Seven Degrees of Separation in the Forest Conservation Movement
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 1993. Seven Degrees of Separation in the Forest Conservation Movement. Portland: Wild Forest Review. December. 27-29.
By Andy Kerr
If you could get them all drunk and off the record, most (but not all) environmentalists in the forest conservation movement would be remarkably united in their ultimate goal: the end of logging on the national forests.
However, not all environmentalists drink and some never go off the record. Thus, a debate rages over the "best" method to achieve as much of what we want as quickly as possible.
It strikes me that there were seven distinct branches of the forest reform movement. For humor's sake, I have christened each branch after its most notable practitioner. (I apologize to all of you who think you deserve the privilege of serving as an archetype, but I'm sure that those so honored will be dissatisfied with my simplistic portrayal of them anyway.)
All of the archetypes are eloquent, effective, and evangelical in their advocacy—though, of course, they don't necessarily feel that way about each other.
Historically, an incrementalist approach has dominated the forest conservation movement. The first major manifestation of incrementalism was the establishment of the major national parks, beginning with Yellowstone and Yosemite. But the "Name It and Save It" strategy continues to dominate in the battles for the designation of special areas, such as wilderness, national monuments, and wild and scenic rivers.
Incrementalists believe in capturing what is politically feasible today and fighting for the rest tomorrow. Each small victory brings the movement that much closer to winning the war (incrementalists often speak in martial metaphors). This might be called the Domino Theory of Environmentalism.
Brock Evans, the National Audubon Society's vice-president for national issues, is the foremost example of a contemporary incrementalist. Evans, who led many campaigns to save ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest, believes that political pragmatism is an essential ingredient in a successful forest conservation strategy.
At the turn of the century, the name it and save it approach was politically feasible only in a few high profile areas, like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Thus, a concurrent and sometimes competitive movement developed which advocated government regulation of forest management. Regulationists, like Gifford Pinchot, sought to use the power of government to ensure that public forests were managed for the public interest and not for private exploitation.
Today the leading proponent of regulationism is Ned Fritz, director of the Texas Committee on Natural Resources. For more than 20 years, Fritz has led a relentless crusade against clearcutting, and other forms of even-age management, on the national forests. Fritz and other regulationists believe that the simplest way to protect the national forests from an abusive practice is "to regulate it or prohibit it."
Incrementalism and regulationism made sense for their times, but as our understanding of the ecological necessities of forests collided against political realities, new branches of the forest conservation movement evolved to meet the challenge.
The most radical (and perhaps rational) new branch is the incentivism approach pioneered by Randal O'Toole, forest economist with Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants in Oak Grove, Oregon. The O'Toolians recognize the fundamental nature of bureaucratic institutions and human self-interest. Rather than resist these tendencies, the O'Toolians seek to direct them.
In their view, the Forest Service is driven to log the national forests not out of a bureaucratic desire to make stumps, but by a desire to maximize its budget. The timber industry has understood this reality all along and has successfully lobbied, influenced, and bribed Congress to establish a series of financial feedback loops where the agency is encouraged to fund its own activities out of the gross receipts of timber sales.
O'Toolians argue that even the best intentioned regulated reforms will ultimately fail, if the institutional and budgetary incentives remain biased toward timber. They would replace political reforms with a system of market-based incentives that eliminate subsidies and allow the Forest Service to profit from non-commodity uses of the forest.
Another response to the crisis in our nation's forests is deeply rooted in scientific management. The ecosystemists, led by former Indiana congressman Jim Jontz, believe that the primary mission of the Forest Service must be to maintain the health of forest ecosystems. Only after the functional components of ecosystems are protected should national forests be managed to produce commodity products and then, of course, only in a sustainable manner.
In a sense, the Jontzians are seeking a true application of the multiple-use and sustained yield concept conceived by the Forest Service in the 1950s, codified by Congress in 1960 (Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act), refined by Congress in 1976 (National Forest Management Act) and continually abused by the agency.
Related to the ecosystemists, but worthy of a separate classification, are the true new foresters, best typified by Roy Keene, director of the Public Forestry Foundation in Eugene, Oregon. New (in many ways really "old") forestry advocates argue that the Forest Service (and private landowners) must abandon the industrial clearcutting model by integrating traditional silvicultural practices, like selection cutting and thinning-from-below, with new scientific information.
Of course, the true new foresters will have a very tough time overcoming the legacy of the industrial "foresters," who are the architects of the current ecological crisis. Unfortunately, the new forestry niche is also suited for occupation by charlatans and false prophets, industrial forestry wolves who now seek to masquerade as new forestry sheep.
Yet, many "foresters" are talking the new talk (ecosystems and sustainability), but they aren't walking the walk (dropping the cut). Instead, these "foresters" hope that by merely changing the rhetoric, the public will get off their backs and they won't need to change their management.
Arising out of a combination of the Earth First! movement and plain business sense are the abolitionists, who seek the ultimate regulation: outright prohibition of logging on public lands. This growing faction is best represented by Tim Hermach, director of the Native Forest Council in Eugene.
Seeing the ecological necessity and economic benefits of total forest preservation, the Hermachians simply call for the abolition of logging on public forest lands. To its adherents, the ecological and economic imperatives of this approach are so strong as to overwhelm any short-term apprehensions about its political unfeasibility.
Finally, increasing numbers of environmentalists now understand that forests on private lands are as important ecologically as the national forests. We can't save one at the expense of the other. Some call for regulation and incentives to achieve ecosystem management on private lands, but others are working for outright acquisition. The most efficient way to ensure that these lands are managed for the public interest is simply to buy them.
This approach is being boldly promoted by Jamie Sayen, editor of the Northern Forest Forum. Sayen proposes the passage of a new Weeks Act to authorize the acquisition of tens of millions of acres of forest land in New England before they are clearcut again by Industrial giants like Champion or are subdivided into vacation retreats for desperate urbanites.
Interestingly, nearly all branches of the forest conservation movement apply Hermachian principles to land acquired for public purposes. In fact, most groups would not support acquisition if logging were allowed on the lands—even though that's largely the case under existing incentives.
Fortunately, the timber industry is as diverse and divided as the environmental movement: landed and unlanded companies; transnational and small woodlots; unionized and not; exporters and domestics; primary millers and secondary manufacturers. The debate on how we should proceed in our effort to reform forest management is healthy, necessary, and must continue. It is a kind of dialectic that will only reach resolution on that great day when logging ends on the public lands. Until then all forest conservationists should continue to advocate their distinct points of view, but we must be willing to modify our perspectives in the face of logic and political opportunity. Environmentalists must not strive after an unachievable unity, but toward the necessary harmony.