One of the most controversial areas associated with the global problem of deforestation is the Pacific Northwest of the US. The problem can be broken down into several issues that all tie in together. These include the near extinction of the Northern Spotted Owl, the business aspect of logging versus the environmental aspect, and the role of the government in this problem.
In 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed. This enabled the Dept. of Commerce and Dept. of the Interior to place species, either land or marine, as either threatened or endangered.
Under these terms species could no longer be hunted, collected, injured or killed. The northern spotted owl falls under the more serious condition of being endangered. Also, the bill forbids federal agencies to fund or carry out any activity that would threaten the species or its' habitat. It is the latter part of the bill that causes the controversy. Under the ESA, loggers should not be allowed to cut down the old-growth of the forest.
The old growth of a forest includes the largest and oldest trees, living or dead. In the case of the North Coast forests, this includes some thousand-year-old stands with heights above three-hundred feet and diameters of more than ten feet.
In 1990, the number of spotted owls dropped to 2000 breeding pairs. The preservation of any species contributes to the biodiversity of an area. In an ecosystem, the absence of one species creates unfavorable conditions for the others. The absence of the spotted owl could have a significant effect on the North Coast forest ecosystem.
In order to send the owl population in the right direction, the major problem for their decline would have to be remedied – loss of habitat. This fact combined with the owls' short life expectancy and late age of breeding only exacerbates the problem. When loggers remove old growth the owl loses habitat for its' food, housing, as well as protection from predators.
Approximately ninety percent of the forests in the Pacific Northwest have already been harvested. In order to protect the current owl population, the remaining forests would have to be preserved, but this would have a serious negative economical effect. Such a decision would effect jobs, regional economy, as well as the lifestyle of loggers. With such a great effect, to stop the cutting seems to be an exercise in futility. On the other hand, by continuing the destruction of the owls' habitat, the only suitable habitat that will remain will be in the confines of a zoo. Seeing an animal in an artificial environment can certainly not be compared to witnessing an animal in its natural environment.
In my opinion, there can be no price put on the existence of any species on this planet, plant or animal. To think that money has become such an influential part of our society that companies are willing to sacrifice a species in order to make a profit. The northern spotted owl is only one of many species that are on the verge of extinction do to deforestation.
Another important consideration in the deforestation of the Pacific North Coast is logging as a business. The investors of a publicly owned company sole concern is the growth of their stock, and this for lumber companies is accomplished by harvesting trees in the most efficient and cost effective manner. Clear-cutting old growth is the best way to accomplish this. This approach leads to quick financial gain but is not best for the long-term or the trees. It is the companies that use this process that is the most unfavorable to the forests and contributes to deforestation the most.
Another approach uses wise management techniques to maximize the long-term profit of the forest. Guest speaker Jerry Howe would fall into this category as a private land owner. As a land 'steward,' he believes he can do what he wants with his land. The term 'steward' is used to mean that no one can truly own' the land, it can only be used or under the care of a person. He uses clear-cutting when it has the smallest effect on the environment, he also uses strip cutting in which the forest is cut in strips to provide a buffer zone and is more aesthetically pleasing. His methods are better for the forest due to conservative forestry practices that speed up the regeneration of the forest. This produces a more sustainable yield than clear-cutting alone.
While neither of these techniques is good for the environment, using wise management practices can still produce a large profit while conserving precious ecosystems. For large companies, such as Pacific Lumber, to switch to using conservative forestry practices would take more than proposals by environmentalists and the Forest Service to help the environment to change their current ways. For these companies to switch, it would cost them money to follow the more sustainable approach while also decreasing their profit due to less tree cutting in the short-term. In my opinion, it is up to the government to set standards that force these companies to switch by making regulations more strict as well as a greater number of them if need be.
The role of the government in the deforestation issue has been two-sided. This is evident in the several different stands Congress has chosen on the issue. These include:
On one side of the government lies the 'alphabet soup' of federal agencies set up to find solutions to questions like, 'What is the sustainable yield of a forest?' These same agencies also decide where taxpayers' money goes within the logging business. In some cases, the money subsidizes the large companies for things such as logging roads in order to keep the cost of paper and other tree products down. These same companies ship their lumber to Japan for milling before they are sold back to the United States at a higher price. Not only does the public lose money in this process but it costs Americans a number of jobs.
On the other hand, agencies have made efforts to prevent deforestation. Members of the Forest Service educate not only the large companies, but the private landowners as well. It is the private owners who own sixty percent if the forests being harvested. By helping to show how conservative forestry techniques can be made efficient as well as more profitable, they are helping to diminish the rate of deforestation. If more money was spent on research and the spread of new and better techniques, then the taxpayers' money would be better spent.
In conclusion, there are several aspects of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest that need to be evaluated before the situation becomes irreversible. If the current harvesting techniques continue, our children will be missing more than the spotted owl.