Balancing demand for wood with land stewardship
February 28, 2003
California is more renowned for producing Hollywood blockbusters and microchips than for wood products. But if the citizens of our state better understood California’s forest products industry, they would be more than
proud: They would be impressed with an industry that has learned how to harvest timber in a way that balances the needs of society with the demands of environmental stewardship.
After all, our industry’s loggers, foresters and scientists have children too — and they want, as much as anyone else, to ensure that the forest lives for generations to come.
But in the past several decades, two contrary trends have emerged: As the forest products industry has gained knowledge to safeguard water quality, preserve wildlife habitat, and promote forest health, many
environmental activists have demonized forest products companies in the public mind.
They have convinced lawmakers to cordon off huge areas of public land from the kind of tree thinning that might have helped prevent last summer’s catastrophic wildfires. These consumed nearly 7 million acres across the
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West, cost more than $1 billion to fight, threatened some of our most precious national treasures, and caused increased debris and sediment flow into reservoirs that supply water for human use.
By thinning forests to reduce overcrowding of trees — something natural fires used to accomplish before total fire suppression policies created an abnormally thick forest — our loggers create areas where fires burn less
intensely and do far less damage. But only if we’re allowed into an area as part of a plan for promoting forest health.
Last year’s Biscuit fire burned thousands of acres in the Siskiyou National Forest — much of it the old-growth habitat of Northern Spotted Owls — which will take decades, if not centuries, to recover. Thinning out such a forest would have created enough open space for fire crews to keep trees from going up in smoke. Spotted owls and other animals can more easily hunt in these open spaces.
Obviously our industry’s concern for habitat extends to humanity, too — after all, we supply the lumber, doors, and other materials that build homes. With today’s low interest rates, home construction is perhaps the one bright spot in the economy. Luckily we don’t need to worry about running out of trees, as California’s forest products industry plants an average of seven trees for each one harvested. Growth has exceeded harvest in our forests for more than 30 years.
Nor do we need to feel guilty about using wood — especially wood that is grown in California, where trees are harvested under the toughest environmental regulations in the world. California’s primary set of forest protection laws has 973 regulations that dictate exactly how private forestlands are to be used and maintained. The 8 million acres of our state’s forestland set aside in parks and wilderness areas are managed for preservation. And tree harvesting in our national forests, formerly managed for multiple uses including timber production, has dropped significantly in the past decade.
Unfortunately, when more and more forestland is placed off-limits to responsible harvesting, homegrown forest products companies that practice good forestry can no longer supply the demand for wood. California consumes
more wood than any other state. When we can no longer supply our own wood needs, the void is filled by companies in less developed nations where environmental protections are lax or non-existent. Third World nations are devastating our environment because of shortsighted forestry policies here at home.
The better solution is responsible harvesting in our own backyard. California’s forest products industry can do a superior job — no part of a tree goes to waste in our sawmills, which use laser-guided technology to get
the most lumber from a log. The remaining wood chips and sawdust produce biomass energy, which powers the sawmill and puts enough energy back on California’s grid to keep the lights on in hundreds of thousands of homes
and offices each year.
But we don’t just build homes. Think about all the products you use each day that contain wood — carpet and linoleum, toilet paper, shampoo, medicine, egg cartons, milk and juice containers. And don’t forget film, rayon clothing, wine corks, asphalt, charcoal, vinegar.
So the next time you uncork a bottle of wine made from grapes grown in Napa Valley, see a Hollywood movie or plan a vacation to visit California’s redwoods and other forests, take a moment to acknowledge the forest products industry. We might not get the same amount of ink, but we did grow the paper. And we did it without hurting California’s forests.
Mike Albrecht is president of the Sonora-based company Sierra Resource Management and president of the 2003 Sierra Cascade Logging Conference Logger Executive Committee.
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