public/private forests

Fri Sep 22 10:38:56 MDT 1995

In fact, the privately owned forests in the American West are far
more ravaged than the public ones.
Ah, _what_ privately owned forests?  There aren't m/any in the West
that I know of.  Utah for instance is around 70-80% Federal land,
between National Forests, BLM [bureau of land management, aka bureau
of livestock and mining], recreation areas, national parks and
wilderness [those last two are small categories].

My understanding of the issue of private-land logging is that it is
generally not profitable, so it practically never happens.  Why
should Weyerhauser [wood and paper products giant] buy the land,
assuming they could, and be stuck with waiting for trees to grow up
again?  Especially when they don't have to, under the present system.
 If you stay on the highways in Oregon, you won't see it, because
they leave "buffer" strips of trees along the roads, but from the
air, flying into Portland, the enormous clearcuts, flattened
landscape, visible erosion scars, debris littering the landscape like
straw, make a striking view, even if there are allegedly some
seedlings stuck into the ground down there.

Weyerhauser [and others] in the NWest has done all this on "public
land".  They did it because cutting the huge old trees and then
running is the most profitable option, given the give-away prices and
road-building subsidies provided by the Forest "Service", and the
nonaccountability to the public "owners".  [It's like letting a very
bad manager control and waste "our" assets, and we get no say in it
except through "electing" congress.]

They knew this would end, decades in advance, as the most profitable
trees were becoming fewer.  Although theoretically a "renewable"
resource, big timber is treated like a mineral mine, except the type,
quantity and location of good "ore" is entirely visible above ground,
so there is no doubt about where and when it will run out. When it is
played out, i.e. higher profits are available elsewhere, the
capitalist is out of there.  All the corporate whining, about the
"environmentalists" putting "their" loggers and such out of work, is
entirely crocodile tears.  It probably just pushed them out of the NW
a little sooner than they had planned, when they were going to
abandon all their workers anyway.

I've read that Weyerhauser started "reinvesting" in the SouthEast, at
least 10 years before the spotted owl hit the fan in the NW.  I
believe I saw some of that on my trip to Alabama.  Privately owned
tree farms in this context consist partly of old cotton fields.  None
of the descendants of the aboriginal land-users, the historical
slave-workers, nor anything approaching an ecosystem now benefits
from this arrangement, as far as I can tell.  I'll not go into the
ecological details, but I hope everyone knows how far a tree farm is
from harboring diverse or native species...

The notoriously depressed SE economy "welcomes" any industry.  I
suspect that wages are much lower than timber workers got in the NW.
The trees are much quicker growing than the pines of the chillier NW,
and they are cut at 5-6 years for paper pulp and plywood only.  It
would take at least 30 years to get lumber-size trees, so it would
not be profitable.

Otherwise, one of the things that happens to privately owned forests
is that they are no longer forests, they are resorts and housing
developments.  If a capitalist can get private ownership, then the
only way any trees are left standing is if they increase "property
value", i.e. increase the exchange value of the cabin in the woods
when sold = increase profits.

Also, if I could get a chunk of forest for myself, I wouldn't sell
the trees unless I was desparate, and if I was desparate, I could get
a higher price for the land if I don't cut the trees.  The timber
companies will never bid up the price offered for my trees as long as
they can get trees cheaper down the road on public land, and my
private chunk is bound to be much smaller than the nearby
public-owned mountainside, so they would lose any economy of scale.
Then maybe my private forest will be looking very good indeed,
untouched.  After all, I would probably plan to build a cabin there
myself someday, not in the midst of a clearcut.

Lisa Rogers,
problematizing the distinctions between public and private forests
and their likelihoods of destruction of various kinds

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