Logging: Conversations and Considerations

My exploration of the stories of logging began with questions, and at the end of the day I am left with more questions. Despite investigating the different perspectives and practices of logging, the visceral reactions I experience when seeing a scene like this 3581_a3_desat tempis still a sense of coming upon a battleground slaughter, as if we have cut down a whole tribe. 3562_a1_sat When from above I see swaths of the forest missing, 8654_a3 my automatic response is shaking my head. I think about the lack of open dialogue and coordination there appears to be among some of the key players whose interests lie in the forest, which I uncovered and experienced while researching the topic of logging. But the thoughts in my head also now wade through the complexities I recognize exist in the operationalization and conversations of forest management, use and values, and I appreciate their place in the landscape of logging.

Despite my fascination with how things work, particularly the technology and processes used in the logging and mill operations past and present, what was probably most intriguing to me was my experience trying to arrange informational interviews. I was unable to successfully acquire even a thirty minute phone conversation slot on anyone’s calendar on the business side of the timber industry, despite all three companies I contacted seeming to be quite transparent when considered through a modified discourse analysis of their websites. It was relatively easy to navigate to names and contact information on their websites, as well as get connected to individuals’ (one has the name for) voicemails when calling the companies. Two of the companies I contacted were large with timberlands across the United States as well as internationally, and one them was smaller company with timberlands in three of the Northwest states. But, whether it was the end of a transparency veneer or simply I was a low priority, I did not receive a response, even in efforts I thought were more likely to yield a response, such as when I emailed the sustainability certification contact which invited questions (and which I thought a company would proudly discuss), and when I was specifically referred to a person through a network contact. I do need to state that I was impressed with a particular staff person who handled general inquiries for one of the companies: every time I thought my request must have been rejected, she would diligently loop back with me, and I truly believe she was making an effort to connect me with someone. These experiences certainly say something about those companies. However, this need to be considered in context with the strong reaction of wariness I received from the United States Forest Service (USFS) individual I contacted, who in the end did allow me to ask him my questions. To me, these experiences and responses are most telling as to the current dynamics around the concept of open dialogue between forest stakeholders; it seems to be not open.

If a curious individual cannot even have a short conversation with a company, I wonder if time and effort is being dedicated by the different forest stakeholders and managers to convene so that they can learn about each other, and gain perspective of the different pressures and factors in each others’ worlds and decisions. If connectivity of ecosystems across the landscape are necessary for maintaining the health of our environment and its inhabitants,[1] dialogue between landowners and different land management styles is necessary for stronger, more creative, and more impactful, large-scale strategies and decisions. A static website of information is not dialogue. If such conversations only happen when at the point of trying to make land exchanges or because a road is shared as it weaves between ownership boundaries; if this conversation is not happening so much at the forest management education level because schools have different philosophies and classes that students will self-select based on their civil service or private industry orientation[2] – then we are setting up and perpetuating dysfunctional patterns of working together.

There are some groups that are working towards this kind of dialogue. Stakeholders from the different corners of the forest have come together to focus on sustainable forest management and chain-of-custody operations, and through the conversations practices are being established and normed with the use of opt-in accountability audits. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the more strict (from what I can tell) Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) take into account the environmental, economical, and social landscapes of the impacts of logging and other timber industry operations, and require continuous recertification for companies to be able to use the FSC or SFI symbol of approval on their products. Critiques of these efforts focus on the scope and rigor this translates to in both industry practice and the accountability system.

There are paradoxes in how we operate as humans: we make decisions and use incentives and disincentives to mitigate problems we caused, and in the process we create other impacts downstream that we then have to attend to, which the story of logging in the Olympic National Forest reflects. A personal effort I made a couple of years ago to be more conscientious about my impact on the forests was to get a tablet with a stylus and other features, because with all of the meetings in the organization I worked for and the surrounding cultural norms of printing charts and handouts that were trashed after the meetings, I saved a ream of paper in the first month I had my tablet. However, what is the impact to the environment for the mining of the metals used in the production of my tablet, the making of the plastics, and later when I discard the tablet as waste? It reminds me of an article I read about Home Depot’s corporate social responsibility efforts several years back, where suppliers were asked to explain how their product was environmentally conscious. “Plastic-handled paint brushes were touted as nature-friendly because they were not made of wood. Wood-handled paint brushes were promoted as better for the planet because they were not made of plastic.” Home Depot’s Eco Options senior vice president at the time, Ron Jarvis, said it was the impact on the larger landscape that he was paying attention to: what is the waste product in the production of the object, and where is that waste going? What about the fuel used to transport each supply of the supply chain?[3]

Another interesting note is that the most effective way to force change appears to be through legal means, assuming there are structures in place for ensuring the changes are made. Using the Endangered Species Act and the image of the northern spotted owl to preserve forests on public land in the Pacific Northwest is an example. On a larger scale, the international policing community is making clear what is acceptable and what is not: Interpol has a wanted ad out for an individual connected with illegal logging in Indonesia.[4] Our world is really one big landscape, and supply chains link across the globe; so what happens in Indonesia does impact us, for we are citizens of the world. That, at least, is what Norway believes. Liberia has as part of its land some of what is left of West Africa’s rainforest. Little over a decade since the end of its civil war, Liberia is in need of money and lacks infrastructure to protect its forest from illegal logging. To address this, the Liberian president initially gave licenses to companies that would allow almost 60 percent of the country’s rainforests to be cut, and only rescinded the licenses after strong criticism. So Norway, citizen of the same earth as Liberia, is providing development aid and capacity building support around protecting the forests, and in return, Liberia promises to end deforestation.[5]

There are values in a forest besides the timber, often found in the form on nonwood products. However, those are more difficult to measure, and do not yield financially in the same way timber products do.[6] Timber harvest needs to happen to a degree, because we use wood in many ways and forms. The question then is how we harvest. I am still not convinced that clearcutting a stand that has been growing for a minimum of a couple of decades, despite all of the conscientious and scientific efforts to minimize watershed impact and the like, are enough to not significantly interrupt and impact the cycles and interdependencies the ecosystem establishes and relies upon.

This investigation into the topic of logging in the Northwest and the different aspects of life, economics, politics, society and history that intersect has changed what I see and consider. On one of my first trips to the forests for this project, I took this photo: IMGP5001 You can see clearly by how I framed the boundaries of the photo, that I was focused on capturing the distinct divide of clearcut and forested land (which this photo happens to sit on the edge of private and national forest land), and in particular the cut stump in the foreground. If we draw out what I was really seeing, it was this: 5001_a2_stump After researching more, I learned about the post-harvest silviculture practices, and discovered the assumptions and error in my framings. What I should also be bringing into the picture is the little sapling, 5001_a1_tree the many of them, scattered between the stumps: potential.

See the rest of the Logging in the Pacific Northwest project

[1] National Research Council (U.S.). (2000). Environmental issues in Pacific Northwest forest management. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. (Page 185-186).

[2] USFS Forester. (2014). Informational interview. 20 October 2014.

[3] Krauss, C. (2007, June 25). At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw? New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/25/business/25depot.html?ex=1183521600&en=ae42441b3296de3f&ei=5070&emc=eta1&_r=0.

[4] Wanted: Sudiman Sunoto. Retrieved November 17, 2014 from Interpol, Operation Infra Terra: http://csiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/9_Eng_Sunoto.pdf.

[5] McGrath, M. (2014, September 23). Liberia Signs ‘Transformational’ Deal to Stem Deforestation. BBC News: Science and Environment. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29321143

[6] National Research Council (U.S.), Pages 122, 146-147.