Who says timber companies don’t care?

Published December 1, 2000

On September 7, 2000, the Bangor Daily News reported that Fraser Paper Inc., which owns and operates lands in Maine and New Brunswick, is developing a cooperative program with area educators.

The program’s goal is familiarize teachers with Fraser’s forest resources and its management practices, so they can pass that knowledge to their students. Among the topics to be addressed will be how wildlife management can be integrated with forest products harvest.

Teachers will be given the opportunity to spend time on the job with forestry professionals and to survey Fraser land holdings by helicopter. According to the Daily News article, Fraser has maintained an “open door policy” in informing the public of its forest plans and harvest programs.

Initiatives such as Fraser’s are essential for developing in the public an accurate understanding of forest management practices and the effect of forest operations on the environment. Such efforts can counter the distortions and myths advanced by anti-logging environmentalists, who delight in painting logging as “devastation.”

Clearcutting promotes diversity

A case in point is the practice of forest clearcutting. Clearcuts result in the removal of practically all merchantable tree stems. The practice is sensible and widely accepted among forest managers, although it may not be appropriate in arid climates (where regrowth is slow) or steep terrain (where erosion occurs). Clearcutting is especially valuable in forests with relatively short-lived, shallow-rooted trees, such as spruce and fir, which naturally occur in even-aged stands and are highly vulnerable to blowdown.

The anti-logging environmentalists oppose clearcutting, using dramatic photographs to frighten potential donors into believing the practice leaves behind a “biological desert.” This is nonsense. Clearcuts are short-lived, developing into sapling forests in a very short time. Moreover, clearcutting and other forms of tree removal maximize floral and faunal diversity in a forest—something the environmentalists claim to desire.

Cooperation is key

Wildlife is a product of the land and a by-product of land management. It is essential that favorable relations be created and maintained among landowners and managers, government agencies, and others for whom the environment is an important cause.

Fraser Paper’s willingness to cooperate brings to mind the excellent relationships fostered between paper companies, fish and game agencies, and the public in Maine and New Hampshire in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cooperative relationship developed after state wildlife biologists identified a potential conflict between man and nature.

In the hardwood country of the Northeast, mature spruce-fir stands are critical for holding white-tailed deer through winter’s deep, persistent snow cover. Those stands, however, are also a key source of pulpwood needed by the paper mills.

Rather than employing the name-calling, rock-throwing, negative-campaigning tactics common today, wildlife biologists approached paper industry management in a civil and respectful manner. They acknowledged the paper companies’ ownership of the land and their right to conduct operations in a way that would allow them to profit from that ownership. The state officials also acknowledged that wildlife management was their responsibility, not the landowners’.

Approached as equal partners, the paper industry was receptive to the biologists’ concerns and cooperative with their proposed solutions. The paper companies set aside softwood shelter “reservations” on their land, with no cutting, protecting many wintering areas historically used by the white-tails. In 1960, these cooperating landowners were presented the Wildlife Society’s prestigious John Pearce award.

More recently, similar bright spots have been evident in the relationships between state agencies and timber companies in New England. In 1996, Boise Cascade approached the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department requesting assistance in the preparation of a management plan for 10,000 acres in the northern part of the state. A timber harvest plan aimed at meeting both wood supply needs and wildlife goals was joint developed. In a time of rampant regulation, lust for power, disrespect for private property rights , and a proliferation of bad science, such cooperation is refreshing.

At about the same time in New Hampshire, a memorandum of understanding between seven major landholders and the state was adopted. The memorandum set standards for high-altitude forest management, including consideration of possible conflicts with wildlife interests. The document has its weaknesses—there’s no mention of the relationship between supply and demand, no comparison of the plan’s costs and benefits, and no effort to evaluate how important a particular site is to the wildlife species of concern. How much habitat is enough? Those matters are commonly ignored in government planning, and the New Hampshire memorandum of understanding failed to rise above that ignorance.

Private landholders better stewards

Across the United States, there are many impressive accounts of timber companies addressing wildlife concerns. For example, timber companies in Montana have been quick to adopt voluntarily many of the practices identified in the state’s Forestry BMPs (best management practices), which provides guidelines for timber harvest operations, including wildlife considerations.

As the government persists in its efforts to federalize land ownership in the U.S., then declare that land “roadless” and “wilderness,” fewer and fewer opportunities for sound land management will be available. The best, and sometimes the only, opportunities for sound and sensible wildlife management are and will continue to be found on private land.

Nathaniel R. Dickinson recently retired from a 35-year career in wildlife management, including 21 years with the New York State Conservation Department.