I believe that there is a widespread assumption within the Lewis & Clark community that logging is a practice that does nothing but hurt forests. In my own personal experience, I have engaged in many conversations where people were quick to look down upon logging as a backwards and outdated practice. However, the timber industry actually plays a vital role in rural economies and does have the ability to greatly increase forest health, if the correct regulations are enacted. Complete dismissal of the practice is foolish, but I do not blame anyone for feeling angry about the destruction this industry has caused.
History of humanity’s interaction with forests and trees goes back to the very beginning. Five million years ago, we were climbing trees to escape predators in the Rift Valley and 500,000 years ago we were collecting their fallen branches to stoke fires for cooking. As it stands now, we have removed 50% of all forests from the planet. Though many of the world’s civilizations have been able to avoid widespread destruction of forests, with the rise of extraction-based economies and globalism we have found ourselves in an incredibly dangerous place. We are currently experiencing a catastrophic die-off of species that rely on the conditions forests create. If we do not enact widespread plans to stop this crisis, we are not only digging the graves of thousands of species, but also the graves of millions of people.
When a forest is clear-cut, which was the preferred method historically (and is still used in the Pacific Northwest) it disrupts a forest’s natural system. Mature trees cannot help their saplings, root systems cannot distribute nutrients, plants which need shade cannot grow and the cycle of life-and-death is fragmented. One might think we can just leave it alone until it fixes itself, but this is wrong. When the forest grows back at the same exact time, all trees are similar heights and create thicket-like conditions. Within these unnaturally thick forests, resources are scarce and disease spreads easily. This weakens the trees and the system as a whole. After that, we all know the story: million-acre fires, skies red with smoke, entire towns wiped from the earth and untold amounts of damage and suffering.
So how do we fix this? Well, you are going to hate to hear it, but the answer is more logging. But this time, with a purpose. By thinning the forests to their natural state, we are able to remove unnecessary competition from the system. This means that the trees are not only physically further apart, but also healthier. By going back to the forest we once clear-cut, which has now grown back, we can partially restore the cycle we erased while also supporting the job market of rural areas; oftentimes, logging companies present the only economically-feasible employment for entire towns.
It is also important to note that specifications vary greatly between different forests: The oak stands of New England will need different treatment from the pine forests of Montana, which in turn will need different treatment from the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula. It is just as much an art as it is a science.
Natural resource extraction is not the enemy of environmental protection, exploitation is. We have a terrible history of resource exploitation, but stopping all logging will not fix this history. I am not telling you to trust all aspects of logging, as there are those within the industry that would love to cut down every tree they could find if it meant more capital gains. However, we can not let these industrialists poison the community as a whole. Proper regulation and civil oversight is critical to ensuring that the forests of the world are restrengthened and restored while also keeping alive a critical aspect of our world economy.