Trees and the Recession

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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

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