.

Finally, Grewell concludes that questions about motivation remain. This should not apply to those of the green environmentalists. As has been noted their mission is clear. And yes, forests are still green after the leaves fall as long as the watermelons (green on the outside, red in the center) are in control.

Nate Dickinson
September 29, 2003

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