Timber realities

Posted: Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Having worked in the woods for 44 years, you begin to think you might understand a few things. You also become an historian. Environmental concerns were an issue when I began as a young forester, yet there was no way of forecasting how the movement would progress.

In retrospect, the growth of concrete cities, the crowding of our people on freeways combined with the allure of escape into natural wildness promoted in the media, particularly on television, has set the stage for what has occurred. The emotional nature of this subject is the underlying energy that drives it.

The courts, of course, have been effectively utilized in furthering the aspirations of environmental organizations. You couldn't plan a course of action that has been more effective if you tried.

In the case of timber in the Northwest, the results have been extreme. Harvesting of timber on the national forests is almost non-existent. People's livelihoods, connected for generations to these trees, have been destroyed along with the value of their homes and equipment.

I still recall a slackline yarder, valued at $600,000 to log long spans and avoid mid-slope roads, that was sold for $25,000, still in perfect condition.

The collapse of the Forest Service, an agency that had been serving the public, paying its way, and maintaining its facilities, is nearly complete.

These losses, along with the loss of jobs and the uprooting of families, are nearly immeasurable. Through the Endangered Species Act and other legislation, the movement has moved beyond timber to nearly all activities that create economic progress. Timber provides a blueprint of what can occur elsewhere in other industries now beset by environmental regulators.

I never expected one outcome; i.e., that those implementing environmental regulations would find gainful employment by doing so. Even as a consulting forester, I have found work in this arena. Not all of this benefits the environment in a measurable way.

As Americans and leaders of the world, we must become very smart very soon. The economic engine that is American-built leads the economies of the world. If we allow extreme environmentalism to decide our prosperity or lack thereof as we have in timber, I am pessimistic about the outcome.

In balancing environmental issues and economic realities, we have not made intelligent decisions in the timber business during the last 40-plus years. Time will decide whether lessons learned there have any effect on the nation's overall economic potential.

Gary L. Wiggins, mayor

Port Angeles, Wash.

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