After 40 years of environmentalists relentlessly locking up our forests, we are now seeing the negative impact of their actions, ecologically, socially and economically. How much more can our overcrowded Pacific Northwest take before ideological fervor destroys our beautiful home?
As with most everything there is a happy medium. In the environmentalists' fight to preserve most, if not all, of our forest land, they have gone far past the balance point between forest management and preservation. Because of this, we are seeing the negative results outweighing the positive. It is interesting that the environmental movement and politicians scapegoat everything to climate change. Climate change does play a role but, it is a small one.
We are fortunate in Whatcom County that our history does not show frequent wildfires, but they do happen. A perfect example of the effects on our environment is the shutting down of the U.S. Forest Service lands to management by the environmental community. Roads have been closed or poorly maintained, fire prevention is almost non-existent, and firefighting budgets and human resources for fighting fires have been drastically cut.
Now the Forest Service has to beg Congress for money to prevent and fight fires when all of these costs used to be paid for from the selling of timber. Now it comes from the public’s pocket. Most of the last catastrophic fires began on Forest Service lands. Today we just watch this valuable resource go up in greenhouse-gas-rich smoke.
Current practice is no happy medium
How much preservation is enough? This question never gets answered and it is about time it was. Is Whatcom County locking up 25% of our forests from management enough? Half? Sixty percent? Try almost 75% of our forests are off-limits to timber harvest. This does not seem like a happy medium and now they want more. Is preservation a wise use of resources in an overpopulated world, or is it ideological greed?
Because the environmental businesses have an open-door, anytime policy and a sympathetic ear from politicians, our natural resources are managed not by science but by political science.
One of the environmental assertions is that older forests like the Bessie are more biologically diverse. This is a false statement. Science has proven that a well-managed forest of different age groups is much more diverse than a homogenous older forest.
Older trees also sequester carbon out of the air at a much slower rate than younger trees and eventually give off greenhouse gases when they are past their prime. On State Department of Natural Resource lands almost 50% of the land will not be cut but be put to other uses such as stream buffers. These lands may someday be full of older forests — if they don’t burn first.
Focus on science, not scare tactics
Another scare tactic about the Bessie sale is that logging will cause huge amounts of phosphorus to enter Lake Whatcom. Show us the science that forest practice rules and the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan do not prevent this from happening. For the 15 years the landscape plan has been in effect, has anyone gone out and collected data to show the effects on water quality from timber harvest? The Forest Community must live in science, ethics, and realism.
Thirty years ago, thousands of people in Whatcom County worked in the forest industry. Now there are hundreds. Thirty years ago, the forest industry added tens of millions of dollars to the local economy, making our school and county infrastructure some of the best in the state. Now there are just hundreds of workers left and local school districts and governments are raising taxes to make up the difference.
Is this really beneficial to county residents? The forest industry provided family-wage jobs with benefits. Without living-wage jobs, domestic violence, addiction and homelessness are on the rise. Are the environmental ideals feeding these flames of hopelessness? Because of the scarcity of timber, lumber prices have risen four-fold. How does this help affordable housing?
Our local governments have shut the forest community out of these decisions. Examples include the county’s reconveyance of almost 9,000 acres of forest land; the forestry section of the County Climate Change Action Plan; and the letters to pause the Bessie timber sale. Too often, the forest community finds out about these actions from sources outside of government. In many cases, that’s too late.
Environmentalists enjoy special access
Because the environmental businesses have an open-door, anytime policy and a sympathetic ear from politicians, our natural resources are managed not by science but by political science. Our forest community is too small to fight the giant goliath of slick PR personnel, lobbyists and lawyers mostly supported by Seattle money. Our forest community can’t even afford one of those big-bucks players.
All we are looking for is sound science, not buzzwords; for a true seat at the table. If we are really serious about climate change, we need to listen to everyone, not just the politically astute. The forest community has a lot of positive science-based professionals who can bring about real climate impact changes, not just small, questionable feel-good projects.
If we are really serious about a better environment and society, we need to sit down together and figure it out. It is time to stop getting bullied by the more powerful and work for the common good. Without discussion, there is no science. Let’s start talking, and stop attacking.
Dick Whitmore, a retired forest engineer, practiced forestry in Whatcom County for more than 47 years. He currently works as a watershed-restoration consultant in Central America.