Lots of Wood Left To Harvest

Letters / Dec. 25, 2003 12:00am EST

Lots of Wood Left To Harvest

I have been a Herald reader for more than 10 years now, and feel fortunate to have a good local paper in my area. Although I have a fairly large bone to pick with you, I still have a high opinion of your paper.

I am troubled by your recent series of articles on the wilderness expansion plans for Green Mountain National Forest. I had bought the paper about a month ago, and read an article that discussed the opposition to the plan, and reported on the importance of the working forest. I noticed it was one of a series of six articles, and I was interested in seeing the other side of the debate in a following article.

But the "other side" of the issue did not make it into any of the six articles. Only once in the four articles I read completely did you quote more than a few scattered sentences from wilderness advocates. These articles gave free voice to foresters, wood processers, and wood products companies. I commend you for that service, as their voices should be heard. But you failed almost completely at presenting the opposing arguments.

When you did quote from wilderness advocates, you did so briefly and often couched the quotations in your own opinions. Your right to editorialize is well established, but don't you owe your readers balanced reporting?

Since you gave the argument for wilderness such short shrift, and I have seen only one letter in your paper offering a different opinion, I am obliged to offer you one Rochester resident's view on the matter. I am not a member of any well funded organization seeking to expand wilderness, so I guess that I am among the grass roots you are exhorting to action.

Wilderness, as defined by the U.S. Forest Service anyway, is land that is not managed for resource extraction or mechanized recreation. It is set aside and allowed to revert to (or continue) environmental and biological processes without serious interference from our species. About 4% of this country has been set aside for Federal Wilderness protection, (currently only 1% of Vermont). In other words 96% of our country is open to development or some sort of active human management, and 99% of our state is open.  

Times are tough for the wood products industry in Vermont, and they have been for a long time. This is unfortunate, but it has more to do with national and global economics than local land management. And the obvious fact is that there are thousands of acres of working forestland in each of these three towns, most of which is not even being actively managed for timber harvesting. The state is awash with wood, but it is not cost effective to use in most situations because of the economic landscape. There is simply no basis for your economic argument. 

The cultural value of the working landscape is another matter that bears public discussion. I commend your presentation of one side this issue. Another side: the working landscape that developed with an active and healthy wood products industry in Vermont is changing because of the industry's decline. We may continue to lose wood products businesses just as we are losing dairy farms, because of economic pressures primarily from outside of Vermont. 

Could the landscape bear more timber harvesting? Absolutely. Would allowing more timber sales in the GMNF help? Some, but not much. Not many small logging outfits (common in Vermont) are willing to work under the Forest Service's regulatory constraints and bureaucratic paperwork load.

Would setting aside 20% of the GMNF have an impact? What is 20% of "not much"? The effect will be insignificant, as the plan would remove roughly 80,000 acres (much of which is not viable timberland because of topography), from a 4 million acre working forest.

Is it so outrageous to set aside a small part of our land, putting it above the concerns of our wallets and the reach of our dirtiest technology? I realize we are asking a lot from the people in the area that depend on the forest for their livelihood, as they will be impacted to some degree. We should all be conscious of that impact, which on a personal level will be significant in many cases.

But bear in mind that it is also asking a lot from the American people, if these business people are demanding all the acreage of our National Forest be available for their use and benefit.

The majority of Americans and Vermonters support expanding wilderness areas generally.  (I don't know what Vermonters on the whole think about this specific proposal, though the meeting I went to in Middlebury last year was overwhelmingly supportive.)  

I have not addressed the complaints of the motorized recreational users of the Forest, because frankly, their complaints are frivolous. They will not lose any trails, though a few may need to be rerouted. VAST has enormous access to the landscape already.  

Keep up the good work, but take care to keep your activism out of your journalism. Or at least limit it to the editorial page. 

Pete Thoenen

Rochester

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