Thursday, March 03, 2005

Oregon Forestry Debate Flares Up

The Register-Guard, published in Eugene, Oregon, printed this distressing article yesterday. The described forestry management debate is not a black-and-white issue, though the warring factions would have us believe otherwise.

Recent science suggests that regulated thinning and burning will do wonders for many forest ecosystems. I do not believe, then, that the “pro-logging environmentalists" are pawns of the timber industry. Although their detractors might argue that they are prisoners of their data, they aim to help forest health via sustainable management plans (see David A. Perry’s paper, An Overview of Sustainable Forestry). On the other side of the table, The Sierra Club believes a “hands off” approach is the best medicine.

Thus, we're left with battling brothers, historical allies who now weaken one another while the real enemies - overpopulation, crass capitalism, sheer ignorance - continue about their business, unfettered.

As I see it, the “hands off” approach seems more tenable, but I doubt most preservationists – typically, the very people advocating such an approach – would be satisfied with the results. As Tim Hermach, a staunch anti-logging activist, says, “Those forests will modify themselves. [They] will adapt.” Absolutely. Trouble is adaptation may include extinction for some species, both plant and animal. This isn’t necessarily a problem – it is, after all, called natural selection - but I assume that most of the Sierra Club members are, like me, in favor of preserving as many species as possible.

In some respects, this case represents an odd role reversal. It is the conservationists, determined to manage the forests for sustainability, who are striving for preservation, while the preservationists are calling for nature to run its course. What the latter group forgets, though, is that humans are nature, too, even with all our plastic and speed, and that our management of the forests is no more or less natural than the “hands off” approach.

The question should be, “What do we want for the future of the forest?” In this case, something tells me we should ignore the data, take a leap of faith and let the forest decide.

Photo credit: Roy Lowe, USFWS

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