Thursday, December 07, 2006

God's Good Earth, Part 2

I grew up in the logging center of the world when I was a child. Douglas County, OR, which received its name about the same time as the Douglas Fir. So until late grade school, most of my childhood was spent with people who worked at the lumber mill, were loggers out in the forest, or were involved in other logging related industry.

If one listened to modern environmentalists, they would say that I would have learned abuse for the environment and disrespect for the land from these often hard-drinking, hard living folks. Infact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Early logging was all about pillaging the forests for rapid expansion, but most of the people that I grew up with in the logging industry had a deep respect for natural places. For instance, most of the men I have grown up with were hunters. So, they killed a few deer for their meet every year. However, they also spent hours making their ways to remote places just to look at herds of antelope and deer, and asses the relative health of the animal population. They were not about to eliminate modern forests from the world around them, because the forests were where they made their living. It was also the place where they spent a lot of their time, and a place where they loved to be.

Part of what has bothered me about the environmental movement, even though I have great sympathy for it, is the arrogance of non-local people coming in and inposing arbitrary rules about a land that they knew little about. Also, there is a sense in America in which there is great bias in who and where we chose to use environmental distinctions.

Let me give an example. I grew up in the Northwestern United States. And there is a lot of concern in not touching forests and leaving them as pristine as possible (which at times is a healthy impulse to preserve places of rare beauty, and at other times causes major environmental concerns due to overgrowth.). When I went to school, I spent 7 years in the breadbasket of the United States, and in Colorado Springs I am on the border of the Western Plains. In these two environments, from a Western perspective, I percieved an injustice.

All one has to do is read stories and narratives about the dustbowl to realize the damage that excessive farming has done to the grassland environment of the Midwest. Much of the Great Depression in America could have been averted if we had chosen to give proper care to plains ecosystems. Many environmentalists believe the Ogalla aquifer (The massive underground lake that makes the midwest able to produce and sustain crops from North Dakota to Oklahoma), is being dangerously depleted to such an extent that it may run completely dry in 100 years. Also, due to overfarming, topsoil is being depleted in the midwest at a rapid rate. The best thing to do to avert this is to surrender more and more land in the midwest to seeding the natural grassland that was there until about 130-150 years ago.

Another example is that 200 years ago a lot of the land from the Appalachian mountains to the Mississippi River was land that was forested. Yet, there is not a large movement to reforest much of the land there. Why not? Why not reforest large parts of the Rust Belt where factories have closed, and employ former factory workers to do the work? Why not raze the blocks of abandoned buildings in places like Detroit and St. Louis and create arboreteums in the city.

Yet, where do we pick on? The Northwestern forests. Where people are very knowledgable and skilled on how to harvest trees, while still being sensitive to ecosystems.

One of the frustrations of environmental groups and movements, along with many outreach endeavors (religious, economic development) is that people don't use local people to develop creative solutions to environmental dilemas that can support ecosystems and people that depend on the land around them simultaneously. We need to do better in this regard, both to support people who need to live and eat, and to gain support for responsible, realistic help for the environment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the comment about "the arrogance of non-local people coming in and imposing arbitrary rules about a land that they knew little about."

I'm sure you can appreciate this - living here in Texas, I'm constantly amazed at the number of environmentalists who tell me what we "should" be doing in my home state of Alaska. Most of them have never been to Alaska or even studied up on the issues. They take marching orders from the pundits in their party and spout empty slogans about the evils of oil companies to me.

Now, if they actually know something about the issue and have spent time in Alaska - I can have a great time discussing the issues at hand with them. But I really do get tired of the rich, SUV driving Austin, Texas liberals (who vacation in Europe but have never been to Alaska and likely never will be) telling me what good environmental policy for Alaska should be.

And meanwhile, the Edwards aquifer that underlies this area is in danger of depletion and contamination, and they seem blissfully unaware of that.