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What Happens in Europe Doesn’t Stay in Europe
By Barbara Coyner
It’s not often that the U.S. timber industry makes the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but on May 28, 2013, there it was: Europe’s Green-Fuel Search Turns to America’s Forests.
For a sample of the article’s tone, here’s the opening: Dateline Windsor NC “Loggers here are clear-cutting a wetland forest with decades-old trees. Behind the move: an environmental push.” Tantalizing and provocative, for sure, and correct, as well, but such an opening is bound to stir emotions — not necessarily in favor of logging.
Using words such as “chop” to describe today’s logging, the article tells of clear cutting in the East to supply tons and tons of woody biomass to Europe in order to comply with the new carbon restrictions mandated in Europe. “So Europe’s power plants are devouring wood from the U.S. where forests are bigger and restrictions fewer.” The article continues: “The logging is perfectly legal in North Carolina and generally so elsewhere in the U.S. South. In much of Europe, it wouldn’t be.” Then there is this: “U.S. wood thus allows EU countries to skirt Europe’s environmental rules on logging but meet its environmental rules on energy.” (Read the entire article at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324082604578485491298208114.html)
The piece is troubling on several counts. Number one, it should be obvious by now that much of Western civilization relies on wood for construction and many other vital uses. It would seem then that a specialized financial reporter would know a bit more about the forest industry. Instead, the article sometimes presents logging as a sort of rape-and-ruin occupation that gives no thought to forest health.
Number two, the article gives the distinct impression that logging faces little in the way of rules and restrictions in the United States. Really?
The third most troubling aspect of the article is that it concentrates only on logging in the East, which is a whole different ballgame than logging in the West. It is as if logging in the West doesn’t even register.
Rolling Stone Defends Logging
Once the article went public and soaked into the reading public’s mind, Rolling Stones’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell took a stab at defending logging as a prudent endeavor in a June 9 WSJ piece. He wrote in part: “Although the U.S. has a large amount of forested land, that does not mean the country can afford to cut down trees in a careless, slash-and-burn fashion as in decades past — and that is certainly not what is happening today. Europe’s increasing use of woody biomass, such as wood pellets, has not resulted in the inappropriate over-harvesting of U.S. forests that some fear. The demand has created a viable use for woody material from forestry operations that typically goes to waste. Twigs and limbs — plus woody material from thinning operations in which unsalable trees are removed to allow other trees to grow stronger and healthier — that would otherwise rot are used for biomass. Using this resource for energy puts it to good use and is a wise thing to do.”
Chuck should know something about forestry, being a tree farmer in Georgia. But his rebuttal was only a softball when a 90-mile-an-hour curve ball was called for instead. Yes, he said the obvious: trees grow back. And yes, he said that the forest industry as a whole tries to adhere to prudent management. But nowhere did Chuck address how things are in the West, which is an entirely different set of circumstances.
Beetles in 2013
Summer 2013 has again put western states in the news as the beetle killed forests are going up in smoke in Colorado and elsewhere. Thousands are fleeing homes, damage is at record amounts as usual, and the beetles and other forest predators are chewing away as the public stands and watches. What is the deal here?
Western forests are overcrowded and need to be thinned. Federal budgets are stretched. Why is nobody advocating logging the vastly overstocked federal forests that beg to be thinned? Firefighting budgets gobble up millions of dollars, but why can’t those monies be re-appropriated for stewardship projects? Some politicians casually talk about bringing manufacturing back, yet they remain blind, deaf, and dumb when it comes to the plight of the West’s timber manufacturing infrastructure. It appears the public often only gets negative sound bites on an industry that merits having lengthy brag sheets published on its efficiency.
Housing starts are slowly recovering these days, and both national and international markets are awakening. Is there a problem with shipping woody biomass and pellets to Europe to satisfy their carbon credit requirements, especially if harvesting such biomass contributes to forest health?
It seems prudent that the western United States should be encouraged to keep logging contractors and sawmills busy, preserving infrastructure that would be difficult to bring back once it goes away. Yet with articles like those in the Wall Street Journal, the public is only getting part of the story.
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