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Trees vs. people?

"Save our jobs!" shout timber workers.

"Save the forests!" environmentalists holler back.

For more than a decade, the two groups have been arguing abou the fate of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Consisting of some of the world's oldest and largest coniferous (cone-bearing) trees, these forests once blanketed the region, providing habitat for some 600 species of wildlife. But over the past century, about 90 percent of the forests have been cut down. Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, Ponderosa pine--they've been used to build everything from our homes to the pianos we play.

And that logging, environmentalists say, has shrunk wildlife habitat so drastically tha some species are now threatened with extinction. Logging old growth must be stopped, they say.

The problem: Thousands of timber workers will be forced to give up their livelihood. And, they say, their communities will topple.

Can a compromise that satisfies both sides be reached? Last July, President Clinton set forth a plan (see sidebar, p. 6). To see if you agree with the plan, or can come up with a better one, take a closer look at the arguments behind both sides.


One reason environmentalists want to protect old growth forests: to allow northern spotted owls, listed as a threatened species in 1990, to replenish their numbers.

No one really knows how many owls remain in old growth habitat. The first in-depth survey-conducted from 1987 to 1992 by a joint committee of federal, state, and private agencies--found 3,591 mating pairs of before 1987? Further study is needed, says Jack Ward Thomas, chief wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, to show whether--and at what rate--owl numbers are declining.

Either way, it is better to save owl habitat now, before it's too late, environmentalists say. According to Richard Hoppe, spokesman for the Wilderness Society, no one can be sure how owls will fare in the future unless their habitat is protected.

Owls are not the only concern. Environmentalists worry that logging may destroy the entire old growth ecosystem. This unique collection of plants, animals, and nonliving features, such as soil and water, supports a delicate balance of life in the forest. Scientists aren't exactly sure how. But they believe that each element plays a vital role. The trees, for example, help filter pollutants out of the air, provide oxygen, and prevent excess erosion of soil into streams.

Instead of using old growth timber, says Hoppe, builders should use steel, plastic, and younger trees planted specifically for harvesting. If logging continues, he says, the last 3.8 million acres of old growth will eventually run out.

"You can't regrow old growth," Hoppe says--not as an ecosystem. The complex web of organisms in these forests, which have evolved over thousands of years,would be impossible to duplicate. "We might chop down the last tree," Hoppe says, before we know what we've lost.


Timber workers are also concerned about losses--lost jobs. "There's a huge demand for wood products in America," says Rita Kaley, spokesperson for Hanel Lumber, a timber mill in Oregon. Timber workers have built up entire communities to fill that demand.

If timber cutbacks continue, Kaley says, an estimated 85,000 jobs will be lost. The Clinton Administration says the number is more like 6,000. But that figure, says Evelyn Badger of the Oregon Lands Coalition, leaves out an inevitable ripple effect: When timber jobs disappear, people in all segments of the community--from grocery clerks to mechanics to school teachers--will risk unemployment. Already hit hard by the loss of timber-related jobs due to logging cutbacks, some towns are reporting increased homelessness and rising rates of alcoholism and suicide. Says Badger, environmentalists have to "put people back into the environmental equation."

Keeping timber workers employed doesn't have to mean sacrificing wildlife, Badger says. In fact, she says, the timber industry replants six new trees for every one they harvest. They hope these second growth forests will provide new habitat for spotted owls and other wildlife. Industry studies are now under way to find out how the owls will fare, Badger says.

"One frustrating thing is that it takes years to build up a scientific data base," says Badger. "And we [in the timber industry] don't have all that much time."


Clearly, both sides feel the need to act now, before time runs out. One possible solution: Try "new forestry," says Jerry Franklin, plant ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service (see SW 2/22/91, p. 20). Instead of clear-cutting, new forestry leaves many healthy trees standing, along with the dead stumps that recycle nutrients on the forest floor. This combo of living and dead trees helps maintain the forest's rich biological diversity. New forestry. says Franklin, should create a balance between logging and the ecology of the forest.

The Clinton plan proposes to set aside ten areas to test new forestry. But that's just one of the President's proposals. Study the other elements listed on page 6. How would loggers react? Environmentalists? Read what some of your peers hav to say (left). Then debate the issues in class.
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Title Annotation:debate over spotted owl protection and job loss in timber industry
Author:Freiman, Chana
Publication:Science World
Date:Oct 22, 1993
Previous Article:Work with the pyramid; be a smart snacker.
Next Article:Weathering the summer of 1993.

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