Can't Save the Forest for the Trees

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National forests generated $6.7 billion for hundreds of rural counties and their residents in 1991, but as the federal government lost the gumption to harvest timber, that revenue was replaced with a sort of botanical welfare:

The nation's decision to leave its national forests to nature's whims, despite their enormous monetary value, swept over hundreds of small logging towns with all the force of a tsunami.

Congress tried to calm the waters, first in 1993 by granting counties hurt by the owl's 1991 listing annual "owl guarantee payments"; and then, in 2000, by allocating $500 million in "safety net" funding to help all federal lands counties cover their budget shortfalls. But safety net funding wasn't designed to permanently replace lost harvest revenue; and now, in a rare moment of fiscal responsibility, Congress appears poised to cancel the deal–a possibility that has many a county commissioner on the warpath.

Read the rest here.

More voices of reason on National Forest mismanagement (and the excellent idea to auction off the whole mess for parts) here, here, and here.

NEXT: I Don't Need That Wuh-Wuh

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  1. “…lost the gumption to harvest timber…”

    Uh, yeah, this is about whose balls are bigger. Timber harvests.

    Worst. Blogger. Ever.

  2. As Joe’s comment shows, you simply cannot have a rational conversation about forests in this country. You cannot just leave forests alone in some pristine condition. It doesn’t work that way. The forests have to be managed. In pre settlement times, they occasionally burned to the ground or were harvested or burned by Native Americans. Now, the brilliant white man has come along and stopped all of that; much to the detriment of the people who live there and to the forests themselves. There is no reason, why this country should not have a robust lumber industry. That doesn’t mean cut everything down. That doesn’t mean that you destroy diverse forest and replace them with homogeneous tree farms. But it does mean you manage the forest and grow trees like any other agricultural product. It is not that hard. But, unfortunately, when one side of the debate is a bunch gia worshipping fanatics, it is well neigh impossible to have a responsible forestry policy.

  3. Is there any way we could sell the owls?

  4. Chris,

    I hear the make great stew. In all seriousness, we have to get away from the “spike a tree for Jesus” idea that cutting any tree down anywhere is a bad thing. In Arizona, the forest service tried to allow logging in a national forest to reduce the fire risk to habitat of an endangered falcon. Sure enough the Sierra Club sued to stop the logging and sure enough they had a massive forest fire and the falcon took the hit.

    I worked as an intern in the 1990s at the Department of Justice. The main case I worked on involved the removal of cedar trees in a forest in Indiana. The forest contained habitat for an endangered bat. The cedar trees were basically a weed tree what were forcing out the native oaks. The oaks provided food and habitat for the bats and many other creatures. The cedars didn’t do much but use tremendous amounts of soil moisture. Do you think that the forest service could go in and cut down the cedars without being sued by the usual suspects? Hell no.

    Of course it turns out that the spotted Owl wasn’t being wiped out by logging; it was being wiped out by another kind of owl. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3815722. Stopping the logging didn’t do anything to help the owl and all of those people lost their jobs and livelihood for nothing. But, it was never about the owl. It was about stopping human beings from doing anything anywhere near anything. The environmental movement really believes that cutting down any tree is a bad thing; science and facts be damned. The whole thing is just nuts.

  5. John,

    You certainly can have a rational discussion about forests in this country.

    You just can’t do so by beginning with the assertion that disagreement with your position demonstrates that your opponent has a character flaw. That’s not what someone who wants a rational conversation does.

    Given your lack of familiarity with rational conversations, you probably didn’t know that.

    I’ll save my rational, honest conversations for honest, rational people.

  6. “But, unfortunately, when one side of the debate is a bunch gia worshipping fanatics, it is well neigh impossible to have a responsible forestry policy.”

    I’ll amend that; some of us can have a rational conversation about forests in this country.

  7. Am I the only one who can’t tell the difference between “John” and “Joe”? How about “RandyAyn” and “Hillaryman”? Then we could keep them straight. As for Mr. Evergreen, why do I wonder where he gets his funding?

  8. “But it does mean you manage the forest and grow trees like any other agricultural product.”

    Any other agricultural product is grown in land that is “managed” in order to maximize its economic yield. Any other function the land provides – habitat, groundwater recharge, flood control – is incidental.

    This isn’t the case with forests. Any management plan needs to incorporate a much larger set of interests and values. This is where conservationists differ from clear cutters – we recognize that these other interests and values need to be considered, and our opponents do not.

  9. So Joe,

    If you are not a fanatic but a “conservationist”, then I assume you have no problem admitting to what a disaster the spotted Owl business has been. I assume you also take issue with law suits to stop responsible management practices like the ones in Arizona and Indiana I listed above. Maybe you are not a fanatic. But your cheap shot on Mangu-Ward led me to beleive that. Further, I would also assume that you have an opinion on the environmental values of selected cutting versus clear cutting (hint, in many cases clear cutting actually does less environmental damage than selective cutting).

  10. joe,
    I figured she meant that in the face of a noisy minority of environmental crackpots, the politicians lacked the spine to stand up and point out that it’s better for forests to be managed than left alone. You’re actually taking Ms. Mangu-Ward to task for pointing out that politicians are spineless? C’mon, man… Or to Paraphrase you…

    Most. Knee-jerk. Comment. Ever.

  11. I agree with you, John. Although I consider myself environment friendly, I think our forest conservation and endangered species policies are irrational and possibly harmful to the very species they seek to protect.

    I think and hope that my fellow conservationists will see that responsible logging can actually protect our forests by recognizing them as valuable assets. Unfortunately, I agree that debate on this issue has often been controlled by ideological extremists.

  12. John,

    I don’t know a great deal about the impacts of the ESA listing of the Spotted Owl, nor the two cases you brought up.

    I do know that forests that have been considerably altered through human activity need to be managed to bring them back to a sustainable state.

    And I know that the specifics of a harvesting plan need to take into account local conditions. Broad statements about one method being better than another are not helpful.

  13. I agree that debate on this issue has often been controlled by ideological extremists.

    Puh. When is that not the case?

  14. I do know that forests that have been considerably altered through human activity need to be managed to bring them back to a sustainable state.

    What does that mean; “sustainable state”? And why is it bad if forests have been altered, and why do they need to be managed back into something?

    I don’t understand what you’re advocating here.

  15. JOe,

    Please do not think that I believe that we should clear cut the entire Northwest or leave logging policies up the logging industry alone. The problem is that you can’t a rational conversation about it. The loggers have gotten just radical as many of the environmentalists. Neither side talks to each other and the science and economics of it are totally lost in the process.

  16. Ayn Randian,

    Those were exactly my questions.

  17. Randian,

    I’m using the term “sustainable state” to refer to a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes.

    For example, a stand of woods that has become infested with an aggressive invasive cannot just be left alone in that state. There would have to be efforts made to remove those invasives, or they would overtake the native species, eventuallly eliminating them, along with the biotic functions that those native species provided in that ecosystem. Another example would be forests that have had their mature, canopy-providing trees removed, so that a great deal more sunlight hits the forest floor than would occur in a natural state. This causes brush to fill up the understory, when it would naturally be much thinner, resulting in fire hazards, alterned habitat, and other changes to the ecosystem. In both of these cases, interventions are needed until the forest reverts to a sustainable condition.

    John,

    I largely agree with your last statement, though I would add that financial interests, particularly among industry, has contributed to the breakdown of the debate just as much, or more than, ideology.

  18. joe, why are forests the way you described better than other forests? And if an invasive species comes to the forest, aren’t we interefering with the natural process (provided humans didn’t introduce said species). And wouldn’t roping/fencing/cordoning off these forests also require human intervention?

    Basically:

    In both of these cases, interventions are needed until the forest reverts to a sustainable condition.

    Why should humans care about sustainable forests?

  19. Randian,

    “Sustainable state” could also refer to a condition in which human intervention is incorporated into the continuing function of the forest, but in such a way that the forest will continue to remain in a healty state, and carry out its ecological functions, as the human activity continues. For example, a logging plan that avoids slopes, replants cleared areas appropriately, and maps out areas to be harvested over the long term, which the schedule and targetted areas developed to take into account the capacity of the forest to regenerate itself.

    And of course, in line with the principles of sustainable development, such a plan would have to take into account the economic and cultural needs of nearby human settlements, so that it meets those needs sufficientlly that the plan will be adhered to.

  20. I’m using the term “sustainable state” to refer to a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes.

    Translation: forests should be offlimits to people. Except where occasionally necessary to return them to the state they were in before humans set foot on the continent.

    Next up: grasslands! Now known, of course, as cropland, but we need to return them to a sustainable state in which the grasslands, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of their inherent natural processes.

  21. Randian,

    Sustainable forests provide economic, cultural, and environmental benefits, and do so in a reneweable manner. We should care about sustainable forests for the same reason that we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg – because we want to keep getting those eggs for years (and centuries) to come.

    “if an invasive species comes to the forest, aren’t we interefering with the natural process (provided humans didn’t introduce said species).” Invasive species are a human-induced phenomenon. Cases of natural species migration play themselves out very differently, and in a sustainable manner, mainly because of the time frames involved.

    But you aren’t asking a technical question, you’re asking a philosophical one, one that I believe I answered in my 10:54 comment.

  22. Joe,

    Why is the invasive species of tree considered unnatural? Isn’t the growth of the invasive species included in the concept of a sustainable forest?

  23. Ooh, that’s gotta hurt, RC, to write something like that, and then have my comment, which completely refutes you, appear immediately below yours, without there even being sufficient time for me to have read what you wrote and composed my comment as a response.

    Gosh darnit, you just know there’s one of them there deep ecology watermelons around here somewhere.

    You’re good at just knowing things, aren’t you?

  24. Joe,

    Never mind. Already answered.

  25. kohlrabi,

    The tree species in a forest in its natural state are not randomly sprinkled in there. The trees, fauna, herbs, and microbes in the ecosystem developed together over the history of the planet, and fill niches that exist because of, and are defined by, all of the other species in that ecosystem. If you replace something that is appropriate with something that is not, it usually doesn’t just replace the displaced species in its niche. Instead, it throws off the operation of the entire ecosystem.

    When an invasive takes over a landscape, it does so because something about it gives it an advantage over the native species it competes with. For example, Norway maples put out their leaves sooner than, and drop their leaves later than, local sugar maples here in New England. This means that a Norway maple next to a sugar maple will eventually grow up through that sugar maple, shade it from getting any sun, and eventually kill it. However, the Norway maple evolved to fill a niche in a very different ecosystem, not that of New England. To thrive in Scandinavia, the Norway maple evolved in such a way that it works to kill anything growing beneath it, through its shallow roots and the way it dumps larger amounts of material. In Scandinavia, the fauna developed to be able to survive with less of an herb layer than in New England. If Norway maples take over from Sugar maples in New England, the result will be that the species which require the understory materials common to our woodlands will not be able to survive, because that understory will be changed so much.

    Why do you have squirrels, kohlrabi? Why?!? 😉

  26. kohlrabi,

    Keep in mind, not all golder eggs have value on the floor of the Chicago mercantile exchange.

  27. Joe, so, I’m in agreement with you here.

    ‘Cept for the damn squirrels. It’s their freakin’ demeanor…

    I think the 10:54 comment sums up a rational approach to the issue.

  28. Despite the conversation here, it is very possible to have a rational discussion on this issue…

    Try this link to start.
    http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20C%20Vol.%2016.2-18.1/Vol.%2017.2/Oleschlaeger.htm

    Something that hasn’t been brought up here.
    While it is desirable to reduce the fire load in the forest to prevent catastrophic fires, logging isn’t always the best approach. The forests developed in a context whereby frequent small fires cleared smaller trees and brush. Many biological processes evolved that take advantage of this process (just as cotton woods require floods to germinate, flood control has threatened Cotton woods along the Rio Grande). Over management of fires has resulted in a maladaptive state in much of the western US forest and an increase in catastrophic fires. Just letting fires burn when they do not threaten humans may be a long term solution, but with the current density of fuel, it is dangerous since the fires burn too hotly. So, a combination of cutting, controlled burns, and logging may be needed to get the forests back to a healthy state (I’ll avoid the word sustainable since many here have a strange aversion to this very commonly used term: see http://www.santafe.edu/research/publications/workingpapers/90-021.pdf#search=%22Murray%20Gell-Mann%20sustainable%22 for a nice definition).

  29. “‘Sustainable state’ could also refer to a condition in which human intervention is incorporated into the continuing function of the forest, but in such a way that the forest will continue to remain in a healty state, and carry out its ecological functions, as the human activity continues. For example, a logging plan that avoids slopes, replants cleared areas appropriately, and maps out areas to be harvested over the long term, which the schedule and targetted areas developed to take into account the capacity of the forest to regenerate itself.

    And of course, in line with the principles of sustainable development, such a plan would have to take into account the economic and cultural needs of nearby human settlements, so that it meets those needs sufficientlly that the plan will be adhered to.” – joe

    Your second definition clearly conflicts with the first, joe, so which is it?

    Here’s a hint… Your first definition is in line with most “environmental fundamentalists” (much like there are Christian or Islamic fundamentalists) and therefore a) just plain crazy and b) not remotely realistic or scientific.

    “I’m using the term ‘sustainable state’ to refer to a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes.” – joe

    This definition of “sustainable” incorporate concepts applied by humans to describe an environment that they don’t fully comprehend, and who believe (based on faith alone) that there is an “original, natural” state of the environment and that they know what it is.

    See also, crazy “natural state of man” Luddites who think that going back to nature and giving up technology is the answer to all of man’s problems.

    Bottom line: One definition is a rational approach to managing forests for the benefit of the environment and man (who is part of that environment), the other is a self-destructive and environmentally destructive faith-based approach.

    Which one do you actually advocate, joe? You have to choose one, because it is blatantly apparent that the two approachs are mutually exclusive and directly contradict one another.

  30. If humans need wood, grow tree farms…I see no moral or economic need for a “natural” forest, whatever that means. If people find a need or desire for a “natural” forest, sell of the property and let people take care of it themselves.

    In short, get the government out of the forestry business and let the market decide.

  31. Keep in mind, not all golder[sic] eggs have value on the floor of the Chicago mercantile exchange.

    To determine those values we would need exceedingly wise leaders. Unfortunately we only get to choose between the likes of John Kerry and George Bush.

    Perhaps when Jesus comes back everything will be OK.

    Or mayhaps the Earth Mother Goddess will cleanse her home of the evil humans.

  32. Ayn,

    I believe you asked me to point out when you were being dogmatic in your arguments.

    Ding. Ding. Ding.
    Dogma alert.

  33. Why should humans care about sustainable forests?

    Why should humans care about anything? There is no logical reason to care about anything. Logic is how you use your values to make decisions, not how you arrive at your values. Your values are the pre-conditions. Once you’ve got your wants and desires, then you use logic and rational thought to decide which values to prioritize, and how to go about achieving your goals.

    That said, many Americans care about sustaining at least some natural (and don’t get me started on the meaning of natural – you know what I mean 😛 ) landscapes, be they forests, deserts, prairies, alpen tundra, marshes, swamps, rivers, lakes, or any of a number of habitats.

    So those of us who care about such things must – if we are to be rational beings – take that into account in the decisions we make.

  34. ” you simply cannot have a rational conversation about forests in this country.”
    “In Arizona, the forest service tried to allow logging in a national forest to reduce the fire risk”

    I think it was during a big fire in Arizona that I saw a anti-logging guy on one of the talking head shows. To listen to him, there was no management option only 1) preserve or 2) clear cut. After several minutes of dodging the “what would you suggest to reduce the frequency/severity of these fires”, he finally agreed some trees could be thinned if 1) it was well managed program with proper oversight and 2) the logging companies would be prevented from making a profit on the timber removed.

  35. Dogma = morally disagreeing with you. Check.

    I believe in private land ownership and that tax dollars shouldn’t go toward natural “sustainment” when I don’t value it.

    That’s not dogmatic; that’s self-interest.

  36. Gov’t should be out of the national park business – let the market decide? What a vapid thought. It just goes to show that although obviously intelligent, some people lose sight of the forest through the trees. pun intended.

    Ayn, your logical extreme is just the opposite. Grow up.

  37. “Your second definition clearly conflicts with the first, joe, so which is it?”

    No, it really doesn’t, rob. Your insistence that it does only makes sense in a world in which we are only enriched to the extent that we do violence to the ecological and cultural benefits that accrue to us from the environment. Which is to say, it doesn’t make sense at all.

    Neu Mejican,

    “To determine those values we would need exceedingly wise leaders.” Or a good-enough system, that we do the best we can with, using a lot of trial and error. The root word of “trial” being “try.”

    Ayn, we should care about a healthy environment because animals that shit in their nests get sick and die.

  38. Gov’t should be out of the national park business – let the market decide? What a vapid thought.

    Well, that settles that.

  39. Apparently “Huh” can declare me immature and vapid by fiat; congrats, I didn’t know you were so overwhelmingly influential that the idea that people who want these forests should pay for them themselves can be just declared vapid.

    joe – are you asserting that the government can take care of the environment better than private owners? I can tell you this, my nest (i.e. my home) won’t make you sick, because I have incentive to keep in clean. And I don’t see where “old-growth = healthy environment”. Tree farms look pretty healthy to me.

  40. “No, it really doesn’t, rob. Your insistence that it does only makes sense in a world in which we are only enriched to the extent that we do violence to the ecological and cultural benefits that accrue to us from the environment. Which is to say, it doesn’t make sense at all.” – joe

    Not at all. Here’s the break-down for you, joe:

    “I’m using the term ‘sustainable state’ to refer to a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes.”

    That clearly contradicts this:

    “could also refer to a condition in which human intervention is incorporated into the continuing function of the forest.”

    Sure, it “COULD also refer” to EITHER of those things, but it can’t refer to both. Those are mutually exclusive definitions you’re using and it’s apparent.

    I’m not the guy who posted consecutively contradictory things, you are. I just pointed out that the two aren’t the same.

    So, I’ll ask you again, which is it?

  41. Wow, “joe” has gotten really pissy of late. “John” and the “Randian” seem to be getting under his skin.

    I liked it better when “joe” was more cheerful – when he was more “Happy Warrior” Smith than “Cross of Gold” Bryan. (Disclaimer – not meant to be an historical analogy but an evocation of outlook. I don’t want to rile up the history pedants – it’s too early to drink.)

    Of course, “John” and the “Randian” can both be annoying but let’s rise above the fray, “joe.”

  42. dog?mat?ic??adjective
    1.of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a dogma or dogmas; doctrinal.
    2.asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner; opinionated.

    Do you or do you not base your world view on a doctrine (Objectivism)?

    Do you consider that doctrine to provide a complete system for making decisions about all topics?

    If not, there is no evidence provided by your posts on H&R

  43. “Tree farms look pretty healthy to me.”

    How they look to you is of little importance in the big picture.

    “Tree planting in itself is not the problem. What has triggered concerns from both environmentalists and local communities has been, and still is, the establishment of large-scale mono-culture tree plantations, mostly composed of fast-growing eucalyptus and pine trees…The present pattern of industrial tree crops is leading to a number of negative environmental and social impacts. Environmentally, the adverse impacts of these large plantations on hydrological basins are being exposed. This is because the fast-growing species of trees commonly used in timber plantations consume huge volumes of water.
    Secondly, there are concerns about the possible irreversible changes of soils under plantations of exotic species, which could lead to desertification processes. Furthermore, these large plantations modify the native wildlife substantially . This could lead to a chain of adverse impacts on the different ecosystems involved. The above may also be aggravated by the polluting processes derived from transforming large volumes of wood into pulp and other wood products… In addition, plantations generate other problems arising from the competition between trees and agricultural crops and also from the proliferation of pests under the tree canopy.”
    By Ricardo Carrere

  44. Ayn, “joe – are you asserting that the government can take care of the environment better than private owners?”

    I’m asserting that the govenrment will take care of the environment better than private owners, when those private owners lack the incentive to take care of it. But I’ll give you this – a private corporation would be much more efficient at strip mining 200 acres of woodlands than the government would be at managing it as a park.

    You may think the tree farm looks perfectly healthy, but I assure that the species that can no longer live in that landscape do not. If the ecosystem collapses, your home isn’t going to look very healthy, either. If the environmental effects don’t get you, the subsequent economic collapse will.

    rob, you can ask me as many times as you like, you’re still offering a false choice. An ecosystem that is healthy, that is able to sustain its biotic function at a high level, does not preclude economic development – it promotes economic development. Sustainable economic development does not require the erosion of environmental quality – eroding environmental quality chokes off economic development.

    Perhaps your problem is that you assume that working to maximize economic development and ecological function in an ecosystem requires that they both be maximized in any particular parcel. Well, that’s a mistake. In many cases, intensive development in one location is the solution for development patterns that are eroding environmental quality throghout a region. In other cases, development is the solution to practices that harm the environment. In still other cases, individual efforts to maximize the developmental potential of particular parcels leads to a reduction in both environmental function and economic potential in a region.

    I once told my room mate that there was a nasty brown fog over Washington DC that day. His response was “That’s the color of progress.” You, like him, need to get your head out of the mid-19th century.

  45. Ayn,

    ‘Huh’ is just a troll, ignore him.

  46. that people who want these forests should pay for them themselves

    Ayn, Is this serious? Did you really mean to say that?

    kohlrabi, a troll must be defined as a) someone that disagrees with your enlightened sensibilities and b) someone who discovered this site since the time you did. If that makes me a troll, you are correct.

  47. rob,

    Where in the phrase “a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes” does it state or imply that said healthy state cannot be maintained if human activity is introduced?

    If 100 acres of field are allowed to go pasture in an area that is naturally pasture, they can sustain themselves, and provide the function that sustains a larger pasture-woods-wetland region to enjoy the benefit of that pasture’s ecological function. If 15 of those acres have the hay taken from them twice/year, with the exact acreage rotated in short- and long-term cycles, that pasture will continue to provide almost the same degree of ecological function to the region, and most of it will provide near-natural pasture habitat. Or, if 20 acres are urbanized in the right way, the rest will function as a pasture in the region. These would be sustainable.

    If that entire area is turned into a mall, and it is the only pasture land in a region, both the ecological and economic potential of the area suffers a major blow.

  48. Joe,

    “”To determine those values we would need exceedingly wise leaders.” Or a good-enough system, that we do the best we can with, using a lot of trial and error. The root word of “trial” being “try.””

    That comment wasn’t me. But your point is taken. We can do better than simple trial and error, however, by making informed decisions prior to trial based on careful study of the issues. There is plenty of good science that can help to shape policy in this area.

    For those interested in exploring this issue further…
    http://research.yale.edu/gisf/index.html
    http://www.sustainableforests.net/perspectives/index.php

  49. When this argument comes up I always think of the Hawaiian Islands. They rose out of the ocean floor and were barren for thousands of years. Eventually the sea and humans brought plant and animal life to the islands creating the beauty we see today. I wonder why we never hear cries to return the islands to their previous lifeless state?

    It’s funny that change brought by humans has only been a problem for the last couple of hundred years. All change done by humans before that was “Natural.”

  50. Yes, Huh, I meant it. If you want a forest, you pay for it, same for parks or anything else the market can and should provide.

    joe’s basically asserting a utilitarian “we all benefit” argument for old-growth forests. I’ll need some stats and some kind of idea what an ecological “collapse” looks like, joe, before I buy into a “we need old-growth forests for our own good” argument.

  51. rob,

    I just realized what your objection is.

    You were reading my first statement, “a condition in which the forest, without further need for human intervention, will be able to exist in a healty state just through the function of its inherent natural processes,” to mean that the exclusion of human interventions was a condition for an ecosystem to be sustainable.

    That was not my intent. I was saying merely that human interventions would not be necessary in order for the landscape to exist in a healthy state. Right now, there are landscapes that have been so altered that they require human intervention, or they will be destroyed. For example, the brush- and slash-filled forests where the large trees have been removed through logging. If an intervention is not made, they will suffer through devestating fires, not just the natural ones. The trees will be wiped out, scrub will eventually grow up, another fire will happen, none of the trees will be big and hard enough to survive the fire, ad infinitum, until the last of the soil erodes and it’s a desert. If, however, through a comprehensive program of thinning, fire suppression, and soil conservation, a sufficient canopy is able to restore itself and prevent the brush from thickening, the forest will undergo the natural, beneficial fire pattern. In other words, through human interventions, it will reach a point at which it can be a healthy forest without further human interventions.

    That’s all I was trying to say. Once the forest reaches that state, a logging program that targets selected trees or areas could be incorporated, in such a way that it preserves the canopy and leaves the floor in a relatively natural state. This would be a sustainable human intervention, so long as it is carried out properly.

  52. “It’s funny that change brought by humans has only been a problem for the last couple of hundred years. All change done by humans before that was “Natural.”

    What’s funny is that you think your statement is meaningful. Those who study this issue are well aware of the impact that humans had on the earth from very early on. You can track the migration of early humans across the planet by looking at the extinction of large animal species and wide-spread clearing of forests by fire. There is even a fairly well established academic discipline called environmental archeology that studies these issues in depth. One of the more important aspects of this work is studying why populations in certain areas disappeared. In some cases their disappearance can be traced to unsustainable land use practices.

    Pleistocene Extinction of Genyornis newtoni: Human Impact on Australian Megafauna

    Gifford H. Miller, * John W. Magee, Beverly J. Johnson, dagger Marilyn L. Fogel, Nigel A. Spooner, Malcolm T. McCulloch, Linda K. Ayliffe ddagger

    More than 85 percent of Australian terrestrial genera with a body mass exceeding 44 kilograms became extinct in the Late Pleistocene. Although most were marsupials, the list includes the large, flightless mihirung Genyornis newtoni. More than 700 dates on Genyornis eggshells from three different climate regions document the continuous presence of Genyornis from more than 100,000 years ago until their sudden disappearance 50,000 years ago, about the same time that humans arrived in Australia. Simultaneous extinction of Genyornis at all sites during an interval of modest climate change implies that human impact, not climate, was responsible.

  53. “I wonder why we never hear cries to return the islands to their previous lifeless state?”

    I wonder why we never hear cries for cosmetic surgeons, who work restoring the faces of people disfigured by accidents, to restore the harelips to people who had their congenital abnormality corrected.

  54. Neu,
    Your right – the average earth firster would know all of that.

    Your point is?

  55. As long as humankind flourishes and prospers, I don’t care if we’re the only species walking the earth. And why should I? If we need biodiversity to survive and prosper, we will preserve biodiversity. If we don’t, we’re basically keeping animals around for no good reason.

  56. As long as humankind flourishes and prospers, I don’t care if we’re the only species walking the earth. And why should I? If we need biodiversity to survive and prosper, we will preserve biodiversity. If we don’t, we’re basically keeping animals around for no good reason.

  57. “I’ll need some stats and some kind of idea what an ecological “collapse” looks like, joe, before I buy into a “we need old-growth forests for our own good” argument.”

    You should read up on the civilization at Chaco Canyon in NM. Anasazi culture flourished in Chaco in the 1200’s after, probably, some immigrants from Mexico (Aztec) initiated a radical cultural change that changed the way the people in the area lived. The higher population density that resulted put a strain on the carrying capacity for the area so that when the normal and frequent drought cycle left the area without sufficient water for a few years, widespread famine occurred. The Chaco canyon site was abandoned and the Anasazi culture disappeared by 1300. The pueblo cultures that predated the Chaco canyon site survived the drought and continue to thrive in NM. One of the major differnces between these early pueblo cultures and the Anasazi was their land use pattern. One was sustainable (pueblo) the other was not (Anasazi).

  58. Neu,
    By using your logic, we should conclude that because the present human population continues to explode we therefore must assume that it is at least partly based on how we treat the environment.

    So let’s keep this party going!

  59. …some immigrants from Mexico … initiated a radical cultural change that changed the way the people in the area lived. The higher population density that resulted put a strain on the carrying capacity for the area…

    Holy Crap!!! It was going on way back then, eh?

    Sorry couldn’t resist, carry on.

  60. Mrs Lovejoy never talks like that. But I do. (blush)

  61. Regarding the contradiction in the two definitions you offer, I’d say that while there is an inherent contradiction in the two statements, I think I understand what you were trying to say now – and I understand why you think they are compatible.

    It makes sense to a degree, however, isn’t a desert also a natural state that can keep itself maintained?

    “In other words, through human interventions, it will reach a point at which it can be a healthy forest without further human interventions.” – joe

    But how do you determine what constitutes “a healthy forest” that no longer needs ?further human interventions?? How do you decide if that is even what should be on that parcel of land? How and when do you determine that it’s healthy enough to be left alone?

    Those are all highly subjective decisions.

    My point being simply that if you prefer forest to desert because it’s more hospitable for people or cute, fuzzy little animals and is more aesthetically pleasant to you personally, that doesn’t necessarily make it any more or less “natural.”

    The natural state, during the Ice Age, was for the Earth to mostly look like a Chili Willy cartoon. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less natural, but I prefer warm weather. When do you decide to try to stop the geological clock? How do you determine exactly what the natural state is ? it?s never been static in the history of the planet, much less the comparatively infinitesimal time frame that the genus homo has wandered the Earth.

  62. Schempf,

    My point is, that your statement misrepresents the position of those that are concerned about human impact on the environment. Few who are concerned about the impact of current human activity on the environment would consider earlier human activity “natural” in the sense you imply. Humans do not now and have never stood outside of the ecosystem, but as a highly successful species, we have a profound impact on it. Given that and our ability to reflect on the consequences of our actions, it would be disingenuous to claim that all of those consequences are equally desirable simply because they are “natural.”

    Ayn,
    You live in a very sad cardboard cut-out world. I will try and treat you with more sympathy from now on.

  63. “The natural state, during the Ice Age, was for the Earth to mostly look like a Chili Willy cartoon. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less natural, but I prefer warm weather. When do you decide to try to stop the geological clock? How do you determine exactly what the natural state is ? it?s never been static in the history of the planet, much less the comparatively infinitesimal time frame that the genus homo has wandered the Earth”

    Rob – thanks for saying way better then I ever could!

  64. “So let’s keep this party going!”

    By all means.

    The difference between now and 1200’s, however, is that there is really not that many places were the population can disperse to when the carrying capacity of an area is insufficient for a given population within a particular land use pattern. We currently distribute the burden on a particular area with global trade. Like all things, this has a limited capacity over time. But it is likely to last for your lifetime, so no need for you to worry… self-interest is the only virtue afterall.

  65. You live in a very sad cardboard cut-out world. I will try and treat you with more sympathy from now on.

    That’s not an argument.

    And why should I care if the earth goes on after I die? I’ll be dead

  66. Ayn,

    “That’s not an argument.”

    Correct. It is a comment.

  67. So you took a cheap shot with no justification? No reason you think I live in a sad life?

    Then go to hell. I like my life just fine, thanks, and I don’t need your validation.

  68. “Like all things, this has a limited capacity over time.” – Neu

    Neu… This is something that you, Malthus and the neo-Malthusians can agree on despite the fact that human advances have repeatedly proven the opposite to be true.

    I will wholeheartedly agree, however, that due to “our ability to reflect on the consequences of our actions, it would be disingenuous to claim that all of those consequences are equally desirable simply because they are ‘natural.'”

    Just as it would be disingenuous to suggest that we have enough understanding of our world and what its natural state is to control it and hold it in the pattern we prefer.

  69. Schempf – Just trying to do my part to keep the party rolling!

    In fact, yesterday our doctor confirmed that wife is pregnant. Yep, I’m procreating – a sure sign that the end times are nigh! Heh!

  70. “If we need biodiversity to survive and prosper, we will preserve biodiversity.”:

    Get out of my way, Ayn. I need to graze all these sheep before the grass is gone.

    rob, “It makes sense to a degree, however, isn’t a desert also a natural state that can keep itself maintained?” An arid ecosystem is a natural state that can keep itself maintained, yes. A forest ecosystem that has been destroyed through human activity is not, though if it remains in that state for several millenia, it is possible that a new sort of self-sustaining ecosystem could arise. Hell, life came back after the comet killed the dinosaurs. That’s not really the point.

    Yes, you are correct, there is subjectivity involved in saying that a forest is better than a dead zone. So? Is that supposed to convince me that there can be no legitimate choice made? I’ve never been terribly impressed by that argument – it’s like pointing out that solid objects are made mostly of the space that exists between subatomic particles. True, but wholly irrelevant to the world we live in.

    “When do you decide to try to stop the geological clock?” You don’t you limit your concerns to impacts caused by human activity, since that’s all we can control.

    “How do you determine exactly what the natural state is?” You don’t. See “solid objects,” above.

    Randian, “And why should I care if the earth goes on after I die? I’ll be dead.” Now I feel sorry for you. I’ll try to be kinder as well.

  71. There’s a question pending, gentlemen, and once the ad hominems are out of the way, I would like someone to answer it:

    Why should I care if the earth goes on after I die? I want someone to tell me, please.

  72. Because other people are just as important as you, Ayn.

  73. Just as important as me? Does that I am as important to you as your wife and kids are, joe? As your parents, relatives and friends?

    thanks, joe!

    Now we know the silliness of claiming that there’s some Platonic “importantness” in every person.

  74. I’m not the judge, Ayn.

    How important you or I feel something is, is not what matters.

    Now we know the silliness of those who think they’re the center of the universe.

  75. “can agree on despite the fact that human advances have repeatedly proven the opposite to be true.”

    Please provide said proof.
    I would be interested.
    I have never seen it.

    “hold it in the pattern we prefer.”

    No one with sense would attempt to hold it in a particular pattern, but this is different than avoiding easily forseeable negative patterns based on the consequences of intentional actions.

    Ayn,
    I have reasons for my opinion.
    They revolve around the 2-d characterization of human behavior that you posit in your arguments… (or is it 1-d, self-interest is all that matters?)

    But as you said, you do not need my validation. From your 2-d perspective, I am sure your life is quite enjoyable. I am just sad you can’t join us in the multidimensional universe. It is really quite interesting and involving. I encourage you to sample it.

    “Now we know the silliness of claiming that there’s some Platonic “importantness” in every person.”

    Care to expand that thought?
    For what reason is force against another in the named of self-interest a bad thing if each individual does not carry with them some inherent importance?

  76. “it is possible that a new sort of self-sustaining ecosystem could arise.” – joe

    No, it’s not just possible, it’s pretty much guaranteed. Based on what we know of the earth’s geological history, the two things you can rely on is change and that ecosystems will die and be reborn as something else pretty much until the sun dies.

    “Yes, you are correct, there is subjectivity involved in saying that a forest is better than a dead zone. So? Is that supposed to convince me that there can be no legitimate choice made?” – joe

    Well, I don’t know how much it will convince you, but surely you realize that it’s not so simple an aesthetic choice – desert or forest.

    For example, once you decide you prefer forest to desert, how do you decide what type of forest, what types of plants belong there and which do not, and so on ad infinitum. Who decides that stuff? I have never encountered a scientific model of the ideal forest, have you? If so, please share.

    I would argue that once you’re basing your decisions on what you think is aesthetically more pleasant you lose any claim to making a rational or objective argument.

    Bottom line: if you don’t know and you have no means of knowing what is best you end up with a “I don’t know much about forests, but I know I what I like approach.” That’s not exactly the strongest argument you’ve ever made… You just have to take it on faith that one is better than the other, and that certainly seems dicey to me.

  77. “Please provide said proof.
    I would be interested.
    I have never seen it.” – Neu

    Well, the fact that there are more people now on Earth than at any time in history certainly is an important anti-Malthusian data point. Please also see various Reason articles debunking Malthusian and neo-Malthusian claims. Or you could just take a look here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wager_between_Julian_Simon_and_Paul_Ehrlich

    “No one with sense would attempt to hold it in a particular pattern, but this is different than avoiding easily forseeable negative patterns based on the consequences of intentional actions.” – Neu

    Now, if only it were that simple. But it’s not, things are much more complicated than that and there’s no way to be sure that what you consider to be obviously detrimental actions to a forest today won’t have a beneficial effect on that land 100 or 1,000 years from now. Kind of like the way it’s counter-intuitive to some people to believe that managing forests and chopping down some trees may be beneficial to a forest as a whole…

    Of course, next up we can argue about how a beaver dam that starves a part of the land from water is natural and good but a man-made dam is unnatural and bad for the land.

  78. “Well, the fact that there are more people now on Earth than at any time in history certainly is an important anti-Malthusian data point.”

    Oh, you were doing so well, but that is just not true. You are attempting to prove the null with this argument. It doesn’t hold any water.

    What you are aguing, it seems, is that as we learn better how to manage problems, they will go away. This is, essentially true, but there seems to be some resistence to the idea that the problems, once recognized, should be actively addressed in your arguments. Passively allowing history to take care of the problems that we can forsee seems a naive position to take, to say the least. You seem to have faith that we will figure it out in the future, but resist the idea that we can figure it out in the present.

    “no way to be sure that what you consider to be obviously detrimental actions to a forest today won’t have a beneficial effect on that land 100 or 1,000 years”

    Certainty is certainly a slippery thing…(particularly on the 1000 year scale). But I bet we can make some pretty good predictions on the 100 year scale.

    Beaver dams: Once a beaver builds a dam on the scale of Three Gorges Dam that might be a discussion worth having.

  79. Rob

    Somethings for you to review.

    http://www.mnforsustain.org/daly_h_simon_ultimate_resource_review.htm

    http://www.mnforsustain.org/partridge_e_j_simon_and_perilous_optimism.htm

    Since you brought up J. Simon.
    He makes many good points. These do a fair job of addressing them with different perspectives on the issue.

  80. rob,

    The difference between a more desireable and less desireable landscape is not about aesthetics, but about what it going to provide the best quality ecological function.

    Whether the coast of Louisianna should consist of wetlands or uplands, for example, has nothing to do with how they look, but about what is going to provide the greatest protection from storm surges. Whether old growth forests should be cleared for subdivisions isn’t about what looks prettier, but about the habitat, water protection, and other functions that only old growth forest can provide.

  81. Call me dogmatic (Lord knows I’ve heard it before) but any time I hear about a “problem” (especially environmental ones like this thread and GW) where it’s claimed that top-down edicts from the elite are necessary, I run. Most land (excluding national defense) should be privately owned, period. If you want a friggin’ forest, you pay for the forest.

    And I bet science will bear me out on this one. And quite frankly, if humans were better off (not saying they would be) if the earth was paved from end to end, then so be it. Humans come first; trees last.

  82. Call me dogmatic (Lord knows I’ve heard it before) but any time I hear about a “problem” (especially environmental ones like this thread and GW) where it’s claimed that top-down edicts from the elite are necessary, I run. Most land (excluding national defense) should be privately owned, period. If you want a friggin’ forest, you pay for the forest.

    And I bet science will bear me out on this one. And quite frankly, if humans were better off (not saying they would be) if the earth was paved from end to end, then so be it. Humans come first; trees last.

  83. Ayn,

    You should really make an effort to conform your worldview to the facts, rather than vice versa. You’re about one step away from Lysenkonism.

    But I’ll grant you this – if you start with the premise that human beings have no value, it is completely reasonable to conclude that the natural world has no value, either.

  84. Randian doesn’t give a shit about anyone else but will leave them alone as long as they leave him alone, but Joe is ready to imprison or ultimately kill anyone who does not comply with his plans for the good of mankind.

    But, Randian’s the bad guy.

  85. “Oh, you were doing so well, but that is just not true.” – Neu

    Now it’s my turn to ask you for population numbers to refute my statement that there are more people on Earth now than at any time previously in history. I won’t hold my breath. You asked for proof, I gave it, and you come back with “No it’s not!” Please…

    “What you are aguing, it seems, is that as we learn better how to manage problems, they will go away. This is, essentially true, but there seems to be some .” – Neu

    It may SEEM to you that I said certain things, but I promise you that’s not so. For example I did not say any of the following:

    1.) I didn’t espouse “resistence to the idea that the problems, once recognized, should be actively addressed”

    2.) I didn’t say that we should be “allowing history to take care of the problems that we can forsee”

    3.) I do not “have faith that we will figure it out in the future, but resist the idea that we can figure it out in the present”

    Wow, who are you arguing with, because it’s definitely not me. Sounds like it’s that “imaginary Bushbot/liberal in your head” joe and others often complain about.

    One last thing, Neu, about this “Certainty is certainly a slippery thing…(particularly on the 1000 year scale). But I bet we can make some pretty good predictions on the 100 year scale.”

    I defy you to find predictions about the way life is today from people who lived 100 years ago that approach 50% accuracy. Even the folks who get a lucky shot in here and there only get 1 in maybe 100 guesses right. Prognostication is a tough business with a HIGH rate of failure. The good thing is that those wh9o make the guesses don’t usually live long enough to get called on them. (Which is why people mock the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Malthusian and neo-Malthusians so much – they made doomsday predictions that were refuted within their lifetime.)

  86. “landscape is not about aesthetics, but about what it going to provide the best quality ecological function.

    Whether the coast of Louisianna should consist of wetlands or uplands, for example, has nothing to do with how they look, but about what is going to provide the greatest protection from storm surges.” – joe

    Wow, either you are a SERIOUS control freak with delusions of god-hood, or you’re just VERY unrealistic on this one. You really think it’s within the government’s power to control the landscaping of the entire Gulf Coast? We’d be better off researching “weather control technology” if weather is what you’re most worried about.

    But hey, under your plan, no one would live on the Miss-Lou coastline except people in houseboats who get around via gondola because every hundred years or so we get a major hurricane.

    joe, if you could, define what you think is the “best quality ecological function” we can get from our environment. Face it, there is no way to decide that, there are no criteria for it other than the desires of those who wish to use the land. People disagree on what the “best quality ecological function” of forests are as it is, now you want to landscape the whole freaking world. The tax burden to accomplish the sort of projects that would make the Three Gorges Dam look like an elementary school science project and would bankrupt the entire planet several times over.

    Admit it, what you really want to do is give gov’t the ultimate power to tell people what to do with the land. ALL of the land.

    You’re a city planner, so I understand the desire to exponentially expand your sphere of control to include every acorn and every shrub, but I have to say that it sounds a lot like Pinky & the Brain’s plans to “take over the world.”

    Even if you succeed, you can never truly control something that big and complex. It’s better off left at the lowest level – the property owners.

    You’re espousing the

    Biggest.
    Boondoggle.
    Ever.

  87. Rob,

    This is probably a dead thread, but I’ll post in case you check back.

    Just to be clear, I was not refuting the fact that there are more people now than ever, but the assertion that that fact provides an important data point proving the position that the world does not have a limited carrying capacity.

    “I defy you to find predictions about the way life is today from people who lived 100 years ago that approach 50% accuracy. ”

    Talk about arguing with those in your head. I was responding to this

    “obviously detrimental actions to a forest today won’t have a beneficial effect on that land 100 or 1,000 years from now”

    and positing the chances of success in making predictions about the impact of narrow management policies on a specific area of forest. Nothing was claimed about predicting what the gestalt of people’s way of life.

    Not arguing with anyone in my head, just the Rob on the page…

  88. “but the assertion that that fact provides an important data point proving the position that the world does not have a limited carrying capacity.” – Neu

    You’ve asserted that it isn’t, I’ve asserted that it does. It seems counter-intuitive to claim that vastly greater populations existing now does not refute claims that we are nowhere near the carrying capacity of the earth. There may actually BE a carrying capapcity for humans, but there haven’t been any convincing arguments regarding that since Malthus and the neo-Malthusians have been repeatedly proven wrong.

    “Talk about arguing with those in your head. I was responding to this ‘obviously detrimental actions to a forest today won’t have a beneficial effect on that land 100 or 1,000 years from now'”

    I fail to see how what I’ve posted is arguing with anything but what you’ve posted.

    I noticed that while you claim that you’re only arguing with “the Rob on the page” that you didn’t refute the 3 things you claimed were my position that I obviously never said.

    All in all, a poor showing though you have certainly had plenty of time to figure out what you want to say – you had 9 hours to think about it!

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