May 11, 2003

tree-hugging capitalist hippie

I’ve gotta get down to bizzyness for finals week, but first I need to nimble-up my fingers.

First, some bookkeeping. If you’re still accessing this site through, please switch your bookmarks over to I’m still paying for the danesbored domain, but at some point I plan on deprecating it, as Google doesn’t seem to like redundant domains and is still bookmarking the pages of my site under, not

Next, some pictures. I’ve uploaded a new Wooch! photo gallery that documents our Temperance River excursion last weekend. Go wild, or crazy, or ape shit, or whatever words you surly youth are using these days. Also, the Photo Log is now fully operational with keen backgrounds and colored borders. You can post comments, too. Don’t be shy. I like it when you guys step out of the reeds to bid hello.

Now, some verbiage.

I don’t like logging, but I consider it one of those necessary evils. Houses can’t be built out of frost and smoke, and so long as people want somewhere to live we’re gonna need to keep building houses. Recycling wood and fibers and such can help allay some demands for fresh timber, but with logging we’re talking about an operation on a huge scale. It’s like solar power or wind power. They are expensive complements to conventional forms of energy, but because of a huge baseload demand it is unlikely these alternative energy sources will be replacing coal or nuclear anytime soon.

There’s always conservation, and I hope at some point we can develop appliances that are so energy efficient that we can power them with low-level microwaves and do away with batteries and wires entirely, but again this is dreamy-dream speculation. As for lumber, yes, we can try and reduce demand and develop recycling programs, but it’ll be a long time until these are efficent enough to become viable alternatives. For now, we’re stuck with logging.

As I see it, there are two ways of logging: There’s clear-cutting, where they slice down a huge swath of trees and sell ’em down the river to the highest bidder. Clear-cutting usually takes place a few miles off the main road, as people usually get really cranky when they see the left over devastation and make angry phone calls and chain themselves to logging equipment. So long as the logging companies can keep the practice out of sight, we will hopefully keep it out of mind. You clear-cut the forests near the washboard dirt of Old Vermillion Road, not Highway 61.

The alternative to clear-cutting, which is usually preferred by environmentally conscious people and socially conscious people and all sorts of other people who contrast themselves with the Great Collective Unconsciousness, is what I’ll call ‘picking’. Picking goes in carefully with smaller equipment, grabs specific trees and leaves the forest relatively intact, albeit a bit thinner. Because of the necessary care this process is less efficient, more expensive and results in less harvested timber than clear-cutting. Fortunately, animals can still mingle in the forest after the equipment leaves, as there is still a forest left after picking.

To the environmental conservationalist the right choice should be clear. However, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as I’ve illustrated it, here. With picking, you have no control over what sort of vegetation grows in to fill the open spaces. I would think the canopy formed by the existing pines would prevent new pines from taking root and growing, and instead if everything was left to nature you would end up with a bunch of scraggly, useless undergrowth.

With clear-cutting you utterly destroy the area, but you have complete control over what will grow back. Since it’s cheaper, more efficient and results in more harvested timber, ideally the logging company will have more money left over to rejuvinate the area. This is the argument that logging companies typically give in favor of clear-cutting.

Yes. This works, but only so long as the logging company takes advantage of the ability to control regrowth. Talk is cheap. If they say they can control what grows back but still leave the logged area a desolate moonscape, they have failed. We see the results of this in the forests of northern Minnesota. The turn-of-the-century old-growth loggers ran off with all the pines and left the area ripe for the beeches, birch and aspen to take root. Now, these are beautiful trees, mind you, but they are economically useless for a logging company. A resource is only renewable if you can use the same space that you’ve used before. You can cycle through spaces as your trees mature, but you need to plant fresh trees to mature in the first place.

Three esoteric fools (or rugged individualists, depending on how you see it) set up their tent right next to a clear cut. Nothing was growing back, either under its own power or under the will of the logging company. The place was a fargin’ mess. The Petersen Family Van was sunk into mud six inches deep. I don’t know how long ago the area had been logged; it could have been last year, it could have been ten years ago, but I found the mud telling.

Pines have a shallow root structure. When you log an area you kill off all the roots that hold the soil in place. Pine forest soil is different from deciduous forest soil. The yearly accumulation of leaf litter in deciduous forests results in a thick, well-developed soil complete with nice, deep hummus. Because they lose their needles slowly, pine forests have an acidic, under-developed, thin soil. The combination of a shallow root structure and a thin soil, I think, would put a serious time constraint on how long you can wait in replanting the forest. All it would take is a wet spring to turn the whole floor to mud and wash away any nutrients and soil that were left over.

Erosion can take its toll in a real hurry. In Hood River you can look across the Gorge into Washington and see an entire hillside that has been subjected to clear-cutting. Even from a mile away you can see that a good portion of the hillside has already been washed away. Now, perhaps I have it entirely wrong, but this would seem to be irresponsible logging. What would be the point of clear-cutting to “have control over what grows back”, if you don’t actually take the time to control what grows back? The truth is in action.

Back in Minnesota, I did notice that a lot of the clear cut by the tent looked like it had been burned on purpose. I know that a lot of coniferous trees leave behind seeds that will not take root until they experience a forest fire. Perhaps I am biased. Perhaps all I see is mud, even though the loggers have taken the first steps in rejuvinating the area.

Hmm. My fingers are nimble-ized. Time to get to work.

So my use of walnut/cherry pencils and redwood toilettries didn’t go over well?

So my use of walnut/cherry pencils and redwood toilettries didn’t go over well?