By CALEB GUZIAK
The idea that it’s impossible to protect earth’s natural resources without destroying the economy is false. This has been proven by Vermont’s deep history, influenced by its forest ecosystems. In the earliest part of Vermont’s statehood, timber was shipped into Canada, and by the early 1800s, Vermont was home to the nation’s third-largest lumber port. Between the clearing of land for agriculture and the success of the logging industry, Vermont saw nearly 80 percent of its forests depleted by the mid-1800s.
In response to the state’s deforestation, Vermont naturalist George Perkins Marsh helped raised public awareness of environmental damage from logging within the state and implemented reforestation efforts, allowing 77 percent of the Vermont landscape to return to forest by the mid-20th century.
Since then, land management policy has forgotten the instrumental and intrinsic value of nature, overlooking the importance of our ecosystems as the foundation of our economy. At a time in our nation’s history when one’s belief in science must align with party lines, profit continues to be the primary motivator for extracting natural resources, occurring at unsustainable scales.
Yes, the logging industry has transformed and grown more complex in the last 160 years. It’s estimated that the industry for timber in the U.S. today generates over $1 billion per year, with an expected growth rate of 4.8 percent in the next year, according to a 2017 IBISWorld industry report. However, current logging practices pose a threat to forest ecosystems and the communities surrounding those natural areas. Current federal and state policies allow logging of forests beyond sustainable scales, which decreases forest ecosystems’ regenerative capacity, reduces the numerous non-timber services forests supply, which are increasingly important on our full planet, and ultimately threatens the very resource that the industry relies on in the long run.
This is highlighted most recently by profit-motivated land management policy regarding Tongass National Forest. This past spring, Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski attempted to add two provisions to the omnibus bill on U.S. government spending, weakening protections of Tongass, allowing for increased logging operations in the area. A new review under the National Environmental Policy Act “hazard fuel reduction,” states that efforts to log in areas less than 3,000 acres do not have to be regulated by the government.
Tongass, America’s largest national forest, spans 17 million acres across Southeast Alaska and holds the last stands of temperate old-growth rainforest in the world. This forest ecosystem sustains high quality fish and wildlife habitats, supplies clean water to surrounding communities, stores carbon at high rates, and provides a range of recreational services which support the state economy. By implementing these bill provisions, the services provided by forest ecosystems in Tongass National Park are put in direct danger.
But land management policy can help protect these vulnerable services. Policy regarding logging operations in Tongass National Forest should include the following land management goals: generate revenue from timber through the development of second growth projects while protecting the interests of surrounding communities, establish lasting relationships between the U.S. Forest Service, NGOs, Native Alaskan tribes, and local communities which encourages collaborative planning, and lastly, define and operate logging at a sustainable scale in order to keep forest ecosystems within their regenerative capacities.
Ecological sustainability and issues of sustainable scale simply cannot be solved by market forces. As a society, we need to define the value of nature for ourselves, whether it be instrumental or intrinsic. By implementing policy which considers these perspectives and those of all stakeholders impacted by policy, we can determine the scale to which natural resources can be used without lessening their value.
Caleb Guziak is an Essex High School graduate who is currently enrolled at the University of Vermont.