The future of forests depends on people who will care for them.

I have lived in the forests of Coastal Northern California for a number of years. We have felt there the relentless pressure of logging which has transformed every coastal county in turn, in a continuous, decimating industrial steamroller, running northbound from San Francisco, from the 1850ís to the present day, taking Marin and Sonoma in the 19th century, and Mendocino and Humboldt and in the Twentieth. I have to agree that a zero-cut approach is deserved and it is overdue. I wish we had implemented it in 1950. At least Humboldt would still be standing.

Unfortunately it wonít work.

First, there is no way to keep people out of forests short of a police state, and even that would have limited effectiveness. Second, if we divorce human culture from the forests, our understanding of natural environments will suffer inside two generations. It is bad enough already. Just look at inner city kids. Ask them where an egg or a 2x4 comes from. Third, people need forests for a legion of spiritual reasons.

I think, as I have for three decades, that we need more people living in forests. Living with forests. Working in forests. Working for forests. And watching and learning from forests, and protecting them.

Our treatment of forests reflects our treatment of our selves, our bodies, our children, each other. Forests are an indicator community; they only flourish when humans are at peace.

We must embrace the forests in our culture. They are not parks any more than they are stands of timber. They are the living structure of a community which we should regard and use as a place of learning, prayer, play, work, love and hope. A part of embracing forests in our national culture is a mending of the rift between urban and rural cultures. People who now live in or with forests need to be understood, supported, listened to, and assisted in doing the right thing, which, mostly, they desperately want to do.

Forests donít need us. If anything they would be better off if we left them alone, but we need forests. And we need to invest more attention and energy in nurturing them, and in promoting understanding of their importance in our culture. Only by involving ourselves with them can we protect them from their worst enemy, us.

One of the terms often heard in discussions of forestry in this country is "balance". Along with "mixed use", and "multiple use", this word immediately sets off alarms for me. In the light of the present day sliver of virgin forests as a portion of the forests we "inherited" (stole) from the native American in, say the 17th century, the word "balance" becomes a bad joke. The idea of a "zero-cut" approach has a certain righteousness about it which is appealing. Enough is enough! Yet it is clearly a totalitarian impulse. Too rigid to be workable.

As for the logging industry, all the big companies should be shut down. Closed and sold for scrap. If I were king, I would leave only the little guys, and they under careful license and supervision from their communities. Letís use just horse teams and helicopters. Restrict road building to the ridge tops. Clear cuts are outlawed. Selective logging is implemented with the health and diversity of the forest as the first priority. No more planting of mono-species stands. No pole patches either. Make your poles out of something else. Use studs of metal or other materials. Restrict the use of solid wood to furniture and surface architectural uses. Wood should be adored not hidden. Use chips from slash and manufacture for chipboard, and stop there. Give broader license for usage of wood products to those who live there, but curtail export to the cities.

The forests are not a cash crop; they are a community. Just like us.

 

Rhodes Hileman lives in Seattle and does business as Small Systems Company. He can be reached at rhodes@smsys.com .