Go east, young timberman!
"Timber companies are like lawnmowers," says Roy Keene of the Public Forestry Foundation, "they go where the grass is taller." Today the "grass" is taller in the East, and timber companies have relocated there in droves. While the "lawnmowers" spent a century working their way west, the "lawn" back east grew thick and tall - tall enough in the Southeast, in fact, for it to gain the label, "America's Wood Basket."
Names Like Georgia-Pacific and Louisiana-Pacific tell the history of big timber. A century ago the timber giants started their trek west. They cut everything in their path and never bothered with replanting or reclamation because there were always new trees on the western horizon and there were no rules or regulations to protect the forests. They set up operations in the midst of forests, often along rivers or railroad lines, and lured workers and their families to set up small timber communities. When the trees were gone, so was the company and, in many cases, the community followed.
The loggers kept following the industry west until they bumped into the "big pond," the Pacific Ocean. According to The Journal of Forestry, "the Pacific Coast is one of the few places in North America where the forest products industry logged the original forest and never left." But unlike the loggers who have reached the end of the line, the timber giants can jump oceans to hit on new resources, can divest and reinvest, and can even go back home. Big timber has completed what Mathew Jacobson of Preserve Appalachian Wilderness calls "a 100-year, east-to-west continental rotation."
"The industry is not moving east," insists Con Schallau, an economist with the American Forest and Paper Association. "This is a myth that has been spun by people. The industry out west is quite viable. If it weren't for the reductions due to what we call artificial barriers [the spotted owl injunction], they would be operating at normal levels." Despite evidence to the contrary - such as the decline in timber production in the Northwest, as well as aerial photos that show miles upon miles of clearcuts - the industry says that it has not depleted the timber in the Northwest, but rather that the trees are being held up in courts by environmentalists. The argument that the industry is responsible for lost jobs in the Northwest is "just plain wrongheaded," says Schallau.
The numbers say otherwise. "The industry is still in the Northwest," explains Jeff Olson, forest economist for The Wilderness Society, but between 1978 and 1987 "the nation's seven largest manufacturers of lumber and wood products reduced their capacity in the Northwest by 35 percent and simultaneously increased their capacity in the South by 121 percent." Big timber started vacating the Northwest long before the owl injunction tied up federal forests in 1991.
Richard Haynes, program manager for social and economic research at the U.S. Forest Service, reports that in the Northwest in 1988, the total timber volume was 13 billion board feet (bbf), but by 1992 it had dropped to 7.2 bbf. In the South the total volume grew from 12.7 bbf in 1988 to 14.4 bbf in 1992. And the trend continues: From July 1992 through July 1993, production in the South increased 1.7 percent, while on the West Coast it decreased 12 percent.
According to Haynes, the "majority of lumber production" shifted to the South in the late 60s and early 70s. A number of factors caused this, he explains, including: an improving timber inventory in the South; higher lumber production and manufacturing costs in the Northwest; lower labor costs in the South; and a federal small business set-aside program which made it difficult for big companies to bid for public timber (about 95 percent of timber production in the South was on private land compared to 60 percent in the Northwest). "The Northwest is an expensive region to operate in, even without the spotted owl," Haynes says, citing costly logging techniques needed to harvest on steep terrain. As big timber cleared the trees off the easily accessible areas and moved into tougher terrain, costs got higher and higher.
"The industry depleted the big trees in the Northwest," Olson says, and went on a "diet of smaller diameter, more-expensive-to-log timber." This forced them to compete with producers in the South, who have much lower costs. "Therefore, those that could, moved to the South." Technological changes also attracted them. According to Bob Phelps, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service's division of Forest Inventory, Economy and Recreation Research, the Southern plywood industry took off with "a new gluing technology breakthrough in the 1960s." He adds that the growth of pulp mills and chip mills in the South allowed the industry to exploit the younger stands of trees that predominate in the region.
In 1982, In What May Seem Like The Ultimate Metaphor for the times, Georgia-Pacific, the largest timber company in the U.S., moved its corporate headquarters from Oregon back to Georgia. It doubled its sales between 1982 and 1989 and watched its earnings soar from $20 million to $661 million. Even Weyerhauser, the country's largest private landowner and a fixture in the Northwest, now owns more land in the South than in the West. Many claim that Weyerhauser's move to the South was paid for by log exports from the Northwest. The company generated a large amount of cash and put it into Southern land and operations.
But in the Southeast, indeed throughout the East, the timber industry doesn't have the free reign it enjoyed a century ago. That's because this time it's battling others for the same resource. Our country is no longer a vast frontier, but rather a collection of farms and woodlots interspersed with cities, subdivisions and small towns, all full of environmentalists, hunters, anglers, backpackers, bird watchers - people who consider the forests theirs, and who will fight for them.
"The same kinds of trends that we saw out West, we are now going to see in the East," Schallau concedes. "The wetlands issue, the red-cockaded woodpecker, the Louisiana black bear, the Tennessee Valley Authority chipping situation, and on and on and on. Soon there will not be anyplace for the industry to go if this continues." To him, that would be a shame, since the U.S. ranks as the world's largest timber exporter, selling to Japan and other top-dollar markets. "We have the advantage in timber," he says, "we have some of the world's best timber production, and we should benefit from that." He adds: "Why not complain about lentils being shipped from Palouse country [in Washington State], which results in a tremendous amount of erosion that goes down the Palouse River into the Columbia?"
That sounds like an economist talking, but while an economist may think of lentils and forests in the same sense, the American public does not. Forests are where we hike, hunt and fish, where we "get away from it all." They are the keepers of wildness and to many, a place of reverence. Lentils are merely something we find in soup. Not surprisingly, foresters and ecologists look at the same 80- to 100-year-old forests of the East and see different things: one sees mature timber; the other, recovering ecosystems. Foresters say that the forests have regenerated and are ready to be cut. Ecologists claim that, although the timber has matured, the forest still hasn't reached a climax stage - the final step in ecological succession - and thus lacks the level of biodiversity indigenous to the area. They say that cutting now would jeopardize the forest's recovery.
"In terms of growing trees, we haven't done a good job of telling about the enormous robustness of the forest," says Richard Haynes of the Forest Service. "Trees are a renewable resource, in that you can cut down a tree and grow a new one," replies Mathew Jacobson. "But forests are not a renewable resource." These two sides don't even speak the same language. How can they agree on anything? Often, they can't.
While Earth First!ers Threw A Redwood Summer of protests in northern California in 1990, Jan Wilder-Thomas led a Hardwood Summer in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Over 50 people have now been arrested in trying to stop annual timber sales in the Shawnee - a forest full of 100- to 150-year-old hickories, oaks and tulip trees. Wilder-Thomas claims that the Forest Service loses $1 million every year on these sales, which are opposed by the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation. Her group, the Shawnee Defense Fund, and others have succeeded in reducing the cut from the agency's original plan of 40 million board feet down to two million board feet over the past three years. But her side recently lost a court case when the judge refused to halt sales in a region of loblolly pines that provides habitat for the rare pine warbler and other endangered birds. After a drop of 72 percent in the songbird population in Illinois during the 1980s, Wilder-Thomas would like the Shawnee declared a bird sanctuary. But now, the Forest Service has begun building roads in an area that promises to be the site of another bitter confrontation.
Andy Mahler of Heartwood, a group dedicated to protecting the unique hardwood forests of the East, is helping fight the "invasion" of chip mills in Tennessee. These riverbank operations, an incredibly cheap alternative to building full-scale pulp mills, will accept trees of all sizes from the surrounding 75 miles of forests, grind them into chips, then ship them by barge to existing pulp mills or to the port of Mobile, Alabama for export to the Far East. Traditionally, industry has used softwood pines for making paper, but with new technology it can mix in hardwood chips to produce high-quality coated papers for fax machines, computers and glossy magazines. Last year environmentalists joined with local tourist bureaus and many other groups to defeat three proposed chip mills near Chattanooga, but about two dozen new mill proposals have been submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates use of the river. "They call the hardwoods an |abundant, over-mature, under-utilized forest resource,'" Mahler says. "We refer to those making these claims as the |abundant, over-mature, and underutilized foresters.'"
Mathew Jacobson works, among other things, to protect the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) in Vermont. Public land makes up only four percent of New England, and the GMNF adopted a forest plan "to provide benefits that private land does not." The plan adds that "increased timber volumes can be removed from private lands, while large, remote areas can only be provided by the GMNF." Jacobson calls the plan "ecologically astute," but adds that, alas, the Forest Service has decided to ignore it by proposing a 5,561-acre timber sale in an area described by the Forest Service as "generally unroaded and inaccessible." The author of the plan itself, James Northup, has appealed the sale, calling it "contrary to GMNF policies that call for deferral of timer sales" that simply meet society's demand for wood. He and Jacobson will file a lawsuit against the GMNF for abandoning the plan.
Save America's Forests a nationwide coalition of forest protection organizations, counts among its members more than 200 much groups in the eastern U.S. A common first-step goal for the groups is to get the eastern national forests off limits to logging. "The first thing we have to do is protect the National Forests," says Mathew Jacobson. "If we can't protect what we already own, we can't protect anything." Though ambitious, the goal may not be out of reach.
Eastern National Forest supervisors - wary of the problems out West, the public sentiment for forest protection, and their new bosses in Washington, DC - have begun plotting strategies to protect the few remaining remnants of old-growth forest and other particularly wild or sensitive tracts within their boundaries. More important, as a deficit-reduction measure, the White Houses has ordered the Forest Service to reduce federal timber sales that lose money. The agency's proposal, released earlier this year, would end logging in 62 of the country's 156 national forests, many of them in the East.
According to Jacobson, the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania - because it has "some of the best cherry in the world" - is the "only one in the East that makes any money." But he fears that closing other forests will put pressure to cut more in the Allegheny. A recent study of the Allegheny's economy revealed that, while the forest's wood-products industry brings in $48.4 million a year and provides jobs for 970 people, recreation brings in $91 million and employs 2,700 people.
"The public is demanding much more from [national] forests than just wood fiber," says Jeff Olson, citing clean water, fish habitat, clean air and recreation. "That demand for natural forest ecosystems has collided with this misplaced emphasis on the farming. So, the system - if there is a system - is grossly out of balance." Sixteen years ago, Congress passed the National Forests Management Act mandating the Forest Service to manage its lands for the full range of native species that are or could be present. Yet today, the Forest Service is still focused on timber production, with 70 percent of its budget going to timber sales, says Olson. And the government heavily subsidizes the timber industry itself, giving it $7.2 billion in tax breaks between 1980 and 1989, and feeding it $449 million worth of below-cost timber in 1992 alone, according to Randall O'Toole, forest economist for Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants.
These subsidies create a disincentive for private landowners to manage their forests for long-term productivity, and they compete directly with recycling efforts. "Twenty years ago there were deposits required on [wood] pallets," Andy Mahler said. "Now it's cheaper to cut down trees to build new pallets than to recycle them." Former forest chief Dale Robertson has said that 51 percent of all hardwood lumber went into building between 500 and 600 million shipping pallets in 1991. Mahler adds that 57 percent of these pallets were "either landfilled, incinerated or otherwise disposed of after only one use." In Ohio alone, he says, 18,000 acres of forest a year goes "directly to the landfills after a brief incarnation as a shipping pallet."
Closing public forests to logging would raise the price of wood products, which are kept low by the subsidies. It would also spur recycling efforts and reduce waste. And industry may not be entirely opposed to the notion. Charles Harden, a vice president for the Society of American Foresters, calls the idea "feasible," adding that, in the Southeast - "where growth is greater than demand" and there is relatively little public land - the industry could "probably absorb it easier" than in other regions. Bob Phelps of the Forest Service adds that because the eastern National Forests are close to large urban areas, the notion of closing them to logging is under consideration by the USFS.
Still, even if public forests are preserved in the East, many think it won't be enough to restore and protect the biodiversity of the region because they only account for about five percent of the total forest.
Thankfully, public sentiment, economic incentives and competition for a dwindling resource may force industry to learn the foreign language of environmentalists. Some have even begun trying to speak it. Georgia-Pacific has gotten a lot of attention for its initiative to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker - the potential "spotted owl of the East" - on its vast Southern holdings (see Currents, this issue). The company cut a deal last year with the Department of the Interior to set aside habitat for the bird in exchange for immunity from prosecution for violations of the Endangered Species Act. Jeff Olson lauds its efforts as a good example of "private landowner participation in coming to solutions," But Mathew Jacobson asks: "How do you protect a species by destroying 80 percent of its habitat?" Other environmentalists fear that, even though land is being protected, the agreement allows for too much fragmentation of the bird's foraging habitat and too much cutting between colonies, which in the past has let to a decline in the species.
Other industry efforts to consider the environment on its private land have appeared. In a two-page advertisement in the magazine ECO, International Paper claims to be "committed to continuously improving our environmental performance," and uses the great blue heron as its new "spokesanimal" because the company opted to spare a rookery on its holdings in Arkansas. Champion International is "assessing biological resources" on 95,000 acres of New York's Adirondack Park to help plan future land uses. And Weyerhauser is studying biodiversity on a 286,500-acre tract of its forest land in Washington.
Olson believes that ecosystem management approaches "should bring mutually acceptable solutions." Mahler points out that environmentalists and timber communities have "far more interests in common than those divide us." When these two groups "recognize their shared interests in protecting their backyard against opportunistic predatory raiders," he says, "that's when the forests will gain the protection they need."
Haynes believes incentives are coming to encourage better forestry stewardship. He sees things like education programs, regulations against poor practices, and even tax breaks or "scenic-easement" purchases to encourage timber holders to keep mature trees standing. But perhaps the best solution, which Norway already has and Haynes feels "the U.S. is probably close to," is a program to pass the revenue from a tax on carbon emissions on to timber holders who are "sequestering carbon" by not cutting trees which remove [CO.sub.2] from the air.
These solutions can't come to quickly for the South, because big timber is there and, as Mahler says, "they come, they see, they saw, they liquidate, and they're gone." Indeed, Olson points out, of the 42 million acres of total industry forest land in the South in 1952, 660,000 acres were in pine plantations; by 1985 the number had increased to more than 13 million acres. Olson fears this trend is accelerating and that the conversion of forests to short-rotation crops will "wear out the landscape" and threaten the "ability of the lands to continue to produce."
Photographer Daniel Dancer, who has taken aerial shots of clearers throughout the Western Hemisphere and was a lead photographer for the new book "Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry," summed up the situation in the South: "Witnessing the amount of active deforestation in Alabama was much worse than any experience I've had in the rainforests of Central America. The broad-leafed deciduous forests from the air look much like tropical rainforests, and the vast acres of burning, cut-over lands made me think of Brazil. What we criticize Brazil for doing to its rainforests, we continue to do to forests in North America."
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|Title Annotation:||eastern US forests|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1994|
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