Magazine article American Forests

Repairing the System

Magazine article American Forests

Repairing the System

Article excerpt

THE RACE IS ON TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE. SOME INNOVATIVE GROUPS SAY THEY'VE FOUND PART OF THE ANSWER.

WHEN NORTHWEST MONTANA LOGGER FLOYD QUIRAM cuts timber, he leaves the best trees standing. Throwing away money? Quiram doesn't think so. He considers it air investment in the future of his children, his company; and the forest itselfand a lot of people are starting to see things his way. A quick survey of the surrounding mountains shows why.

By highgrading harvesting only the biggest, best treeswhen supplies were plentiful or overcutting when they were not, short-term-oriented landowners and timber companies often diminished the forests, economic value, and altered the species mix of the new forest. Federal and state land managers, meanwhile, aggressively suppressed wildfires to protect nearby communities and private properties. In the process, they disrupted natural fire patterns, which led to profound changes in environmental structures and functions. Social and economic priorities were being met, but future consequences were largely unseen or ignored.

Now dense, overcrowded stands of small-diameter trees blanket the hills. Not viable economically to harvest, they pose a frighteningly plentiful fuel source for potentially serious wildfires.

Daunting conditions

The daunting conditions Quiram and fellow stewardship loggers face in Montana are not unique; they shape forest landscapes and communities from Kentucky to California.

"Humboldt County, like so many others, was built on the extraction of natural resources-here timber and water." says Stephen Madrone, director of the Redwood Community Action Agency in Eureka, California. "Back then, people thought if resources weren't used, they were wasted."

Traditional.ls public forests were "cash cows" for both state and federal governments, consistently generating timber sale revenues that exceeded the costs allocated for maintaining the resource. Reinvestment was primarily in reforestation, to ensure more trees could be harvested in the future. Forest managers were rewarded for keeping harvest levels up and expenses down. And they were given few incentives to increase expenditures to improve such resource values as soil, wildlife habitat, and water quality, which had little commercial value.

Driven by shareholders' demands for higher short-term profits, private industrial forest companies also have had scant motivation or incentive to plow time and money back into forests or forest companies. If resources run out in one location, if extracting them becomes too expensive, or if environmental restrictions put anticipated resources out of reach, companies can-and do-move elsewhere, leaving behind closed mills, economically distressed communities, and, in some cases, forests in need of repair.

Cost-cutting and downsizing are the watchwords of the 90s, making it difficult for public or private forest managers to argue effectively for more resources for maintenance or restoration.

Plus, critical decisions are often out of their hands, made instead far from the forest in legislative deliberations or corporate meetings. But concerned foresters are finding resourceful and highly motivated allies in local communities, where the economic and environmental consequences of past policies and practices have become painfully clear. "What we've done up `til now is dis-invest in capital resources owned by the public," says Leah Wills of the nonprofit Plumas Corporation in Plumas Country, California. "That's no longer okay. Now we need to reinvest for the future."

REINVESTING IN THE FOREST

The means do exist for federal, state, and local governments to capture a portion of that resource value for reinvestment purposes. Various types of taxes and fees levied on such resource uses as timber, water, recreation, minerals, and grazing could help pay for social and environmental impacts. …

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