Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012 4:44 PM
Europe’s great forests are largely gone, but there’s one often-overlooked country where lynx, wolves, moose, and wild boars still roam under dense tree cover: Latvia. Jeremy Hance reports in Mongabay on the Baltic nation’s richly diverse forests, and how they’re being endangered by an alarming logging spree during these strained economic times:
Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation’s forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
LVM’s lumber used to carry certification by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, but FSC booted it from the program in 2010, Hance reports. LVM is attempting to regain full certification, but many biologists are worried that its loggers are rapidly chipping away at Latvia’s incredible biological heritage. The country, at the crossroads of western Russia, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, is teeming with more wildlife than many people might realize:
The nation has the highest population densities of lynx and beaver in the European Union, and not long ago the highest density of black storks. The country is also home to wild boar, red fox, capercaillie, black woodpecker, white-backed woodpecker, and moose, and a few resident bears. In fact, unlike much of Europe, Latvia still retains self-sustaining populations of historic top predators, including 500-1,000 Eurasian wolves.
I visited Latvia in 1990, but it was a tumultuous political time preceding the breakup of the USSR, and I didn’t venture far from the tension-filled capital of Riga. I’d like to return one day to roam much deeper into the Latvian wilderness—if it stays wild, that is. Writes Hance:
It may not be long till the great forests of Latvia start to look like those of Western Europe: fragmented and fractured. Some forest species—like the lynx, the bear, the capercaillie, the moose, beaver, black storks, and the wolf—could vanish for good, while others may hang on in a pathetic state. In which case Latvia would have lost not only its splendid wildlife and ecosystems, but also its deep historical and cultural identity.
Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D., licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 3:48 PM
Two California vintners want to cut down 2,000 acres of redwood trees and replace them with vineyards in the largest woodland-to-vineyard conversion in California’s history. Do I need to explain what conservationists think of this?
Under the proposal, reported by the Los Angeles Times and later tipped by High Country News, two Sonoma County pinot noir growers, Premier Pacific Vineyards and Artesa Vineyards, want to expand their growing operations by slicing into forestlands of Douglas firs and the state’s iconic redwoods. Premier also wants to develop 60 high-end estates—for members of the 1 percent, I assume—on adjacent lands that it already owns on the ironically named Preservation Ranch.
“In exchange,” reports the Times, “the developers promise to restore streams, add more than 200 acres to a county park, plant 1 million redwoods and Douglas firs and make other environmental improvements.”
But environmental advocates aren’t appeased by these offers:
“I don’t see a need for more deforestation to have a great wine economy, because there is a lot of cleared land already available,” said Adina Merelender, a UC Berkeley conservation biologist.
“The big issue for us,” added Jay Holcomb of the Sierra Club, “is that redwoods-to-vineyards conversions are worse than clear-cutting because they are permanent.”
A Sierra Club website that has detailed information about Preservation Ranch suggests that its moniker was a greenwash from the get-go:
The project was named “Preservation Ranch” by its proponents to disguise its essential nature as a speculative for-profit venture which targets the steep, undeveloped redwood and oak woodlands of coastal Sonoma County.
A county official acknowledges that the proposal is “controversial from beginning to end,” so approval is by no means certain. One thing is sure, though: If the deal goes down, the resulting pinot noir, regardless of its flavor profile, will most certainly have a bitter, acrid finish.
UPDATE 11/9/2012: Premier Pacific Vineyards has been terminated as the manager of the vineyard investment portfolio held by the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, according to North Bay Business Journal and Wine Industry Insight. It’s unclear how this affects the company’s proposed vineyard expansion in Sonoma County.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, High Country News, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter
Tim Pearce, Los Gatos
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011 2:37 PM
Is that wood legal? Scan it and see. Liberia is putting barcodes on lumber in order to clean up its logging industry and preserve its rainforest. The U.K.’s Solutions Journal reports in its July-August issue on the innovation ordered by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which is part of a deal that clears the way for sales to the European Union.
Liberia’s landscape and recent history both factor into the new policy, reports Solutions:
Liberia has nearly two-thirds of West Africa’s remaining rainforest; it also has a history of corruption and illegal logging. The U.N. placed sanctions on Liberian “logs of war” after former President Charles Taylor was accused of using timber profits to buy weapons during the country’s 14-year civil war. The sanctions were lifted in 2006, but the country’s timber industry has not recovered. … Sirleaf is hoping the deal with the EU will stimulate growth and encourage foreign investment in Liberia.
Opinions are divided as to whether the new approach will in fact clean up Liberia’s logging industry; some observers worry that new markets will lead to corruption and actually increase unsustainable logging.
Fred Pearce at Yale Environment 360 recently traveled to Liberia to investigate, and while his report adds valuable historical and social context, he ultimately finds that political factors—most notably the outcome of the upcoming Liberian October presidential election—could undo any progress made by the new barcoding policy.
Still, it’s an interesting idea, and one worth watching. As one conservationist tells Environment 360, “Liberia has an opportunity to show the world how it’s done. They start from a fresh place.”
Sources: The Solutions Journal
(article not available online),Yale Environment 360
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Friday, August 12, 2011 5:13 PM
Beware the vine creep. That’s the name given to the widespread profusion of lianas—woody, tree-climbing vines—across the tropical forests of North, South, and Central America.
The phenomenon has previously been documented in the Amazon, but now ecologists have confirmed that vines are on the march in Panama, Brazil, and French Guiana, reports Conservation magazine.
“We are witnessing a fundamental structural change in the physical makeup of forests that will have a profound impact on the animals, human communities, and businesses that depend on them for their livelihoods,” Stefan Schnitzer of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Wisconsin tells Conservation.
The lianas, Schnitzer explains, don’t just climb their host tree: They compete with it, stealing its sunlight from above and its groundwater and nutrients from below. But researchers don’t know exactly why they’re thriving. Writes Smithsonian Science:
There is still no consensus as to why lianas are gaining the upper hand. They may survive seasonal droughts that are becoming more common as climate becomes more variable. They may recover more quickly from natural disturbances such as hurricanes and El Niño events and from human disturbances like logging, clearing land for agriculture and road building. Lianas respond quickly to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide—growing faster than associated tree species in several experiments.
Source: Conservation, Smithsonian Science
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011 11:51 AM
I watch a lot of environmental documentary films, and it’s usually quite clear whose “side” the filmmaker is on—the same one as me, of course. In one sense, this is perfectly understandable: Powerful people and institutions that trash the environment are more likely to use lobbyists, front groups, and PR wizards, not earnest documentaries, to spread their views. Big Coal, Big Oil, and Big Timber take their agenda straight to the halls of power, not to art houses and film fests.
The unfortunate result is that environmental documentary genre can be ripe for groupthink and complacency, and occasionally I find myself refreshed to see a doc that forces viewers to challenge their own preconceptions and opinions. If a Tree Falls, currently playing in theaters, is one such film. It follows the case of Daniel McGowan, a former Earth Liberation Front (ELF) member who is serving a seven-year sentence on federal terrorism charges for his role in two arsons, one at a logging firm and another at a facility that activists falsely believed was growing genetically engineered trees. No one was injured or killed in the arsons, yet the government pursued this “eco-terrorism” case as vigorously as it goes after Islamic militant cells that have openly stated their murderous intentions.
McGowan gets plenty of screen time, and he comes off as an amiable and articulate nonviolent activist caught up in the draconian anti-terrorism laws of post-9/11 America. But filmmaker Marshall Curry also talks to the owner of the burned-down logging company, the law enforcers who nabbed McGowan, and McGowan’s hard-bitten Irish cop father, who shares few of his son’s radical views. Curry also interviews green activists who became government informants against their peers in order to save their own skins. The end product is a well-rounded portrait that humanizes McGowan without excusing his more extreme actions or painting him as a flawless hero. The notable thing is that the film also humanizes his fellow activists, his parents, and his legal foes, acknowledging that conflicting opinions and emotions come with this complicated territory. Not everything is as clear-cut as the wilderness that McGowan is so committed to saving.
The British environmental magazine The Ecologist has an interview with Marshall Curry that explains a bit about how this remarkable and moving film came together. For starters, he basically happened across his subject: Curry’s wife works at the office where McGowan was arrested.
As Curry tells The Ecologist, “I actually didn’t know anything about the ELF beside very cursory things I’d seen on TV. My wife runs a domestic violence organization in Brooklyn and came home from work one day and told me that four federal agents had walked in to her office and arrested one of her employees. It was Daniel McGowan—I knew him a bit, he was the opposite of someone who’d be facing life in prison for domestic terrorism would look or act like. I was interested and decided to jump in.”
Curry’s fair-mindedness ultimately does a great service to his film, to judge from the reactions he’s gotten. He says, “When you work on something in an edit room with just a couple of other people, you never know how it is going to be received. It was really important to us that it reflect the complexities of the case. We’ve been happy to see that the prosecutor, the detective, and the police captain—they’ve all seen it and feel like it’s an important and accurate story. Similarly, Daniel’s family and the spokesman for the ELF say the same thing.”
Watch the trailer for If a Tree Falls here:
Source: The Ecologist
Wednesday, May 11, 2011 4:35 PM
The steep rise of clear-cut logging in British Columbia and beyond can be traced to a single mechanical innovation, reports Chris Nikkel in Vancouver Review: The feller-buncher.
Nikkel ventures to a B.C. clear-cut site to profile logger Jamie Wiens and see the forest-munching machine, which can both saw down and gather several large trees in one fell swoop:
The feller-buncher is an automated tree feller, and looks to a treeplanter such as myself like an oversized backhoe. Instead of a bucket, mounted at the end of the hydraulic arm are four metal arms called collector arms, which grab the trunk after the saw blade cuts the tree a few inches above the roots. Each collector arm is controlled with its own button, located inside the machine cockpit that overlooks the blade. … The blade is the size of a kitchen table, mounted parallel to the ground, below the collector arms.
“The teeth on the blade go about 200 miles per hour,” Wiens yells above the roar of the engine. “The blade cuts the tree before the driver grabs it, so it’s a hard job to train people to do because the timing needs to be perfect—the first tree you cut needs to be like the millionth tree you cut.”
The introduction of the feller-buncher in the 1970s was so game-changing, writes Nikkel, that “forest-industry eras in the [B.C.] Interior can easily be divided into two categories: before the feller-buncher and after it. After its introduction, clearcuts rose to prominence as the most efficient way of cutting down a forest and turning a profit. By the 1980s, 90 percent of logging was done in the form of clearcuts, and B.C. led the way—not just in Canada, but around the world.”
Wiens tells Nikkel that forestry shows often feature virtual-training video simulations in which people can test their feller-buncher chops.
At this rate, I presume it won’t be long before an iPad user can log the entire Amazon on a feller-buncher app.
Source: Vancouver Review
(article not available online)
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Friday, August 13, 2010 12:10 PM
Roundup is one of the best-known herbicides, but it’s not just for farmers and groundskeepers—the logging industry also pours tons of the stuff on forests. Canada’s This magazine brings this issue vividly to light in a profile of Joel Theriault, a feisty outdoorsman, activist, and lawyer who is campaigning against herbicide spraying in Ontario’s northern forests. Writes Ashley Walter in This:
The most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide in forestry is Monsanto Canada’s Vision, more commonly known by its agricultural brand name, Roundup. Ninety percent of the forestry market sprays glyphosate-based products, affecting approximately 70,000 hectares [173,000 acres] of Ontario’s forests annually.
Mind you, that’s just Ontario’s forests. Glyphosate products are widely used in the United States as well, chiefly to suppress competing vegetation when replanting trees after clear cutting. Theriault, who was raised at a remote lodge, took up the issue while working as a fly-in fishing guide:
As a pilot he began to notice changes in the landscape. Once-familiar swaths of greenery, shrubs, and dense, dark forests took on a sickly yellowish-brown hue. From the air, vast clearcuts gave fallen trees the appearance of twigs strewn over patches of mud. Forests quickly became barren, marked by the occasional patchwork of brown brush. Theriault was horrified by the transformation and felt a personal responsibility to prevent its further destruction. “If you spend enough time somewhere … you start to claim some ownership over it,” he says.
Theriault believes that he and some friends were poisoned by eating wild game from sprayed areas, and in the 1990s many others hunters, anglers, foresters, and aboriginal leaders testified to damaging effects in a Canadian environmental hearing. But neither that case nor Theriault’s long, lonely battle has brought about significant change. He’s frustrated but still committed, he tells Walter: “I’m still plowing away at it.”
Source: This (article not available online)
Image by jesssloss, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 25, 2010 12:04 PM
Ecological Internet is the most radical green group you’ve never heard of, and for years it has been achieving “major successes … below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media,” writes Jeremy Hance on the rainforest conservation site Mongabay. The organization harnesses the power of the Internet to run online campaigns that have hindered or stopped unsustainable and/or illegal logging in the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, and it also provides IT services to other groups for “global grassroots advocacy.”
Ecological Internet leader Glen Barry and his group earn their “radical” tag in part because of their unsparing criticism of greenwashing in wood certification programs, especially the widely used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and of the green groups who support FSC, such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. Ecological Internet estimates that 60 percent of FSC-certified products come from primary forests, the most ancient and biological diverse type of rainforest. “The FSC, for its part, has not released data related to this issue,” writes Hance.
Barry tells Mongabay:
“[The] whole idea of certified forestry was completely usurped and the term made relatively meaningless, much like sustainable development has become, by the industrial logging as usual […] FSC logging is still the first-time logging of primary forests that are ancient ecosystems that contain the genetic and biodiversity materials that are very important for our and all species’ survival,” explains Barry, who has seen the process firsthand while working as the Papua New Guinea World Bank rainforest specialist for four years.
“I just reached a point personally where if I was going to work on this for any longer, I was going to work to end this desecration of 60-million-year-old rainforests for, in some cases, toilet paper and lawn furniture.”
Mainstream environmental groups like the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network “embraced” the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, says Barry, “and then the sort of dirty secret that no one would ever talk about is that FSC is primary forest logging. We challenge Rainforest Action Network, we challenge Greenpeace, to sit down and have a debate on this.”
Barry says Ecological Internet takes a “deep ecology, or biocentric approach” and describes what drives the group:
“[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention in this forum that Barry says he was the first blogger. Take it from him:
“I was the inventor of blogging. I was the first person to comment upon other web materials, link it, and then list it reverse chronologically. There is some debate over who the very first one was, but I maintain that I am. It’s still on the web, and has been there since 1995; it’s very clearly there. But if not the first one—there may have been someone musing about their personal lives—at least I was the first political blogger: the first instance of an individual citizen harnessing the power of the internet for political commentary, and being able to publish that just like any large corporation could.”
Sources: Mongabay, Ecological Internet
Image courtesy of Ecological Internet.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 10:29 AM
Face it, Earth Day is kind of daunting, and I think that’s one reason it isn’t as widely or exuberantly celebrated as some environmentalists wish. Merely acknowledging the tenuousness of our existence on this planet makes us confront fundamental issues of mortality and sustainability and the possible end of the world as we know it. That’s not nearly as fun as the mindless consumptive revelry of birthdays, Christmas, or Halloween.
So my concept for this Earth Day—Thursday—is to keep things simple. I’m going to celebrate the beauty and power of dirt. My inspiration for this personal back-to-the-roots movement is Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens series tonight, April 20, and also recently became available on DVD from New Video.
Of course, dirt might seem like the most boring and mundane film topic you could imagine, and indeed, a procession of soil scientist interviews would send many viewers fleeing. So Dirt!—starting with the exclamation point, it seems—goes out of its way to inject humor and visual effects, with microorganism cartoons and goofy interludes that will keep even younger kids interested. Beginning with the Big Bang and bringing us right up to modern agriculture, mining, and other earth-intensive human pursuits, it does a wonderful job of showing and telling us that “the living, breathing skin of the earth” is a fantastic and fragile resource.
The film takes a turn toward gooey eco-earnestness near the end, and cynics may groan as Kenyan “Green Belt” activist Wangari Maathai tells the tale of one brave little hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire drop by drop. But I won’t be joining them. If there’s one time when I’m willing to suspend pessimism and cheer on the treehuggers, it’s for Earth Day.
Sources: PBS Independent Lens, New Video
Thursday, April 08, 2010 11:11 AM
Attention firearms enthusiasts: The U.S. government is not going to take away your weapons, as you might have heard. But it is going to make sure that the stocks of new rifles and revolvers are made from legally sourced wood.
The 110-year-old Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to ban the trade of illegally logged wood products. Rules went into effect a year ago for goods including flooring, plywood, sawn timber, and caskets—and now the law’s scope has expanded further. The environmental blog Mongabay reports on the new level of scrutiny:
April 1, 2010, marks the beginning of U.S. enforcement for basic transparency requirements under the Lacey Act for guitars, revolvers, hand tools, pool cues, and certain furniture. This requires manufacturers of such items to declare basic information about where their wood comes from and how it is sourced.
Mongabay notes that the law isn’t messing around: Last year, federal agents raided the Nashville headquarters of Gibson Guitars after being tipped that it was using illegally logged Madagascar rosewood in its instruments. I assume they’ll be even more heavily armed if they approach the headquarters of, say, Smith & Wesson to serve a summons. (I think it goes without saying that they’ll pass a “This Property Protected by Smith & Wesson” sticker on their way in.)
It’s got to rankle many an NRA diehard to think that the weapon he once thought would have to be pried from his cold, dead hands might actually have the tree-hugger stamp of approval on its wood parts.
Image by ~Steve Z~, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 02, 2010 5:33 PM
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally taken a tougher stance on mountaintop removal coal mining, announcing Thursday that it would clamp down on the industry practice of blasting apart mountains and dumping the rubble into mountain streams. It’s not clear whether last week’s colorful protest outside the EPA played a role, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
The announcement came as very good news to environmentalists dispirited by Obama’s support earlier in the week for massively expanded offshore oil drilling. The administration’s new automobile fuel efficiency deadline—a fleet average of 35.5 mpg by 2016—also announced Thursday added even a little more spring to the step of greens.
Writes Jeff Biggers at Huffington Post:
… the nightmare of mountaintop removal appears to be coming to the end of a long and tortuous road of regulations.
Lorelei Scarbro, a Coal River Mountain Watch community organizer and resident in West Virginia, declared: “We are so thankful that the EPA is basing their decision on science, environmental justice and the health and welfare of coalfield residents. This is a biggy. This is the beginning of the end for valley fills and mountaintop removal. We are not leaving our mountains.”
Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Judy Bonds was chosen as a 2009 Utne Visionary.
Source: Huffington Post
Image by the Sierra Club, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 3:32 PM
While the health care bill was being hammered out, a different sort of political drama unfolded in Washington at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, where environmental activists camped out for 32 hours to send a strong message to administrator Lisa Jackson: End mountaintop removal coal mining. The protest didn’t attract many prominent headlines in the shadow of the health care fracas, but like Obama and the Democrats it got the job done.
The protesters’ “purple mountains majesty” tents, built around tripods on which protesters perched, attracted just the sort of attention they were looking for, according to the blog It’s Getting Hot in Here, which publishes “dispatches from the youth climate movement”:
Almost every person who passed through our ‘Purple Mountain’s Majesty’ and underneath the banner “EPA: Pledge to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in 2010” has been incredibly encouraging of our action. EPA employees, tourists and DC residents all demonstrated their support on the issue.
In addition to the many comments from EPA employees that “we are doing a great job” and “please keep doing what you’re doing,” Lisa Jackson personally tweeted her response. Administrator Jackson said in her tweet: “People are here today expressing views on MTM, a critical issue to our country. They’re concerned abt human health & water quality & so am I.”
Sure, it’s just a tweet, but parsing Jackson’s no-doubt-carefully constructed missive is telling. As Jeff Biggers notes at Common Dreams, she uses the acronym MTM, for “mountaintop mining,” a term favored by the coal industry over the more specifically descriptive MTR, for “mountaintop removal.”
Also, Jackson’s focus on human health and water quality sticks to the agency line on this issue. Biggers notes that an EPA spokeswoman yesterday said the protest was “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of EPA’s role” and explained that the EPA does not regulate the mining industry, but is only “responsible for ensuring that projects comply with the Clean Water Act.”
“Except,” notes Biggers, “it’s the mining industry that isn’t complying with the Clean Water Act.”
At Grist, Joshua Kahn Russell writes that actions speak louder than tweets:
At this point in the battle to end mountaintop removal coal mining, the question isn’t about whether Administrator Jackson is concerned about the issue. The question is what is her agency going to really do about it? …
Based on Jackson’s statements on March 8 at the National Press Club, it appears that the EPA is seeking ways to “minimize” the ecological damage of mountaintop mining rather than halt the most extreme strip mining practice. A paper released in January by a dozen leading scientists in the journal Science, however, concluded that mountaintop coal mining is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits all together.
One of the chief goals of the EPA protest, which was organized by the Rainforest Action Network, was to get Jackson to accept a citizen-guided flyover of mountaintop removal sites in Appalachia. We’re still waiting for her to tweet her RSVP.
Sources: It’s Getting Hot in Here, Common Dreams, Grist
Images by Chris Eichler, courtesy of Rainforest Action Network.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 5:23 PM
Destructive bark beetles have been munching their way through vast tracts of pine forest in Western Canada and the United States. Researchers may have found a line of defense against the bugs: sonic warfare. Scientists at Northern Arizona University have found that loud sounds can repel bark beetles, reports The Adventure Life blog.
It took some experimentation to home in on the most annoying soundtrack. The scientists at first blasted the beetles, which were living in pine cross-sections dubbed "ant farms," with heavy metal and Rush Limbaugh commentary played backward. A plausible hypothesis, to be sure:
But “after a few minutes they ignored it,” said Richard Hofstetter of NAU’s School of Forestry. “They seem to habituate to the sound.”
So then Hofstetter and his team recorded the noises the beetles themselves make, tweaked them, and piped them back into the ant farms. The results were nearly instantaneous.
“We could use a particular aggression call that would make the beetles move away from the sound as if they were avoiding another beetle. Or we could make our beetle sounds louder and stronger than that of a male beetle calling to a female, which would make the female beetle reject the male and go toward our speaker. We found we could disrupt mating, tunneling, and reproduction. We could even make the beetles turn on each other, which normally they would not do.”
The scientists have developed an “anti-beetle boom box” that will cost about $100 a tree—too expensive and labor-intensive to use on every tree in the forest, no doubt, but for possible use on high-value trees or, The Adventure Life speculates, a wall-like defense line against the invasion. Call it a wall of sound.
The scientists expect the devices to be ready for market by 2011.
Source: The Adventure Life
Image by vsmoothe, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 07, 2010 11:59 AM
The recession has put a big crimp in the timber industry of the Northeastern United States—which is good news for the trees, right? Not necessarily, writes editor Stephen Long in the Winter 2009 issue of Northern Woodlands, a magazine targeted toward forest land owners in that region.
Long points out that unlike the West, little Eastern land is publicly owned, and most of the region’s rich forests are in private hands. Many of the individuals and families who own these timber stands sell off logging rights to make some of their income, and the associated “forest based manufacturing” industry is the primary rural economic engine in New York and northern New England, contributing $14.4 billion to the region’s economy. But the recession has taken a huge hit on this engine, and Long worries that “if the forest industry fails, there’s nothing standing in the way of a wholesale sell-off of forestland.” The result, he contends, would not be good for the region or the environment:
It’s a time-honored rural tradition to sell off a building lot when the going gets tough, because land is often a person’s only savings account. … This ordinary rate of parcelization, however, will progress geometrically if we all lose the opportunity to sell timber. Parcelization is a cause, and fragmentation is the effect. As parcels are developed, driveways and dwellings fragment the natural system. All of the ecosystem services that accrue in an intact forest are compromised in a fragmented landscape that becomes not rural but suburban. The process would also quicken the erosion of the culture and backwoods ethos that is cherished by those born here and has been a drawing card for many who’ve moved here.
Bit by bit, as we learn how interconnected all of the parts of the system are, we come to an ever-expanding definition of sustainability. It’s not really a paradox—though you’d be forgiven if you thought it one—that the people who cut down trees and turn them into products are the single most important and effective means for keeping this forest intact.
Source: Northern Woodlands
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 2:50 PM
The emerald ash borer is a persistently spreading pest that’s threatening many of North America’s ash trees. It turns out that in the northeastern United States and Canada, it’s also threatening the work of native basket weavers, who rely on thin strips of ash for their intricate work, according to Native Peoples magazine (July-August 2009)
Healthy ash trees, especially the favored black ash, are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and regulations meant to combat the borer “are severely hampering the weavers,” who produce some of the world’s finest baskets, the magazine writes.
Ash basket weaver Frank Meuse of the Bear River First Nation in Nova Scotia sees something more than a hungry bug at work here.
“The introduction of alien species was devastating to the First Peoples of this continent,” he tells the magazine. “Today we are still struggling to teach our children about the relationship they need to have with the land. We can only hope our elders are speaking the truth when they say the trees will make themselves invisible until we learn to respect them.”
Source: Native Peoples (article not available online)
Image of basket weaver Frank Meuse by John DeMings, courtesy of Digby Courier.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:29 PM
Trees of all sizes loom large in the world of Linda Underhill, the author of the new book The Way of the Woods: Journeys Through American Forests (Oregon State University). Underhill’s writing is clear, crisp literary journalism, moving with an understated grace as she covers specific types of forests, from rainforests to urban woodlands to the threatened hemlocks of Appalachia. Her writing on old-growth forests displays her deft touch:
Compared to tree plantations or woodlands managed for growing a certain kind of timber, the old-growth forest is an incoherent prayer, devout but disorganized, oblivious to any demands but its own growth and decay. This sacred chaos holds the key to natural processes scientists are eager to study, but there are few places left where people have not already altered their rhythms or otherwise destroyed the evidence of creation at work. The valuable timber in old-growth forests, where trees grow hundreds of feet tall and many feet around, has proved irresistible to those who know the price such wood can bring. But an old-growth forest also offers something less easy to price in the marketplace. It invites us to witness the miracle of creation and change the way we look at our own short lives. The tall trees inspire a reverence equal to any of our own great cathedrals, and they belong only to themselves. Chopping down old-growth trees and hauling them away seems akin to scattering the stones of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and selling them off as souvenirs.
I read the book last week while camping for a few days in the Midwest: first under a giant oak in the Mississippi bottomlands, then beneath the canopy of a maple forest, and finally under a small grove of black walnuts. My copy is a bit dog-eared, having been dripped on by rain-soaked maples and showered with pollen-filled oak catkins. But somehow I suspect the author wouldn't mind.
Source: The Way of the Woods
Thursday, June 04, 2009 1:46 PM
We’ve previously written about “The True Cost of Leather,” citing the Ecologist’s reporting about toxic tanneries in Bangladesh. It turns out there’s even more to the story if you follow the shoe industry’s supply chain to Brazil—and it might change the way you feel about the shoes you’re wearing right now.
Greenpeace this week announced the release of a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that calls out several major shoe makers for using leather from cattle farms in the Amazon, which are gobbling up rainforest at an alarming rate and hence driving greenhouse gas emissions. Among the makers singled out in the report are Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and two brands that have a place in my own closet: Timberland and Clark’s. I specifically sought out the Timberland brand because of the company’s stated environmental consciousness.
Grist’s Tom Philpott notes that the report “is really about the perils of using state policy to prop up global, corporate-dominated trade” and notes three clear themes:
The expansion of cattle production in Brazil drives Amazon deforestation—and deforestation in turn drives climate change.
The Brazilian government and the World Bank actively support the expansion of the nation’s cattle sector.
The real beneficiaries of such policies are not Brazilians. Indeed, labor conditions on Amazonian cattle farms are harrowing—and often tantamount to slavery, Greenpeace shows. Rather, it’s the companies that buy the products cheap and sell them dear.
Greenpeace allows that some of the companies named may not in fact know that they are using leather from unsustainable Amazon farms, due in part to a convoluted supply chain that effectively “launders” leather supplies from criminal or “dirty” sources. But that doesn’t let them off the hook, it argues, and suggests that people write to the companies and urge them to clean up their acts. Timberland and Clark’s, my letter is in the mail.
(Prologue: Timberland spokeswoman Kate King writes that “Timberland wants to engage with Greenpeace on the issue of tropical deforestation” in a response on Greenpeace’s blog.)
Sources: Greenpeace, Grist
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 5:48 PM
It’s easy to play good news-bad news when considering the environmental effects of the global economic crisis. Rhett Butler at Mongabay.com, one of our favorite rainforest conservation websites, gave us a bit of a lift in a recent commentary when he pointed out that “plunging commodity prices may offer a reprieve for the world’s beleaguered tropical forests.” Butler is a realist, and he readily cites the many environmental downsides of the current crisis, but he also notes that the price dive “may do what conservationists have largely failed to achieve in recent years: slow deforestation.”
It’s not just wood he’s talking about: He notes that in Southeast Asia, a collapse in the prices of palm oil and rubber “is causing a shake-out in the plantation sector, which has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region.”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 5:36 PM
Imagine a vintage acoustic guitar of the future: Tight-grained, rich-toned, and made from a wood that no longer exists. That’s a future some guitar manufacturers are trying to avoid by banding together with Greenpeace in a green-guitar alliance called the Music Wood Coalition, writes Drew Pogge in the Jan.-Feb. E magazine.
The coalition includes virtually all the top acoustic guitar makers—Gibson, Fender, Martin, Yamaha, and Taylor—which either means that this is a vast greenwashing conspiracy or that they have all seen the writing on the fretboard.
The latter seems more likely. Brazilian rosewood, a prized “tonewood” for guitar makers, was logged to near extinction and is now controlled by the international CITES treaty. Ancient rosewood stumps are still logged for guitar exoticists and at least one band name—the Rosewood Thieves—seems inspired by the wood’s mythology.
“Our beloved Brazilian rosewood was taken from us more than 25 years ago,” Bob Taylor, cofounder and president of Taylor Guitars, tells E. “Adirondack spruce was logged out. Today we see the signs of our current woods being diminished to a point of unavailability. … Alternative woods are the key to successful guitars. But the market needs to go there all together.”
Maggie Galehouse at the Houston Chronicle tells the story of the coalition’s formation and reports that Martin has just unveiled one of the greenest guitars to date, the D Mahogany ’09, which is made entirely from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Rock on.
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