The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Sides of Logging

Sustainable logging minimizes the impact of paper manufacturing on our forests

| May-June 2002

Many years ago I had a conversation with my stepson Leif’s Waldorf School teacher. He told me about dealing with a student who, in a fit of pique, kicked a door. Instead of disciplining him, the teacher asked him to study the door: Could he count the rings in the wood? How old was the tree? What kind of tree was it and what kind of process did it take for it to become a door? The point, he said, was to elicit reverence and respect and prevent such mindlessness in the future.

That conversation ultimately led me to help create the Waldorf School that my children attended; my husband, Eric, now teaches there. And it was, in part, that conversation that led me to a sustainably managed forest in northern Maine last fall. As we investigated more environmentally benign sources of paper for the magazine, I became obsessed with learning about how trees become paper. So I called Roger Milliken, an old friend who has been managing 100,000 privately owned acres of forest for 20 years, to arrange a visit. In a way, it felt like a pilgrimage of gratitude for the many acres of trees we have consumed during 18 years of publishing Utne Reader.

I was astonished by the balancing act Roger and his woodlands manager, Brian Higgs, routinely perform: from siting roads and bridges, to understanding growing cycles and predators, to planning for bio- and vertical diversity; to monitoring the markets for all the grades and species and matching that with the maturity of the trees and the timing for the several stages of thinning—and thinking about all of this in the context of 100-year cycles.

I saw a state-of-the-art Swedish logging machine, which looks like something for outer space exploration and which minimizes scarification of the land and leaves the nutrients from 'delimbing' on the forest floor. Then we saw neighboring land that had been logged in the conventional way with what is called a feller buncher—a tree cutter that rides on bulldozer-like treads. More than 20 percent of the land logged in this way is so compacted by the machinery that trees will not grow for decades.

Roger’s initial connection to this land comes from writing about its history. Out of that sense of story and place comes the passion for his work. Part of what Roger sees as sustainable management means educating the children who will be the next generation of owners. Toward that end, the kids camp on the land. “I want them to understand that this is a real place, and to develop a relationship with it, so they won’t make decisions just based on the financial bottom line,” he said. “The interests of the forest and expected corporate rates of return won’t always coincide.”

Sprinkled among the pages of this issue is paper from some of the first rolls produced by a Wisconsin mill that is committed to producing the highest post-consumer-waste recycled paper possible and is bringing us closer to our goal of using domestically produced, environmentally benign paper. Oddly enough, as the price of recycled paper has dropped, so has the demand. And now that we are beginning to walk our talk, we are glad to say that we are joining with the Independent Press Association and the Paper Project in urging the more than 1,500 publications in our alternative press database to help create a stronger demand for recycled paper. See pages 12 and 18 for more on paper.

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