Sustainability is Not the Way of the World
Obviously, this result is not the global norm. We have all seen pictures of commercially cleared tropical hills—scorched earth, horizon-to-horizon. This is legal logging, and I’ve seen it first hand in Borneo, Sumatra, mainland Malaysia, China and Myanmar. And in Oregon, Washington and Canada.
Seeing such devastation is one of the main things that drove me to work in conservation. In most countries—even developed ones—timber harvest rules are incredibly lenient, and clear cutting is the norm.
Under these practices, cut areas are usually replanted with non-native, fast growing trees that can provide less native habitat and may need more water than the native forest that’s been cleared. Or environmentally worse, cut areas are converted to even higher environmental impact activities like commercial agriculture or developed as buildings, parking lots and/or roads. Even usually progressive Canada is in the regulatory Ice Ages on timber: streams are not protected with no-cut buffers, clear cutting is common, rotation times are short.
Timber production done this way is on the rise, and China is leading the pack. When you say “no” to logging in a place like Santa Cruz, you say “yes” to these practices.
‘Complicated’ Doesn’t Have to Mean ‘Hard’
The next time someone asks me if we should allow logging in the Santa Cruz redwoods, my answer will be yes, in some areas, because it’s the best timber harvesting on the planet and we have enough forests here to balance it with protection. Try fitting that in a headline! It’s a complicated answer because it’s a complicated question, and we should stop pretending otherwise.
But complicated doesn’t have to mean hard. We have the science to know how much area needs protection and where and when forests and sensitive species are most vulnerable to impacts. And we have the regulations and pretty conscientious corporate practice in place to show the world what environmentally sound and profitable timber harvest looks like.
Do we want to shut that down? I don’t.
So many of the environmental questions people face today seem simple the way they are asked, masking the real decisions at hand and misleading people in their choices.
Isn’t local food better for the planet?
Aren’t GMOs bad?
Isn’t population growth the real problem?
None of these have a simple answer, if you care about a healthy planet. Conservation and environmental groups should stop selling these choices as simple, and concerned citizens should expand their understanding of global markets and dynamics to understand what’s truly at stake.