Saturday, November 28, 2009
Deforestation American Style
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Camp Connell, CA -- Thanks to Google, you can explore my neighborhood.
You can't really see the people or the general store, but you get an idea where we are located. In the woods.
Zoom in and out for an even better look.
There are no towns nearby, just villages and housing areas: Dorrington and Camp Connell and Big Trees Village subdivision.
Probably 90 per cent of the nearly thousand homes and cabins within three miles of us are unoccupied 95 per cent of the time. This is vacation cabin country, and most owners are absentee.
For example, there are 12 cabins on my road, and we are the only people who actually live here full-time. This Thanksgiving weekend, three other cabins on our road have been temporarily occupied, and that's about average for a holiday week at this time of year.
Maybe 200 or so people live in the immediate area.
We are all surrounded by tall trees; Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Oak, White Fir and a few Giant Redwoods planted in the last 100 years. The neighborhood is usually very quiet, and we really like it.
But if you take a close look at the Google map you will see it is not an untouched paradise. Large chunks have been removed, legally. It is sort of a a de-forestation blessed by local and state and federal governments.
Most of the forest immediately around us is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, California's largest land-owner, and they have been cutting trees rapidly in the past few years. The pace has slowed a bit because of the housing industry collapse, but SPI's public relations department remains quite active selling the idea that the fault is elsewhere. They have to do it, they claim, because the Stanislaus National Forest lands where they used to cut trees owned by the public has tighter regulations.
Like a politician's "talking points," the corporation sells certain ideas: clear cutting is efficient and businesslike; herbicides are good for us; mono-culture forests are a sensible way to replant when they clear-cut a mixed conifer forest; the company is environmentally friendly and just wants to reduce the fire hazards, and problems for the industry are primarily caused by over-zealous environmentalists who don't understand good business practices.
I don't happen to believe it, and few of the people who actually live here do, but enough politicians accept the public relations pitch and the effective lobbying so the clear-cutting continues.
Look at the checkerboard pattern in the Google map, including acres adjacent to a major grove of Giant Sequoias protected by the state park.
The clear-cuts almost always leave a thin screen of trees to hide the scalped land from being visible from the roads.
None of my neighbors are anti-lumberjack, or against the use of timber, and almost no one here suggests trees should not be cut. We all live in wooden houses, burn wood in the fireplace, and sit on wooden-framed furniture.
But we'd like a more sensible approach.
The local economy is almost entirely dependent upon tourism: skiing, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting provide what little economy survives. In our mountain region, the biggest employer is the ski resort which is usually open five months at the most, and pays minimum wage to a lot of its seasonal employees.
Despite the massive tree cutting in the past few years, very few jobs in this economically depressed county are directly related to the corporate land owners. Their people mostly live in other areas, they have no mills operating in the county. The trucks come in, cut the trees, and haul them away to some other place. I suspect they pay a very small tax bill, if any.
The industry has created its own "green" non-profit organization to sell the idea that clear-cutting and mono-culture forest and herbicides are good for us, but people who live here know better.
Take a look for yourself.
*If you want to learn more, check out the website of a local organization that tries to balance economic necessity with smart forest practices: www.forestwatchers.org