How green is my valley

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The housing complex that I live in is quite large, with small buildings consisting of a combination of townhomes and flats. One of the nicest aspects of the place is all the trees and plants and green areas, including our fair share of critters–raccoons, opossum, rabbits, birds, teenagers.

This week, the complex started tearing up some of the green space, and in particular, taking down some trees in order to add parking spaces. It almost broke my heart yesterday to drive by a 20 foot tree, killed to make way for someone’s Toyota or Ford Explorer. What is essentially meaningless about all of this is that there is enough parking, but people have to park 2 or 3 blocks away from their apartments.

In essence, the green was torn up because of convenience, not necessity. And next they’re looking at my block. (In case you’re wondering, I park close to three blocks away and walk, willingly, to and from my car. No fears about being mugged–the complex is home to one of St. Louis’ unique neighborhood police outlets.)

Today I read in CNN that President Bush wants to prevent forest fires such as the ones that are consuming miles of forest in Oregon and northern California–forests I have walked. Bush’s plan is to ease restrictions on timber companies, allowing them to enter a forest and “thin” it to prevent additional fires. And as a side benefit to the whole thing, think of all the boardfeet of lumber this will add to the market, more fuel for a sad, sad economy, and needed money to support forestry efforts.

In reality, removing Bush-colored glasses, this plan would give the forestry industry leave to police its own actions in regards to what it considers “thinning”. It would be giving the timber industry the ability to determine how forests are managed, comparable to giving the airline industry the right to control the agency that regulates the airline industry. Oh. Wait a sec…

I grew up in a town in a town called Kettle Falls, in the Northeastern corner of Washington state. The community’s economy was based on logging, and the timber industry still has a strong presence in the area. I’ve also walked miles and miles of clearcut, seeing huge bald patches of forest carefully hidden behind hills so that motorists can’t see what’s happened. They see mile after mile of tree and think, “Well, hey. What’s the problem? Plenty of trees.”

I’ve seen streams and the associated fishing destroyed by runoff. I’ve also seen homes literally buried in mud, and towns wiped off the map as the hills above them slowly and surely pushed the town out of existense. No trees to provide root systems to provide stability to the earth to provide a base for undergrowth to provide a drainage system to keep the land from literally slip, slidin, away.

These clearcuts are evidence of the timber companies good forestry management skills.

To prevent forest fires (as Smokey would say), you need to clear the scrub brush, the small trees, and the sick trees. Timber companies, though, don’t want these. They want the big, healthy trees, the ones that provide the wood they can sell. After all, they are in business to make money. And make no mistake about it, the forest industry is no different then the oil industry in that both will sell out the environment to add profit to the bottom line. I know, I’ve worked for both: Sierra Geophysics, a Halliburton subsidiary (oil), and Weyerhaeuser (wood products and forest).

(What can I say? I’ve been around in my professional career.)

Some people will say that we want to cut the big trees to prevent the fire leaping from crown to crown, which is what can create a devastating blaze. True, this type of fire spread is the worst; however, the fire wouldn’t get to the crowns of these big trees if the scrub and the small and sick trees were gone, as happens with lightning-caused fires and controlled burns.

Mr. President, give us a little credit, okay? Do you really think we’re going to accept your plan at face value? Sorry, can’t wrap this one up under cover of the War on Terror, and therefore not to be questioned.

In the virtual neighborhood (where trees grow without threat of blade, the air is always clear, and rain and sunshine fall in appropriate measure), Loren’s also been reading the same news I have, but is somewhat heartened by Time Magazine’s Green Century edition, which focuses entirely on the environment. This edition comes about because of the upcoming 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Will our man in SA, Mike Golby provide coverage?).

My favorite passage from the Time articles so far is:

For starters, let’s be clear about what we mean by “saving the earth.” The globe doesn’t need to be saved by us, and we couldn’t kill it if we tried. What we do need to save—and what we have done a fair job of bollixing up so far—is the earth as we like it, with its climate, air, water and biomass all in that destructible balance that best supports life as we have come to know it. Muck that up, and the planet will simply shake us off, as it’s shaken off countless species before us. In the end, then, it’s us we’re trying to save—and while the job is doable, it won’t be easy.

Right on. Focus the problem on us and maybe people will pay attention. Bloody smart move.

It was good to read a major publication focusing entirely on the environment (and thanks to Loren for pointing this bit of bright news out as well as the funny Green Awards), but this ray of hope is tempered by the fact that our beloved president has decided not to attend the Summit. I believe he’s currently on another vacation at his home in Texas, plotting more details of the War on Terror, and trying to figure out how to create yet more confusion about whether we/won’t we invade Iraq. As our delegate, he’s sending Colin Powell, the man most consistently out of step with, and ignored by, the President and the rest of the administration.


Still, I have my tree in the corner near my place, a real beauty. And I don’t think there’s any corporate concern that wants it…yet. And if they do, you’ll know where I’ll be–chained to the tree while accessing my weblog through wi-fi and documenting the story for you all as it unfolds.



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