A Global View of Our Forests

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Global View of Our Forests


Byline: Donna Dekker-Robertson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As you enjoy your deck or park gazebo this summer, eating hot dogs and apple pie off paper plates, consider the world around you, and your impact on it. You use forest products every day, from napkins and newsprint, to crayons, cosmetics, and charcoal for the barbecue.

That's OK, so long as we properly care for our forests. As a forest geneticist, I observe how forests respond to insect infestation, disease, increased tree densities, wildfires, non-native pests and the like. What I see demonstrates it's time to stop cordoning off our forests from harvesting.

No matter how earnest activists may seem, or how concerned their sound bites, experience shows there are devastating consequences of abandoning active forest management.

The devastation goes beyond the unnatural accumulation of forest fuels that trigger megafires across Florida, Colorado, Arizona, California and the Pacific Northwest. These catastrophic blazes burn hotter than their historic predecessors, wreaking greater environmental havoc, but tell only part of the story.

Domestic activism has also ignored the global implications of severe harvesting restrictions here in the States. Whereas responsibly managed forests could help us meet our own wood needs, broad harvesting restrictions here have sent us elsewhere for wood.

Consumers are often blind to the costs of consuming, having lost sight of the fundamental connection between the things they use and where they come from. The United States uses more wood than any country in the world, in total use and per-capita consumption. The world average for wood products consumption is 0.7 cubic meters per person per year. The United States' average is about 2 cubic meters per person.

My home state of California exemplifies the environmental paradox inherent in our 'consume but don't produce' attitude. California has almost 40 million forested acres. Yet compared to 15 years ago, timber harvests are down more than 90 percent on public and 40 percent on private lands. Meanwhile, the state imports about 75 percent of the wood it consumes.

If Californians, who have among the most advanced harvesting technology and highest environmental standards in the world, harvested more wood, we would so so in a way that conserves forest environments. But we don't. Instead, we rely on forestlands where environmental safeguards are weaker or nonexistent and harvesting can devastate landscapes.

As wood consumption rises, some forests outside the United States are being cut at record levels. …

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