Julia Altemus Commentary: “Hug a little less, help a little more”

“Stop Hugging and Start Helping” was the topic of a recent presentation by a self-proclaimed, former or should I say reformed, environmental activist. While his world had focused on that of the outdoor recreation enthusiast, being outside and being active in the “natural world” eventually gave him an appreciation for the world we live in, and for the business of managing forests.
Like Greenpeace founder, Patrick Moore, Bruce Ward also once agreed, “The forest industry stands accused of some very serious crimes against the environment. It is charged with the extinction of tens of thousands of species, the deforestation of vast areas of the Earth, and the total and irreversible destruction of the ecosystem.”

Even though Mr. Moore and Mr. Ward no longer hold this view, sadly some still believe that cutting trees is a bad thing. Thankfully, many renowned and now reformed environmental activists are awakening to the realization that we should be planting more trees, replacing old trees with new ones and using renewable wood sustainably harvested, as the way to a greener future. Mr. Moore and Mr. Ward are good examples of how careful study of the science, of biology and forestry – separating the emotions – however well intentioned – but often wrong – realized that careful husbandry of the forest is the answer to sustaining
the ecosystem, not destroying it – as once thought. What we now have in common is the understanding that managing our forests increases diversity and health of animals and plants, protects and filters our air and water, increases soil productivity and produces renewable biofuels, which may be used to heat and cool not just our homes, but our cities as well.
Everyone uses wood. More than ever before there is an increasing role for a well-managed forest, and the wood it produces. To get there however, the old thinking that cutting a tree is bad and is in opposition to environmental ethics must change. Even Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones – now a Tree Farmer – speaks out in support of a sustainably managed forest and of the timber and wood products industry.
The old anti-logging, anti-forest management beliefs did not serve the forest. This new environmental ethic appreciates logging and the manufacturing of wood products rather than shunning these practices as destructive. The time has come to dispel the old environmental ethic that harvesting trees is wrong, and realize that interfering with nature is what created the problem.
As a gardener or farmer would not leave their crop to the whims of nature and allow weeds, insects, disease and drought to take over, neither can we leave our forests to passive management, expecting a natural outcome to reap benefits for our local communities. Millions of acres of public lands are at risk. It is time to increase the public awareness within the private and public sector and engage in efforts to restore health to our forests.

In the words of Bruce Ward, we must hug a little less and help a little more.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association



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