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As lovely as a tree…

Jim says:

So what is it with “saving trees?” This liberal mantra seems to be everywhere. Why don’t we see signs saying, “save a corn plant” or “save a soy bean plant”? After all, trees, corn, and soy beans are all just crops, renewable crops from which we can get much benefit.

Since I brought it up, the second question is why are governments in the business of owning forests? They don’t own the corn fields of the world or the wheat fields of the world. What makes forests so special? Perhaps in the United States we should sell the national forests to pay down the national debt.

Now, before you think I am completely off my rocker, I do understand and am in favor of preserving the forest primeval, found in places such as the Amazon Basin, the coast of British Columbia, and so forth. In the points above, I am talking about industrial forests. Of course, one of the issues I see for city dwelling people is they do not understand or distinguish between the forest primeval and industrial forests. To them a tree is a tree.

I suspect people want to save trees because they have a relatively long life cycle as compared to corn plants and soy beans, and hence, forests can be homes to many animals and plants. However, a true story — when I was a kid on the farm, my dad carried a .38 caliber revolver when picking corn. He could pick off a rabbit from the seat of the moving corn picker. We had lots of rabbits for dinner during harvest season. Obviously the flora and fauna make homes in annual plants, too.

Speaking of my dad, he was a forest saver, too. We owned about 150 acres of trees on our farms when I was growing up. Dad would harvest them slowly. Yet when he sold the farms in 1968, the new owner cut all the saw logs out of the woods and used them to pay for the farm. I have gone back there many times and seen that, in the 40 years hence, this little forest has renewed itself just fine without any help from humans. In fact, I would say it is about ready for harvest again.

So, how have we reached the condition that the general population thinks cutting a tree is a bad thing to do?

Travis responds:

First, you are overselling your point. I have spent some time in National Forests in Georgia, Texas, and Colorado, and I have never seen a protester sitting in a pine tree demanding protection for second or third growth forests. Second, there is a big difference between good forestry -– which can include plenty of harvesting -– and bad. My relatives in Northeast Georgia will not be mistaken for environmentalists anytime soon, but when shoddy clear cutting led to extensive runoff that started silting-in streams and lakes, they became a little more receptive to reasonable regulation.

Trees that get attention from protestors tend to have some cultural or biological significance, or are simply in closer proximity to activist communities. Perhaps the most notable current example is the controversy over the Memorial Oak Grove on the University of California-Berkeley Campus (http://www.saveoaks.com/SaveOaks/Main.html). Even in Berkeley, the campaign to save these oak trees has not gained much traction. There are a few hard-core protestors, but most of the left-leaning community has bigger fish to fry -– health care, war, corporate agriculture, etc.

An affection for trees, irrational or not, may be related to humans’ psychological attachment to things that are larger than us. Just look at the activity around endangered species; whales, pandas, condors, and manatees get a lot more attention than sucker fish, insects, or small birds.

Then there is the waste issue. If you tell someone that they have a choice between toilet paper and trees, they will likely choose toilet paper. But if a third option is available, such as recycling, there will be greater resistance to cutting trees. The problem here is that there may be disconnects between what is doable, what is feasible, and what is economically reasonable. The public at large probably has an unrealistic view of the potential of recycled material to replace virgin wood and pulp, and this colors perceptions of logging.

But the most obvious reason that “save a tree” has more resonance than “save a corn plant” is that trees take more than a season to mature. If you cut down a stand of 100-year-old oak trees, whether they are primeval or not, it will take 100 years to replace them. When the trees go down, the flora and fauna that depend on the canopy change as well.

As a conservative like you should know, change is tough on folks.

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