My Turn: To log, or to commercially log?

  •  MICHAEL MAURI

Published: 10/23/2020 11:56:49 AM
Modified: 10/23/2020 11:56:39 AM

A frequent criticism raised in protest of last year’s logging in Wendell State Forest is that it was commercial logging. Many readers will know what logging is. But what is commercial logging? Is it a bad thing? Does, perhaps, the word commercial imply an inappropriate focus on money? And, if so, is that a criticism the accurately fits the Wendell logging?

When clarity depends on a definition, it can be helpful to pry open a trusted dictionary of the English language. Doing just that, I turn to page 297 of the American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition. Here I find the word “commercial” and note that it has four primary meanings, two of which may be relevant.

The first definition is: pertaining to commerce. This is straightforward enough — as long as one knows what commerce is. Commerce, my dictionary says, refers to the buying and selling of goods. Commercial logging, then, would be logging related to the buying or selling of goods — goods, in this case, made of wood grown in the forest.

Though not everyone regularly sells things, most of us regularly buy things. And though some of us may gather eggs in our yard, most goods and services we need are purchased through our system — such as it is — of commerce. Indeed, we engage in commerce to provide ourselves with food, clothing, shelter, energy, devices, medicines, nights on the town, travel. Even our solar panels come to us through commerce. Logging, as part of society’s way of provisioning itself with goods made from wood, is no different.

But why object to something so fundamental and beneficial? Clearly, this can’t be a meaning of commercial that helped pepper the pot of protest.

That leaves the other potentially relevant meaning: having profit as a chief aim. Though profit can be welcome at times, and though it can sometimes stir innovation, cooperation and effort, and though few in business can go long without it, there is no question that putting profit above other considerations lies at the root of many problems we face.

Our relationship with forests is no different. Our best forests will tend to be those in which a profit motive is either lacking altogether or is subordinate to more comprehensive and ecological thinking about the forest as a whole.

What role, then, did the quest for profit play in Wendell? Did the Wendell logging have profit as a chief aim? Were the decisions about which trees to cut driven chiefly by a desire for profit while other concerns about the forest were ignored or compromised? Does this distasteful hiking boot of untoward profit-seeking fit?

To find an answer, one could go behind the scenes and scrutinize meeting minutes, obtain emails, and gather testimony under oath. Alternatively, one could check the numbers and then hike around the forest, observing what actually did or didn’t happen.

Put simply, the numbers show that only a small percentage of the valuable oak timber was cut. Meanwhile, the many nice oak trees still standing in the forest today make their own intuitive and convincing case (see “Walking Tour of Wendell State Forest Logging One Year Later,” My Turn, July 29).

By any measure, in Wendell, the hiking boot of unhinged profiteering doesn’t fit. It is counter-productive to claim otherwise. Furthermore, since commercial logging doesn’t imply an inappropriate profit focus on its own, a clearer term would be needed for such logging, maybe involving words such as short-sighted or unsustainable.

More generally, though, we must ask how incorrect claims about legitimate forest management projects such as the Wendell logging can gain a foothold in the public life of Massachusetts. Are too many claims of this nature allowed to go unchallenged for too long? Perhaps people of all stripes who devote careful thought to the role and methods of forestry underestimate the amount of effort needed to provide serviceable explanations of what forestry does.

Passion for progress is necessary and stimulating but can’t substitute for facts and reason. To advance toward a better relationship with our forests, we need to be able to go beyond mutual irritation built on misinformation and maybe re-learn how to connect productively with others.

Our forests face many challenges. As our relationship with forests evolves — and as it must evolve — to meet those challenges, we’ll be best served by greater generosity in our relations and greater accuracy and clarity in our communications, including on questions of profit, habitat, resiliency and climate.

To be continued.

Michael Mauri is a Massachusetts licensed forester based in South Deerfield.

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