check my facts

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Sat Feb 28 22:19:58 EST 1998

In article <6d9je3$4p9$1 at>,
  "Greta Anderson" <squirrel at> wrote:
> I'm writing a chapter on "The Human Impact" focusing on
> industrialization and transportation for an 8th geography
> textbook. In an "Up Close" section, I describe how those two
> factors can interact to make the human impact more intense, using
> the case of the bison slaughter. Before the trains came, the the
> buffalo rug business was sustainable; after the trains, it became
> an industry that completely cleared out the herds.
>       Then
>   I make the connection to roads and clear-cutting in forestry.
> Here's what I have. Please check my facts.
> Today, a big issue in the Pacific Northwest is whether we should
> allow roads into old growth forests. Not long ago, the U.S.
> government was building these roads for the logging industry; now
> the industry must build the roads itself. Because building roads
> is costly, the logging companies try to cut down all the trees in
> the area the road leads to. This is known as "clear cutting," and
> it's very similar to what happened to the bison herds.
I wish it was that simple. The case is more complex.

Mostly, it involves where the remaining old-growth is located. Typically low-
land old-growth was liquidated a century ago. The last remaining old-growth is
at higher elevations and on steeper slopes. The US still pays for building
logging roads. The problem is that steeper slopes means more run-off and
siltation of streams. Clear-cut areas are twice as likely to have landslides,
because the fungus that holds the soils together dies within a year after
clearcutting. The resulting slides cause siltation of streams, and sometimes
cause problems with anyone who has homes either on slides or where the slides
come downhill.

Increased siltation and lack of forest to shade water, especially in
headwaters streams, cause increased fatalities in salmon smolts, which are
very sensitive to water temperatures.

Add to this the fact that most of the fees for timber go to the general fund,
which in turn pays for legislative costs, including the salaries of
representatives and senators. Some of the fees also go to support schools in
some timber-rich counties of the West, such as Clackamas, Lane, Linn, and Mt.
Hood counties in Oregon.

While the federal government is supposed to reforest (i.e. replant) clearcut
areas within a year, the reality is that Congress often holds these funds for
other purposes. Many clearcuts have not been reforested in Oregon and
Washington as a result.

The mycorrhizal fungi essential to tree health at higher elevations have
currently not been cultivated. Most trees planted in high-elevation clear-cuts
do not survive for that reason. In the Siskiyou Mountains, a clearcut
surrounded by healthy old-growth Noble fir remains bare, even though it has
been "reforested" at least six different times. The higher the clearcut, the
less likely it is to be reforested successfully.

Finally, a growing population puts more and more pressure on both federal,
state and private forest property. Many legislators see timber as a renewable
resource. Data suggesting it is not so renewable is viewed as "environmental
extremist" viewpoint. Such postureing does little for growing trees.

This does not clear up anything. And I would suggest it is difficult to
present to an eighth grader without considerble biology, ecology, botany,
mycology, animal science, and social sciences background.

The logging industry in the US for several hundred years has been one of
"first the saw, then the plow, then move on when the soil is gone," as
economist J. Russell Smith said in "Tree Crops" back in the 1950's.

An interesting side-note has recently developed. Some mycorrhizal fungi
essential to tree health have recently been shown to be more valuable than the
trees they are grown with. These fungi include matsutake (Tricholoma
magnivelare), Western chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus), Oregon White
truffle (Tuber gibbosum), Oregon Black truffle (Leucangium carthusiana), and

Daniel B. Wheeler

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