Ecology & Economics

In this article from PERC, the ideology of the environmental movement exhibits—as it does in virtually all cases—why it is unable to negotiate effectively; further validating the argument that environmentalism is not a science, as it claims, but a religion, as Michael Crichton put it in a 2003 speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club.

An excerpt from the PERC article.

“Conflicts over living resources arise mainly from the question of use versus preservation: use meaning harvesting a resource as needed by people; preservation meaning leaving nature alone so that people can’t have negative effects on it. The conflict is particularly intense for forests because they play so many roles for humans and for nature. Forests cover vast areas of the Earth, provide clean water and habitat for many species, including endangered ones, and serve to retard erosion and sequester carbon. Equally important, people have valued forests for their resources for millennia. Firewood, for example, was for many centuries a primary fuel and remains so in many parts of the world.

“With the rise of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s, forest conservation received increasing attention, which continued throughout the rest of the twentieth century. A characteristic feature of the debate over forests was that all forests should serve all purposes—both use by humans and preservation of nature from humans. Furthermore, if forests were going to be harvested, logging should be done in a “natural” way. This led to battles over individual forests and became especially intense in the Pacific Northwest’s Douglas fir forests, where clear-cutting was widespread, leaving the land looking bleak and destroyed. Conservationists argued that these forests were especially important as habitat for two endangered species, the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet, and also for protecting breeding habitat for salmon.

Economist Meets Ecologist

“In the 1990s, Resources for the Future economist Roger Sedjo and I sought a solution by bringing together our different areas of expertise. We began with the simple observation that in order to make a forest and its harvests sustainable, the amount of timber harvested from a forest could not exceed its average annual wood production. There are two alternatives for obtaining timber: cutting wood from old-growth and other natural forests, or harvesting wood from intensively managed plantations that produce high yields on relatively small areas of land.

“At the end of the twentieth century, the average annual worldwide consumption of timber was 1.5 billion cubic meters and had been fairly constant for a number of years. Sedjo suggested this amount could provide an estimate of the average annual world production of timber, a more difficult number to quantify directly. The growth rate of usable timber in natural forests ranged from 1 to 3 cubic meters per hectare per year. If harvested sustainably from natural forests, between 0.5 and 1.5 billion hectares would have to be harvested annually to meet the world’s timber needs. Forests cover approximately 3.4 billion hectares. If in the best case, all forests provided the maximum production of 3 cubic meters per hectare a year, then 15 percent of the world’s forestland would undergo harvests. In the worst case, forests would produce 0.5 cubic meters per hectare a year, and 44 percent of the growth would have to be cut. A realistic estimate would be somewhere in the middle, but would still amount to a large fraction of the world’s forestland. Thus, in those areas the conflict over use versus preservation would continue.

“In contrast, plantations—with fast-growing tree species planted and managed much like agricultural lands—could produce 10 cubic meters per hectare annually. If the world’s timber was provided exclusively from plantations, then only 0.15 billion hectares, or roughly 4 percent of the total forestland, would undergo harvests. Even an average production of 5 cubic meters per hectare would require only 8 percent of the world’s forests.

Plantations to the Rescue

“Why not divide forestland into two categories: plantations to provide harvestable timber, and all the rest of the world’s forests, to provide the non-harvesting functions of forests? The plantations would have to be carefully managed, of course, keeping factors in mind such as biological diversity, streamside buffers, and ecologically sound methods of pest management in mind.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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