Solutions to the Timber Wars

By Darryl Cherney - Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 26, 1991

I would like to suggest that there are two proposals forestry activists can endorse, that if implemented, would relieve much of the current tensions that are continuing to build within the context of what has become known as "the timber wars." In fact, the mere advocacy of these two concepts would do much to alleviate environmentalists of their stigma of being unconcerned with the fate of the timber workforce and the health of the economy. Sound to simple to be true? Read on.

The first proposal is that we enact into law, through either the legislative or he initiative process what I'll tentatively call is Forestland Restoration and Employment Tax Act. All figures presented are extremely flexible but the concept is rooted deeply in a singular morality: that those who do the destroying and unemploying should pay for the mess they've made. The two seemingly overwhelming problems of ruined forestland and massive unemployment can be combined into one solution: provide jobs to repair the damage. This massive undertaking will be paid for by taxing the wholesale price of lumber in the exact amount needed to repair the eroded hillsides, the devastated river and stream corridors, the denuded landscapes and the collapsed ecosystems. We'll need some big strong folks to move logs and boulders along the creeks (both in and out, depending on what's needed). we'll need rock climbers to scale and rappel steep embankments which were once covered with trees. There they can plant hardy, nitrogen fixing native species. we'll need tree planters and nursery operators who will grow and plant not just the "commercial species" like redwood and Doug Fir, but the pioneer cover species like oak, madrone, bay, native grasses and ferns and so one. And we'll need trained biologists, ecologists and other educated types to construct restoration plans that will work. The need is clear. There is much work to be done by us humans fixing this place.

After 150 years of rape and run logging in the Pacific Northwest, who better for footing this bill that the timber companies. let's say we've determined that it will take 20,000 people to get a good start at this job. let's say that $20,000 per year is a decent living wage. That will require $400,000,000 a year. Add on another $100 million for supplies and administration costs and we'll need to tax the timber industry $500,000,000 per year. Great. All we need to do now is determine what their gross annual wholesale receipts are and tax them the exact percentage needed to pay that bill. The program could be administered by either the state or county governments or an environmental group such as the Nature Conservancy, who has much experience in administering environmental projects. That agency will determine what needs fixin' and who and what to send there.

Perhaps this should be attempted on a trial basis on a smaller scale, or more likely, it will require a larger scale program to repair the sins of our fathers as well as our own. the program can be expanded to apply to all industries that cause environmental degradation. The tax will always and only be applied at the point of destruction (i.e. resource extraction). As activists lobby for this legislation or gather signatures for this initiative, we will legitimately be able to say that we are pushing for full employment within the framework with an environmental agenda.

Is this difficult to achieve? Hell yes. Is it more of an impossibility to realize than any other goal we've set for ourselves? Hell no. further, programs such as this have already been instituted over the years, such as the California Conservation Corp. (the CCC's). this is not a pipe dream.

The second proposal concerns our overall strategy for dealing with the timber industry's disinformation and "hate them" campaign. This proposal has also been test marketed with some limited success. It goes like this: All interested environmental groups (or at least a large handful) will join together to announce that they will be willing to drop all lawsuits, all bureaucratic appeals, all spotted owl set asides, all impediments to logging of any kind under the following conditions; the timber industry, meaning every timber company large and small must provide a plan which insures that every mill currently in existence will remain open and that all people employed in the timber industry will remain employed at current payscale, and that all mills that have closed down over the last five years will re-open, and that this condition of prosperity will remain in perpetuity. that means forever. Forests forever.

No doubt some environmental groups will cringe at this notion, feeling that this is some kind of bluff that the timber industry will call. Wrong. We are calling their bluff. The solemn fact is that the timber industry, like many industries, is not sustainable, nor has it ever had any intention of being sustainable. They will respond by laughing and saying that we are not serious. We must press for an answer. What is your plan, big timber, for keeping folks employed, keeping the mills open, if all your constraints are removed? Please supply us with a complete inventory, economic projections, cut versus growth comparisons, and verifiable data. This has never been done and there is no way in hell that the industry is either willing or capable of doing it. Take the "Bowsker Deal" of Feb. 1990. Both Louisiana Pacific and Pacific Lumber promised to show inventories, not close any mills or lay anyone off due to exports, and [P-L proposed] not to log Headwaters Forest. This was blasted across the front pages of every California newspaper. Well, big timber is zero for three on those promises. John Campbell, President of P-L, even admitted that the deal was scribbled on the back of a napkin. Then he blew his nose in it and left it for the bus boy. But I digress.

This second proposal, if promoted respectfully, sincerely, and forcefully, will have a similar effect to the first. It will highlight our concerns for the health of the timber workforce, as well as all species who depend on the forest, and it will expose the timber industry for what it really is: a loathsome, parasitical, earth raping, out-of-control, corporate plunderer whose only interest is in sucking our regions dry of every resource they can get a hold of in order to fill the pocketbooks of distant feudal landlords, greedy corporate executives, and sleazy wheeler dealer shareholders...

Oh, did I say that the second proposal has a modest precedent? in 1989, L-P closed the Potter Valley Mill and blamed it on environmental lawsuits. In fact, there were no lawsuits holding up any timber cutting so Earth First! held a much televised press conference in [Mendocino] County offering to coordinate the dropping of all environmental lawsuits and appeals if L-P would just keep the Potter Valley Mill open. L-P declined comment.

The time is upon us for the environmental movement to take some bold leaps forward in both strategies and tactics. if these proposals are perceived as risky, the dangers pale in comparison to the incoming holocaust brought to us courtesy of Corporate America. As long as our arguments are rooted in reason, trust, and sincerity we can never be boxed into a corner. That is what being a radical is all about, by the way.