by Tom H. Hastings
We have a small amount of our original forest left in the US, but we still have a great deal of woodlands. There is a school of forest managers who advocate so-called “controlled burns” to create a healthier forest.
Such a poor idea. Has anyone mentioned global warming to those forest experts?
Forest fires are exactly wrong when we consider that. Fire adds instantly to high airborne carbon content and thus is a driver of global warming, exactly what no one needs.
If we clearcut the forests, we lose the lungs of the Earth, the ecosystem that sequesters so much carbon and gives us so much oxygen. And the same is true every time we burn a portion of the forest. Are there alternatives to pumping those megatons of carbon into our carbon-overloaded atmosphere?
People need paper, building material, and many other products from the forest. People need jobs working in the woods and with the woodlands products. Fire destroys raw material and any jobs harvesting that raw material, plus jobs creating the added value to woodland products, from newsprint to framing lumber and much more. We cannot afford to waste material satisfying some theoretician’s hobby horse about the ancient role of fire. These are not ancient times.
How can we maximize all the benefits and minimize all the downsides?
First, create permanent Forest Stewards camps for public woodlands, patterned at least in part on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Cancel a couple of big ticket items that the Pentagon wants and split the savings between tax relief for middle and lower income taxpayers and a program to employ Forest Stewards. The austere minimum-wage barracks life is well suited for those hungry for work—I would have loved it in my late teens and twenties. They would thin and clean forests using sustainable practices, never clearcuts, and they would leave no slash behind. In some areas, we could even bring back selective logging hauled out by teams of draft horses. Labor-intensive sustainable practices with mustering-out benefits like education would skill up the American workforce and radically reduce nonproductive ranks while mitigating global warming and enhancing forest health.
Second, create a mix of power plants with state-of-the-art carbon-fixing scrubbers, paper manufacturing, lumber and veneer mills, to economically benefit from the ongoing harvest operations. Each element of a hybridized value-added management program would help pay for the overall operation. Young people would learn a great deal from older skilled workers and beneficial products would help society instead of massive choking clouds of polluted smoke from “controlled burns.”
In this way, the forests would be managed for diversity, old growth untouched, understory trees utilized, with small clearings that would never cause killer landslides or stream-destroying erosion. This could be a public-private-nonprofit partnership resulting in a win for everyone and a long term sustainable way to preserve and even regain some of America’s amazing old growth, while employing and training a workforce dedicated to—and benefiting from—clean sustainable forestry practices.
We can disagree on many things in our country, but no one would be sorry to see the magnificent forests of America make a long term comeback. Fire is not the way. We can be creative instead of destructive.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.