Timber war returns

Environmentalists revive campaign to stop the clearcutting of forests in California

|
()
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY LISA CARMACK

Protestors in flashy animal costumes picketed the appearance of infamous logger Archie "Red" Emerson, who was giving a guest lecture to the Forestry Department, at the University of California Berkeley campus on Oct. 14 to bring awareness to the increasing use of environmentally destructive logging practices.

The protesters were admittedly having fun parading around as skunks and beavers, but there was a heavy point to go with the theatrics. Emerson's company, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is being targeted by a new campaign to curtail and eventually eradicate the destructive logging technique called "clearcutting."

The Redding-based Battle Creek Alliance, in cooperation with the Sierra Club, wants Californians to push for environmental protection measures that would ban clearcutting on the state level.

"We're building a statewide coalition of people from all across the state — and hopefully, eventually, all across the country — who can be helping to call on the state of California and Gov. Brown to stop clearcutting and to protect our forests, watersheds, and wildlife," said Sierra Club member Sarah Matsumoto, an East Bay resident who has joined the Battle Creek Alliance.

Those living close to clearcut areas say that the damage is devastating

"I live about a mile from most of the clearcutting," said Patty Gomez, a resident of the Battle Creek area. "We like to call it ground zero."

The term clearcutting describes the complete eradication of trees and shrubs from forest areas, some the size of Golden Gate Park. The area is then doused with thousands of gallons of herbicides and then replanted as a tree farm.

"Industrial tree farms are sterile and lifeless," said Juliette Beck, coordinator of the Sierra Club's Stop Clearcutting Campaign. "This particular method is incredibly ecologically destructive."

SPI is the largest private landowner in California, owning 1.9 million acres. It owns 24 industrial facilities and employs approximately 3,400 workers.

"SPI own[s] so much land and potentially controls the fate of the forest," said Beck. "SPI is the poster child for the one percent." Because of SPI's scorched-earth policy of completely clearing an area and sterilizing it for replanting, biologists are concerned that crucial plant species will soon become extinct.

"After clearcutting, there is a huge flush of sprouting natural regeneration of native species," said veteran biologist Vivian Parker, who has lived in the Battle Creek area for 30 years and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service. "When the newly sprouting plant layer is sprayed with chemical herbicides and thus eliminated, the plants do not get a chance to grow and shed their seed."

Parker argues that this interruption of natural regeneration over several periods of clearcutting will destroy the natural growth of plant life necessary to maintain a healthy forest.

This copious use of herbicides has also been suspect in a strange phenomenon affecting wildlife in North America. According to a study conducted by UC Berkeley professor of endocrinology Tyron Hayes, the use of herbicides, even at extremely small amounts, have been linked to biological mutations such as male frogs growing ovaries.

SPI is insistent that its practices are environmentally sound and internally regulated.

"We monitor all of our own activities to see where we have room for improvement," Mark Pawlicki, director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at SPI, told the Guardian. "In many cases we've changed our practices." New research on the effects of these herbicides have shown that current regulations don't always address the cumulative impacts of chemical applications and other practices.