Green Web Bulletin #66

Industrial Forestry and a
Critique of Natural Resource Management

                                                                                                             By David Orton

(Note: This is the written-up version of the notes for a lecture on forestry, given on November 4, 1998 to a class of about 70 students for a course called "Natural Resource Management", organized by the Department of Geography, at Mount Allison University. The instructor for this course was Dr. Doug Ramsey.)

    I would like to thank the class and your prof. Doug Ramsey for inviting me to talk to you today. I hope it will be worthwhile. For me, talking to you helps to focus my thinking. I will start by giving an outline of what I want to talk about:

    * Part One is a critique of "Resourcism".

    * Part Two gives the basic thesis for my talk, which is that forestry clashes concern
    fundamental conflicts of values. These value conflicts concern two basic questions:
        - How we will relate to the natural world.
        - How we will organize human societies.
    In this section of my talk I also outline what is the role of the environmentally conscious
    and define this as:
        - To defend what is left of the natural world and to become involved.
        - To see the necessity for a new philosophy and set of values.

    * Part Three discusses human-centeredness as seen in the language of industrial forestry,
    and gives examples of what this conceptual enclosure means for looking at forests. I
    conclude this part of the talk by showing how social evolution from hunter/gatherer
    societies has led to a narrowing of human discourse in relating to the natural world.

    * Part Four gives some examples of alternative forestry sources of information and an
    overview of industrial forestry in Canada.

    * Part Five is the conclusion and shows how the forestry situation in Canada is getting
    worse and why. I finish with the reading of a poem, "Break the Law".


    Your class is called "Natural Resource Management". This language embodies a philosophical perspective, an intrinsic part of industrial capitalist society, which sees nature as a "resource". This perspective has been called "Resourcism".

    What this language says to anyone slightly informed, is that nature is considered a "resource" for human use which can be "managed". These are very arrogant assumptions. Implied is a human- centered universe and the taken-for-granted dominance of the human species. It is within this framework that students at this university and across the country work for their degrees.

    A Canadian philosopher/university teacher who has written on "Resourcism" is John Livingston. He is the intellectual mentor for David Suzuki. Two of Livingston's books, which I would like to bring to your attention are The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation (1981) and his most recent book Rogue Primate. We, of course are the 'rogue primates'.

    In industrial forestry, wildlife - unless it can be shot, trapped or fished - is without value. Wildlife, to have value, has to be turned into a "commodity". This is how Livingston defines resource in The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation:
    I no longer believe that there is, in practice, such a thing as a 'renewable' resource.
    Once a thing is perceived as having some utility - any utility - and is thus perceived
    as a "resource," its depletion is only a matter of time. (P. 43)

    Livingston argues in Wildlife Conservation that there can be no reasons, that is rational arguments, for wildlife preservation. If conservationists give such reasons, then they accept the logic of industrial society - that is, that nature is there to serve humans. For Livingston, wildlife has to be valued and defended for its own sake. It is our experience of interacting with wildlife which shows this. This experience is a personal affair and not capable of rational defence.

    The Western cosmology has no place for the defence of wildlife if it gets in the way of industrial progress. Hence all rational arguments to defend and protect wildlife are doomed to failure. Such arguments, says Livingston, have been the standard and hence futile fare of the conservation movement.

    Natural resource management says that wildlife has no intrinsic interest and is a commodity or resource for human exploitation. In Nova Scotia there is a very cosy relationship between the NS Wildlife Association (what some of us call the 'Deadlife Association') and the NS Department
of Natural Resources. This government department is supposedly charged with overseeing the forest industry.

My Basic Thesis

    Forestry clashes like those at the Christmas Mountains in New Brunswick, Nova Nada in Nova Scotia, or Clayoquot Sound out on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, are clashes over basic values. They are clashes over how humans will relate to or use the forests. Industrial capitalist society commodifies nature. Trees and wildlife are considered resources to be turned into commodities and sold in the marketplace. This society also commodifies people. For corporations there is a Department of Human Resources. For interacting with nature, we have a Department of Natural Resources.

    In these forestry clashes, there are two basic questions at issue:

    1. How will our societies relate to the natural world? Are we going to stay with the industrial view, that nature is a resource, and stay with a human-centered ethics, also called anthropocentrism?

    2. The second basic question is how are we going to organize human societies? Will it continue to be endless economic growth and consumerism as the meaning of life? Are we going to continue accepting that humans can "own" nature, that is, the living world and all other species? Are we going to continue supporting concepts like so-called 'sustainable development' in a finite world? Continue accepting that there are no limits to growth?

    The kind of forestry we have reflects societal values. A sustainable forestry requires a sustainable society.

    What then is the alternative or course of action for the environmentally conscious today? There are two necessarily integrated paths for what needs to be done:

    a. First, to defend what is left of the natural world and take part in actual struggles. Put your body and mind on the line. Remember Clayoquot Sound, where there were about 1,000 arrests?

    Two current examples of young people putting themselves on the line, are given in the current issue of the Earth First! Journal, which I have brought along with me to show you. David Nathan Chain (Gypsy) was a young forest activist trying to protect the redwoods in California. He was killed by a tree cut by a Pacific Lumber logger, on September 17, 1998. In the same state, Julia Butterfly has been sitting in a redwood tree since December 10th, 1997 to protest the destruction of these ancient trees. She calls her tree "Luna" and has used her tree platform, with the aid of  support staff, to conduct many media interviews about the fate of the redwoods.

    b. Second, to see the necessity for a new set of non-industrial societal values, that is, a new Earth-centered philosophy. Do not get onboard industrial society, which is what university is mainly about. Educate yourself for opposition. This would mean coming to adopt positions advocating:
- anti-industrialism, anti-economic growth, anti-consumerism, and living more simply;
- a new relationship to nature, where all species have their own intrinsic value respected, and not determined by humans;
- that the Earth belongs to no one and that "ownership" of land is a social fiction.

    There is an internet 'left bio' discussion group, where the above values and positions are being discussed. The group is based on support for the Left Biocentrism Primer.

Human-centeredness in the Language of Industrial Forestry

    The following are some examples of this language with a contextual discussion and explanation:

    - "Pests" or "Infestation": This is usually a bloom or blossoming of insects created by industrial forestry itself. This kind of forestry in the Maritimes region, narrows the species basis of the Acadian forest. This is because the pulp and paper industry, which fundamentally shapes industrial forestry and hence the forests of the region, only wants a few tree species for its mills. In Nova Scotia there are about 30 indigenous tree species which make up the Acadian forest type. (There are also introduced species.) The pulp and paper industry puts a premium on five or six softwood species. There are for example, no replanting programs for hardwoods. Preferred softwood species for pulp and paper production are also, for example, food for the spruce budworm. In order of preference, the budworm feeds on balsam fir, white spruce, red spruce, and black spruce.

    Ninety percent (90%) of commercial forest cutting is clear cutting. This type of cutting, which has a commercial advantage, is defended by the forest industry as a biological necessity. Yet when, for example, spruce/fir forests are clear cut, if naturally regenerated, such trees tend to grow back to balsam fir. This tree species is the prime food of the budworm.

    In industrial forestry, there is no place for insects or wild fires which are part of the ecology of the Acadian forest, because every tree is spoken for. So an "infestation" of insect "pests", means the application of chemical or biological poisons to "sustain" the commercially desired tree species.

    - Even-aged plantation equals a "forest": Plantations usually contain one or two softwood tree species. Such plantations create a concentrated food supply for insects or disease. There is always one more bug and hence the necessity to spray, from an industrial forestry perspective.

    - "Chemical thinning or site preparation": This is the application of herbicide poisons to kill non-pulpwood vegetation. It does not matter about the requirements of mammals or birds for the destroyed vegetation.

    - "Overmature or decadent": This means usually that desired tree species are getting too old to be used for pulpwood. It does not matter that birds/insects need old decaying trees, or that trees when they decay, breakdown to produce forest humus.

    - "Weed species": This often means non-pulp species, or any non-commercially desirable species. Alders are often referred to as a weed species. Alders, a short-lived early successional tree, are an atmospheric nitrogen-fixating species.

    - "Underutilized species": This means there is no present commercial market. In Nova Scotia, hardwoods were declared underutilized and they are now being shipped as woodchips to Japan. Local people in my own area cannot now buy hardwood for firewood, because of this Japanese market.

    - "Fibre" is how living trees are described.

    - "Forest management" rests on industrial capitalist assumptions about the natural world. The ever increasing management of industrial forestry means more attempts to control the problems which arise. Thus more spraying. This past summer in Nova Scotia over 150,000 acres were sprayed with the so-called biological spray B.t.k. (Bacillus thuringiensis variety kurstaki). This was the largest ever forest spraying program in NS. Spray planes were over our house about eight times. We took many photos of these planes and, in aiming the lens, I often thought of the Bruce Cockburn song, "If I had a rocket launcher."

    There is no place for wildlife in industrial forestry except insofar as it can "adapt" to commercial forestry operations. There is a fragmentation of habitat by logging roads. Clearcutting, for example, in May and June destroys the nests of birds nesting on the ground or in the trees being cut.

Narrowing of Human Discourse

    Social evolution from hunter/gatherer societies has led to a narrowing of human language as regards relating to the natural world. How did we come to exclude nature and plants and animals from our consciousness? One person who has written on this is the historian Calvin Luther Martin. See his 1992 book The Spirit of the Earth: Rethinking History and Time. (His name is a legacy from a Protestant missionary father.) Martin was interested in why, in hunter/gatherer societies there was a different relationship than we have today, between humans and the natural world.

    His book comes out of the ground-breaking work by Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, published in 1972. Sahlins saw hunters as "the original affluent society":
    Sahlins finds hunters blessed with abundant leisure, few wants, and a technology
    easily adequate to meet those wants, and well fed, healthy, and full of confidence in
    nature's bounty - so long as they kept a few key principles in mind. (Martin, pp. 142-143)

    These few key principles were periodic movement, and restraint in wealth accumulation and population growth. Martin points out in a great line, "Destitution resulted from contact with the West; it was not aboriginal."

    In hunter/gatherer societies all of nature is seen as "empowered - is conscious, intelligent, sensate, and articulate." (P. 10) Thus hunters have to learn the language of the "other-than-human being" and one way this is done is through the vision quest. In the vision quest was achieved the "blending of self and nonself in one's own life." Men primarily related to animals, says Martin, while women related to plant beings. He says, in another wonderful line, "Only a fool would imagine himself as somehow exclusively a human being." (P. 18) So the confidence and respect in hunter/gatherer societies comes because of a sense of kinship with plant and animal beings:
    The other-than-human persons, vegetable and animal, will give themselves to me,
    as long as I refrain from overexploitation, as long as I treat their flesh and substance,
    including their remains, with respect and avoid all other forms of offense - this is the
    prevailing sentiment. Nature conserves me, not I it - this is the underlying ethic...the
    mind continues to imagine a relationship of interpenetration of the human with the
    other-than-human person. (P. 20)

    The evolution of human society has meant a narrowing of human discourse because, and this is the insight, the other-than-human persons have been disfranchised into dumb brutes or unconscious vegetable matter. Human communication has narrowed, not expanded as animistic spirituality was replaced by what Martin calls a sky god or gods, e.g. Jesus. With the sky gods, only humans have souls, which enormously elevates them above other creatures and even more plants. Only humans can converse with the sky gods and become ordained to convert the 'heathen' indigenous peoples.

    For hunters and gatherers, we are what we consume. For Martin, it was the beginning of plant and animal domestication, that is agricultural society, which ushers in the genesis of our modern domination of nature. Given this history, it is indeed ironical that just as industrial forestry has turned Canada's forests into a resource, so has the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, turned wildlife into a resource for indigenous peoples in Canada.

    In order to have a different relationship to the natural world, to interact with the forest with a spiritual respect, and to leave behind natural resource management, a return to some form of spirituality is necessary. Point 6 of the Left Biocentrism Primer addresses the question of spirituality:
    Left biocentrism holds that individual and collective spiritual transformation is
    important to bring about major social change, and to break with industrial society.
    We need inward transformation, so that the interests of all species override the
    short-term interest of the individual, the family, the community, and the nation.

    Deep ecology talks of Self-realization. That is, expanding the sense of self to include the natural world. So that when the chain saw is cutting the forest, it is also felt as cutting you. We need to change the basis of self-identity within industrial society. That is, away from the consumption/ acquisition of consumer goods and the pursuit of self interest. We need to enter into a new relationship with the natural world, so that nature is not viewed as a resource.

Alternative Forestry Sources and Overview of Industrial Forestry

    I have brought along some publications that are critical of industrial forestry. An alternative forestry publication produced in the Acadian forest region, but on the other side of the border in New Hampshire, is The Northern Forest Forum. It comes out six times a year, and sometimes carries articles on forestry issues in New  Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

    There are three books I have brought with me:

    1. Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry, edited by Bill Devall, was published in 1993. This contains pictures of clearcuts from every Canadian province and every state in the US, with text to situate the pictures. It also contains writings by ecoforesters who are influenced by deep ecology. I will read you part of the 'Dedication' for this book:
    This book is in memory of the plantlife, birds, insects, animals, and indigenous cultures
    that have been driven to extinction by the greed and delusion of human arrogance. All
    of us in the Industrial Growth Society must take the responsibility for this condition and
    make it our duty to halt the continuation of economic and social structures that perpetuate
    this 'death of birth'...

    2. The second book is by Herb Hammond, who is based in BC. His book, which came out in 1991, is called Seeing The Forest Among The Trees: The Case For Wholistic Forest Use.

    3. The third book is by Elizabeth May, At The Cutting Edge: The Crisis In Canada's Forests. It came out in 1998. I want to talk about this book, and use it to make some points about industrial forestry in Canada. Let me read you a quotation from May's book about the situation in New Brunswick:
    No other province in Canada has so completely brought its forests into full industrial
    production. For modern industrial foresters in New Brunswick, it is a source of
    considerable pride that the province's forests are all accessible by a network of
    logging roads - fifty thousand kilometers of logging roads on Crown land alone. No
    forested area is farther than one hundred kilometers from a mill. True wilderness in
    New Brunswick, outside of parks, is rarer than a non-Irving gas station. Of all of New
    Brunswick's forests, only 1.2 percent of the land base is within a provincial or national
    park. And those forests outside national parks are entirely spoken for. As Max Cater,
    head of the New Brunswick Forest Products Association, put it, "Every tree has a
    company's name on it, and a destination." (P. 98)

    I think At the Cutting Edge is a good up-to-date source for understanding contemporary industrial forestry in Canada, province by province.

    I believe the following overall view about industrial forestry in Canada can be seen after reading May's book:

    1. For every Canadian province and territory a political elite decided, essentially in secret, that a forest industry was needed.

    2. The crown (public) land in each province was handed over in long-term renewable forest leases to the forest industry. (Prince Edward Island, because of its extensive private land base, would be the only exception.) Indigenous interests and the general public interest were not even part of the discussion. Hydro and tax concessions were given to the new forest industry, which was mainly pulpmill driven, and publicly- funded roads were built. The provincial and federal forestry services were then oriented towards serving the interests of this industry.

    3. The pulpmill industry oriented itself to serve a world market. Thus more and more wood supply was needed. There could never be enough wood. Overcutting therefore becomes the norm. Ever species and size of tree eventually gets brought into production. The "oriented strand board mills" now flooding Canada, also in NB, show one end of this road. These mills make trees into wood flakes, line them up, and apply glue and pressure to make oriented strand board or chip board. Any small tree can be utilized.

    4. The result of the above is the creation of wealth for owners of pulpmills and their politician friends, and the creation of some relatively high-paying jobs of about 25 dollars per hour for some workers. But pulpmills also mean the creation of pollution, and sickness in people directly affected by pulpmill effluent and gas/particulate air emissions - and often these are native peoples. In addition, pulpmills mean the creation of ecological destruction, because the forest becomes oriented towards a single lowest denominator use, which is mainly pulp production. Forests (and their wildlife) become degraded in this process. Forests either turned into barrens or, more generally, were replaced by softwood pulp farms or plantations.

    Criticism of May: There are however important criticisms of the book that can be made, from the perspective given in this lecture. (Not raised at the Mount Allison lecture, was that May has essentially used in her book, the theme of the 1983 Green Web Bulletin #10, "Pulpwood Forestry In Nova Scotia", without acknowledgement, and applied it to every province in Canada. This bulletin, which was originally a presentation to a public meeting hosted by the NS Royal Commission on Forestry, was eventually printed under the title "Pulpwood Forestry in Nova Scotia And The Environmental Question", by the Gorsebrook Research Institute of Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Special Document no. 1-088327. May also does not even list the Green Web as a contact organization in NS, although four other organizations are given. Elizabeth May gives Charlie Restino, as the researcher responsible for helping with the Nova Scotia data in her book.)

    May does not raise in her book whether there can be an alternative forestry model to that of industrial forestry, given an inherently expansionary industrial capitalism and the global market place. She has no alternative ecological or social vision, or a deeper anti-resourcist environmental ethic, as spoken of by Richard Sylvan and David Bennett in their 1994 book The Greening of Ethics:
    Deep positions are characterized by the rejection of the notion that humans and
    human projects are the sole items of value, and further by the rejection of the notion
    that humans and human projects are always more valuable than all other things in the
    world. (P. 63)

    May has always, as in this book, presented the illusion that the industrial system (she will not use the "capitalist" word) can be made to work if various changes are carried out. This is why I believe the capitalist media often carry her views. In her forestry book, she advocates reducing personal consumption of paper products, but ignores the industrial capitalist growth engine, which makes a sustainable ecology and society impossible in the long term. For May, forests are a resource. Her book is anthropocentric, the budworm is a "forest pest" (p. 101), etc. There is also a self-glorification of her own role. There is no critical assessment of her past promotion of sustainable development; past promotion of B.t.k forest spraying; and her role in promoting the out-of-court settlement/ capitulation with the pulp and paper company Stora, rather than fight on in the important 1982 court battle in Cape Breton over forest herbicide spraying.

    Notwithstanding the above criticisms, At The Cutting Edge will be a helpful book for those who want the basic data for an introductory picture of industrial forestry for each province in Canada.

Conclusion - Getting Worse and Why

    We live on an old hill farm of about 130 acres. Since we moved to where we live in Pictou County in 1984, the forests around us have been levelled. Along with others, I have participated in public forestry discussions since coming to live in Nova Scotia in 1979, but the only changes have been for the worse. What is happening around where I live to the forests, is taking place across NS. Every acre of forest is being brought into industrial production. It is only a matter of time before any forest land set aside for parks and protected areas is sought to increase "productivity". Governments have no other economic model than to give expansionary corporations, oriented to a world market, their head. I have tried to show in my talk to you here today, that the prevailing forest ideology of maximum wood production, is part of a larger developmental industrial ideology. Governments whether provincial or federal, and industry, have an incestuous relationship. Any avenues of public participation to do with the forests or any other "resource" extraction, are essentially a sham. The major and defining decisions are made behind closed doors.

    Not being oriented to natural resource management, would mean retaining the natural Acadian forest with all its  biodiversity. A sustainable forestry would mean a closed canopy ecoforestry with selection cutting. Real sustainability must mean peace with the Earth, not a war. We have to change the contorted belief system of industrial culture.

    You students need to become involved. As Ed Abbey, an important influence on the Earth First! movement put it, "Sentiment without action is the ruination of the soul." I will finish by reading you a poem concerning so-called land ownership, by Jim Drescher. It was posted on the internet discussion group left bio. Jim runs an ecoforestry school at Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia. (Used with permission.)

    Break the Momentum

        "It's my land;
        I can do whatever I want with it.
        If I want to destroy the forest,
        that's my business, not yours.
        If I want to strip off the topsoil,
        that's my business, not yours.
        If I want to liquidate the homes of a thousand animals,
        that's my business, not yours.
        I own the land;
        the law says I can do whatever I want with it."

        Who owns a forest that took 10,000 years to develop?
        Who owns the soil formed by that forest?
        Who owns the plants and animals?
        How can you own a tree that was already old in this place
       when your grandfather was not yet born?
        How can you own the topsoil which has accumulated naturally
        for thousands of years from the bodies of untold trillions of beings.
        How can you own the animals
        each of whom has been your mother?
        What kind of law says you can?
        Whose law?
        We need legal assistance in this dark age
        if we are to avoid total destruction
        in the name of the law,
        the law that makes legal all manner
        of arrogance, greed, and stupidity
        if you "own the land."

        Perhaps there is a higher law
        based on gentleness, intelligence and fearlessness:
        Gentleness to find one's natural place
        in the community of all other beings;
        intelligence to recognize that we can be sustained by nature
        only if we minimize our impacts on it;
        fearlessness to break the momentum
        of anthropocentric law.
        Is there the possibility of enlightened society?
        Is it legal?
                                              (30 May 94)

November 1998

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