Not Buying It –
I am hearing it everywhere. “All Oregon grown wood is good wood”. The messages come like an accelerating drum beat from the Governor’s office, the communications of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, the industry groups, the Small Woodlands Association, the faculty of our land grant university….. . The identical nature of the messages are enough to make this Oregonian wonder. “The state forest practices act provides for the highest level of sustainable forestry and should be embraced by the premiere systems of green building certification. Anything short of this is discriminatory. It is time to stand up against this injustice.”
I’m not buying it. And I encourage you to consider the validity and consequences of these statements.
I don’t buy the messages. I don’t buy the wood. And my family and I don’t buy this style of forestry as the best approach for our own forests. And I don’t buy this Oregon tradition of government leaders being quicker to do the bidding of their timber interest supporters than they are to take leadership in acknowledging and addressing important forest-related problems.
While I believe that there is much that is important, valuable, and good about the systems of mainstream forestry in western Oregon, I know that there are serious problems which we can and must acknowledge and address. A more accurate statement is: “All Oregon grown wood is good wood – when considered in the global context – but it is not good enough”. Here’s why.
A Critique of Mainstream Forestry as Practiced in Western Oregon:
(Note – Each of the following concerns are grounded on one, or a combination, of the following rationales and are indicated with (P) = practical,( L) = Legal (in violation of one or more laws), and (E) = in conflict with ethical standards. Footnotes provide additional information on the basis for the concern.)
The General Concern – In too many ways, places, and cases our systems of forestry in Western Oregon ask more of the land than it can provide without being degraded. This leads to lost potential, reduced adaptive capacity, violation of laws and rights, avoidable social and economic upheaval, and fewer opportunities for future generations. This is a legal, practical, and ethical issue. A more specific critique may be divided into a pair of concerns – the mainstream forestry systems are unreasonable risky and fail to take basic responsibilities.
- Lost Complexity and Adaptive Capacity – Our dramatically simplified forests (often single species and single age with minimal other vegetation) are at higher risk of disturbance from insects, disease, and thermal and moisture changes possibly linked to our changing climate than our more complex native forests. At a time when we should be increasing our region’s ecological and economic adaptive capacity to be ready for a changing world we are taking the risk of reducing them. (P)
- Soil Wealth and Health – The long term productivity of our forest soils is ultimately more important and valuable than the trees currently growing in them. The choice to grow continuous short rotations of a single species, with dependence on herbicides and fertilizers and incidences of landslides, erosions, and compaction, creates unknown risks related to long term productivity. Our large scale, uncontrolled experiment puts the future of our region at risk. (P)
- Reliance on Chemicals – Forestry systems that are dependent on routine use of herbicides create risks to both human life and more than human life. (P), (L), and (E)
- Social and Economic Instability – The choice of forest owners and government leaders to not acknowledge and take responsibility for monitoring and maintaining those aspects of forests that no one owns and all share – such as wildlife and water quality – increases the risk of social and economic disruptions such as happened with listings of the Northern spotted owl. Failure to learn from past disruptions and make changes to avoid future disruptions suggests that we are at risk of future avoidable upheavals. (P), (L)
- Economic Costs of Ecological Simplification – Forestry systems designed to maximize the single output of timber creates risk of declines in other landscape values that have direct economic impacts. Examples include the economic costs of degraded salmon runs and the economic costs to farmers of large declines in native pollinators. Ecological simplification leads to economic simplification in terms of diversity of markets, processing facilities, and value-added manufacturing. This simplification creates increased risk of economic and social instability for forest-dependent communities. (P), (L)
- Decline in Essential Forest Outputs – Oregonians rely on forests for many things – clean, cold water, carbon storage, cooling of air, wildlife habitat, etc.. The disproportionate emphasis on maximizing timber production creates risk that other forest values, that we directly depended, on will be degraded and/or lost. (P), (L)
Failure to Take Basic Responsibility:
- Maintaining the Common Good – We have an ethical and legal responsibility to maintain those aspects of Oregon forests – private and public – that we share in common. The profitability of our mainstream forestry systems is dependent on continuing public willingness to allow the commonwealth values of our forests to too often be degraded. We are failing to acknowledge, analyze, and solve this problem. (P), (L), (E)
- Respecting the Rights of People – We each have a right to not be poisoned by chemicals that are used in the forests – either by direct contact or through vectors such as polluted drinking water. We also have a right to know when the actions of our neighbors may put us at risk. As landowners we have a responsibility to not put our neighbors at risk. There are too many examples of this responsibility being neither acknowledged or fulfilled. (P), (L), (E)
In Conclusion – If we accept that all Oregon-grown wood is good wood – when considered in the global context – but not good enough, we should think hard and discuss what needs to change in order to be “good enough”. Oregon wood will be good enough when the eight problems outlined above have been adequately addressed. When the risks are made reasonable and the responsibilities acknowledged, respected and fulfilled.