November 21, 1997


An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well, and does not want to be told otherwise.

Aldo Leopold

I have just finished Hans Burkhardt's excellent book Maximizing Forest Productivity. The above quote came out of that book. It is a fine book and what he says in it is true. There is nothing in it that I would disagree with.

Frankly, Hans, what you write will probably be read mainly by those who tend to agree with you. At the same time, the people responsible for the cutting of timber can be expected to ignore it. How can you get people in power to look one or two hundred years into the future, which is both possible and practical in forestry, when you are lucky to get them to look five years ahead? Many can barely manage to look 6 months ahead.

To see what is actually happening, all that you have to do is stand by the side of highway 101 and watch the logging trucks that pass by. Some will have mature logs of over two feet in diameter. Many will be loaded with what loggers call "pecker poles." These are trees that have been cut down in their infancy before they have a chance to develop into big, and highly profitable, timber trees. The lumber made from those small trees will be inferior to that cut from mature trees.

Even if a reasonable Percentage of Inventory(POI) is mandated by law, it will be too easy to circumvent. Okay, not circumvent, CHEAT. Responsible people don't need laws to tell them what the right thing to do is. The irresponsible ones will circumvent just about any law that can be made. What happened to the Pacific Lumber Company is a paradigm of what will continue to happen. That company went from responsible sustainable forestry to the most destructive kind of forestry, just about overnight.

The only way that I know of to legislate a harvest plan that can't be circumvented and that will insure sustainable forestry forever is one that would not permit cutting a tree of less than, say, 18 inches in diameter. Of course, the size limit would have to be different for different tree species. Eighteen inches is an adolescent redwood. A flat-out ban on clear cutting might also work. Needless to say, such plans would never make it through the legislature. There would be too much big money opposing it.

One of my children is having a house built in Salt Lake City. I had a chance to see how they are building houses these days. The floor joists consist of particle board on edge, with a 2 x 4 on the top and bottom. You don't need a mature tree for that. The siding isn't plywood, but particle board. In other words, you don't need much in the way of trees to build a house nowadays. You can take one of those pecker poles, cut one to four 2 x 4s out of it and chip the rest for particle board. The main use for dimension lumber used to be for building houses. Office buildings are made of steel and concrete.

In the future, the only places where real wood will be used will be in luxury homes. With that happening, as well as a scarcity of the stuff, the price of lumber will skyrocket. A rich man who wants a country home would do well to buy a piece of land that hasn't been logged in over 100 years. When he is ready, he could fell some of the trees and build his home with the lumber. I should say "have someone build it," because rich people don't get their hands dirty or calloused very often.

How about the logger looking to the future of his children? If the businessman can't look five years ahead, many loggers can't seem to look beyond the end of their noses. They probably figure that their kids won't be loggers. They'll send them to school and they'll do something else.

So who needs forests with big trees? Tourists maybe?

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