A rough draft of a letter I am writing for the paper, for elected officials, and whoever else I can think of. I’ve got some work to do to this and will try to cite sources as well.
My name is Eddie Black and I have served my country in two wars, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I come from a hard-working family in Arkansas that is employed by the local timber mill. I say this, not that it will validate my claim, but to detract from those who would attack them with fallacious arguments of my being a hippy.
Again the Tongass National Forest is being attacked by special interests. There is a proposal on the table now that would increase clearcutting of this national treasure six-fold. Just who is proposing this plan to attack the few remaining Ancient Forest ecosystems left, you wonder? The U.S. Forest Service.
According to economist Randall O’Toole the U.S. Forest Service cost U.S. taxpayers $250-$500 million dollars a year in money losing timber sales per year. He also maintains that major institutional defects stem from the fact that the U.S. Forest Service does not operate according to economic laws that would guide private, for profit companies doing business in a ‘free market’. The U.S. Forest Service, situated within the Department of Agriculture, is a cash cow to be milked by timber companies.
How does the U.S. Forest Service evaluate its success? It is a government agency and like all government agencies it ultimately comes down to yearly budget reports and the question ‘did this year’s budget shrink, stay the same, or grow compared to last years?’ The budget of the U.S. Forest Service is tied directly to income from timber harvests. There are many examples of timber harvests where the timber company’s own studies did not warrant harvest yet were forced to do so, however, by the U.S. Forest Service by the threat of stiff fines and penalties; penalties, it can be said, that are far heavier than those afforded against timber companies that log in threatened habitat, watersheds, or that cross wilderness area boundaries.
Individuals in charge of not only the U.S. Forest Service at all levels, but other government environmental regulatory agencies, are not individuals with ecological, scientific, or biological training. Instead they are the former heads of special interest groups for the energy industry, lawyers for petroleum companies, and affiliates with big timber. Their gross negligence in ‘managing’ our nation’s forests are either gross incompetence on the grandest of scales, biased actions in favor of big business interests, or honest mistakes. In all three cases there is warranted change not only in the individuals that head these positions, but also the policies that place them there and configuration of their budget forces.
“The very idea of ‘managing’ a forest in the first place seems oxymoronic, because a forest is an ecosystem that is, by definition self-managing. Calling the growing of wood plantations ‘forest management’ is the same as defining the farming of corn in Iowa as ‘prairie management’. – Biologist Bernd Heinrich “The Trees in my Forest”. Forests are not stands of Douglas-Fir, they are incredibly diverse ecological communities of many types of plant and animal life. Taken biocentrically this system deserves protection for it’s own right, taken as ‘wise use’ (a misnomer given by pro-logging interests in the continuation of logging over conservation) there are yet to be discovered ‘uses’ for things that are being wiped out as we speak. At one time the Pacific Yew was found throughout Oregon forests and slashed and burned as a ‘junk tree’ and not replanted after clearcuts. This tree contains Paclitaxel (Taxol), a compound with exciting possibilities in combating cancer. While logging companies readily exclaim that they replant, they do not tell that in cutting down stands of diverse trees such as the incense cedar, hemlock, hawthorne, yew, sugar maple, oak, fir, birch, and many more that they replant with the one type of tree desired most by Big Timber; Douglas-fir.
When the Forest Service is forced to conduct a study investigating impact on wildlife, watershed, ecological diversity, or a host of other concerns other than logging interest, they do so with a blind eye and do not look at the white elephant in the room, clearcutting. Instead of listening to the people or experts in the field of biology the U.S. Forest Service caters to the whims of big timber whenever it can. When public opinion is dictated to be collected it is done so with short windows of response and in times that are inconvenient. The public does not have a fraction of the ear of the directors that the CEOs of big timber does.
During the 80’s when many local mills closed down and hard-working families lost their jobs, they were told by the CEOs of Big Timber that it was because of the environmentalists and their love for owls over humans that did it. They were told that the environmentalists would rather see an owl live than a father provide a home for his family and send his children to school. There arose a dichotomy between logger and tree-hugger that is a false dichotomy. I know of few people who love the forest more than my own family, a family that lives and makes their livelihood from the forests around them and not merely to hike through on a weekend. Of all people that feel the consequences of poor forest management on water, animal populations, habitat, and quality of life, my family of traditional hunters in Southern Arkansas felt it long before coffee sipping hipsters in urban cafes did. There is no dichotomy between logger and environmentalist, as the CEOs of Big Timber wish you to believe for if blue collar and Green alike joined forces we’d surely change policy, a change that would affect their bottom lines and ability to live in posh estates. It wasn’t the environmentalists that caused the loss of timber jobs in Northwest in the 80’s, for profits were high and production was up. It was because production efficiency rose at least 15% during the 80s. Simply put, fewer workers were needed to do the same job as machinery took over on a larger scale.
Simply put, special interests are making big profits while destroying the diverse ecosystems around us. How much waste, greed, and incompetence is enough before we finally wake up and put a stop to it? How long before we look upon the actions by polluting and devastating companies, from irresponsible petroleum, coal, and timber companies with the same moral lens that so many of us are ready to impart upon those of different religious convictions. These enemies, the special interest that rape and plunder our national treasures for their private gains, lie to us and tell us they are Americans, that they are the people too, that they have our interests in mind. They do not. They are not the America that I defend… they are lying to the America that I do love and defend.