Forestry and the Corporate Imperative (Fwd)
kdavies at igc.org
Mon Jun 22 23:43:26 EST 1998
Are you allowed to forward your own stuff? Anyway, here's something I
recently posted to list.forest. It was in response to a debate that has
raged over the past several months about clearcutting on steep slopes in
the Pacific Northwest by Maxxam and other big timber companies, also in
British Columbia. (Are giant mudslides OK? How about post-harvest
The debate featured BC timber company apologist Patrick Moore versus
Humboldt County, CA activist Sylvia De Rooy. It got pretty intense. A
libel suit is now in the works between Moore and Forest Action Network.
Anyway, it got me thinking. Here's part of what I think about all
this. What do you think?
FORESTRY AND THE CORPORATE IMPERATIVE
This is to follow up on some of the recent discussion on clearcutting
and other industrial forest practices. But first some background
information. I'm a consulting forester in western Massachusetts with
interests in forest economics and broader economic issues and trends.
Most of my clients are families who own 50-200 acres. My timber sales
are typically 100-300 Mbf plus 100-300 cords. Most owners have high
aesthetic, wildlife and recreational values. Many owners place these
values above timber production. There are very few corporate landowners
Here in southern New England there's virtually no clearcutting. There's
high-grading, but hardly any clearcutting. There is very little
herbicide use on forest land. And there's hardly any logging road
construction. So one has to wonder why is there such a big difference
between forestry practices here and elsewhere? Forest types and land
use histories are certainly different, and they certainly influence
forestry practices. But they cannot fully account for the huge
difference in practices.
Looking at the ownership patterns, I'm led to wonder whether the issues
in other parts of the country are not so much a function of forestry per
se, but of the economic and other goals of landowners, particularly
large corporate landowners. It seems obvious that families and large
corporations would have very different sets of goals.
If you're a corporate manager who has to make 15-20% per year for your
stockholders, you have to grow trees very fast. Holding onto old growth
trees that are only growing at 2-5% per year in volume, grade and market
value is not a good investment of corporate resources. Erosion control
measures and selective/surgical use of herbicdes can also hurt the
bottom line. The demands of institutional fund managers and other
stockholders can make it very difficult for timber company managers to
practice good forest stewardship.
Up until the 1980's this was not the case. Companies like Pacific
Lumber could be earning say 5-10% and stockholders would be satisfied.
But then outfits like Maxxam moved in on companies like Pacific Lumber
and upped the ante considerably. Timber companies that were not the
victims of takeovers had to act as if they were--in order to avoid
So perhaps the blame for clearcutting and other forms of biodevastation
should not fall on foresters and forestry, but instead on the whole
corporate culture that timber companies are a part of. And who's to
blame there? Is it the executives and directors? Or is it the
stockholders and the big institutional fund managers? Or is it the
regulators and politicians who have facilitated the corporatization of
Or could it be that we're dealing with an antiquated legal structure
developed in the 1600's to exploit the unlimited resources of the
British colonies with simple technologies, and we're now in a world of
limited resources and extremely powerful technologies? Has the
corporate structure simply outlived its usefulness?
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