Treating Forests as Economic Engines Isn't Management

Article excerpt

Byline: Craig Patterson

Yes, Doug Robinson is correct: We do need another way to manage our forests.

Unfortunately, his perspective in his Jan. 2 guest viewpoint - which seems to represent industry, the Oregon Board of Forestry and some management agencies - doesn't seem to take into account some basic facts and contradictions. More of the same will only make things worse after a very short-lived boom, followed by another long-term bust.

There is nothing sustainable about industrial clear-cut forestry - not environmentally, not economically and not socially. It represents the ultimate short boom, then results in generations of busted environments, economics and society - the greatest good for fewest numbers for the shortest time.

Here are some facts:

Environmentally, the industrial model takes a highly interdependent and diverse ecosystem and converts it into a plantation of uniform structure and age class. The rationale is to speed up the growth in Douglas fir. Yet the litany of unintended consequences (invasive species, disease and insect infestations, soil erosion, overcrowded fire-prone stands, boom-and-bust cycles, etc.) all follow our industrial "management" practices. They sacrifice forest quality and structural integrity for fast growth without understanding the consequences.

There are many serious liabilities regarding man-made products, from out-gassing (which affects indoor air quality) to failing in less than 10 minutes in a house fire (oriented strandboard floor joists and rafters), which all point to the lessons we must learn regarding the industrial model.

Historically we have simply passed such externalities as forest restoration on to future generations with impunity. Now these costs are demanding our attention and accounting. Ignoring these costs and liabilities contributes significantly to our inability to pay for them.

This is a structural disconnect embedded in incomplete analysis and our singular focus on short-term profits. This disconnect drives us further away from holistic and life-cycle cost analysis - thus our problems magnify.

In a matter of days we can level a stand of ancient trees that took hundreds of years to evolve into the dynamic and interdependent ecosystems that an intact forest embodies.

Then our forest scientists ask, "How do we create structural diversity in a plantation?" without noticing that diversity was destroyed in converting a forest to a plantation in the first place.

If this represents science, then morality, social relevance, ethics and common sense have been thrown out the window.

Socially, the implications become even more insidious as unemployment soars in timber-dependent communities, our social contract is strained to its limits and future generations wonder what their future holds. …