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Timber Industry
During the nineteenth century, American settlers devastated the forest, often with no commercial returns. The land was worth more than the trees, and old-growth forests were simply cleared and burned. Said the chief forester of the United States, "By the turn of the century the greatest, swiftest, the most efficient, and the most appalling wave of forest destruction in human history was .... swelling to its climax in the United States; and the American people were glad of it!" (Pinchot, 1947:1). Michael Williams (1988:211-215), in surveying the early history of the American forest, calculates clearances in the range of 46 million hectares before 1850 and over 79 million hectares by 1909. He estimates an original volume of 5,200 billion board feet of standing timber reduced to between 2,000 and 2,800 billion board feet by the end of the nineteenth century. Biodiversity is another measure of change: Barr and Braden (1988:228) estimate that the United States once contained some 1,100 species of trees, of which 647 remained in 1970. Marchak, M. P. (1995). Logging the globe. Montreal & Kingston, Jamaica: McGill-Queen's University Press, p. 56.

Frederick Weyerhaeuser purchased 364,225 hectares of prime forest land in Washington State from the Northern Pacific Railroad at the turn of the century. He subsequently put together nearly 800,000 hectares of timberland in Washington and Oregon, obtained at about $3 per hectare (M. Williams, 1989). Forestry was neither preceded nor supplanted by agricultural settlement in the Pacific region because of poor soils. Indeed, pioneer American lumbermen were disappointed when they discovered that, having cut a stand, they could not sell the land to farmers (Cox, 1983:21). Population density remained low, and forestry, together with mining and fisheries, continued as central economic activities into the late twentieth century. Even so, the last frontier was producing wood at such a rate by 1920, production of lumber constituted some 30 percent of the national total. Estimates of remaining reserves at that time indicated that cutting exceeded restocking in Washington, and the industry moved more of its operations to Oregon. Marchak, M. P. (1995). Logging the globe. Montreal & Kingston, Jamaica: McGill-Queen's University Press, p. 58.

By 1900, forests in the upper Midwest were nearly exhausted, and the northern interior Columbia basin became the focus of a new scramble for wood supplies. The rapid increase in harvest was reflected in Idaho, where 65 million board feet of lumber were cut in 1899. By 1910, Idaho produced 745 million board feet and its markets had shifted from local to national. Idaho employment of loggers, rafters, or sawmill workers increased from just over 300 in 1880, to more than 8,000 in 1920, and to 14,900 in 1995.

Early harvesting concentrated on the largest trees of the more important commercial species (ponderosa pine and western larch) because smaller stems could not be processed efficiently. Eastern markets in particular demonstrated a preference for ponderosa and Idaho white pine, leading to select cutting where other species in mixed forests were left standing.

Growth of the timber industry continued in subsequent decades, driven by demand for wood products in growing urban centers, especially in the Midwest and California. Development of the skidder, caterpillar tractor, log truck, and chainsaw increased the efficiency of the industry, lowered costs, and increased production dramatically. The timber industry, like other industries, took many people on a roller coaster of fortune and misfortune,

From 1945 to 1970, timber harvest on Federal lands in the (Columbia) Basin increased about 5 percent per year or 50 percent faster than the growth of the national economy. This increase was important to the expansion of softwood and plywood production in the western United States, supporting many western communities. Nationwide, harvest volume from F(orest) S(ervice) lands increased from 4 billion board feet in 1950 to 11.4 billion board feet in 1970; 90 percent of this came from National Forests, and 41 percent from Washington and Oregon. Pacific Northwest Research Station (1996, November). Status of the interior Columbia basin: Summary of scientific findings (General Technical Report PNW-GTR-385). Portland, OR: USDA Forest Service, p. 55.

By the mid-twentieth century, large companies had integrated their operations, with American companies straddling the Canadian border. Logging, sawmilling, and pulping were typically undertaken by a single company or by subsidiary companies of a single parent. Sawmills and pulpmills were generally located at the same site, thereby facilitating the transfer of pulpwood chips.

The arguments in favor of large, integrated concerns are that they are more efficient wood collectors, are better able than small operations to fund new investments, have economies of scale and research and development capacities, have longer-term horizons and more stable labour demands, and are better positioned to establish international markets for their products. In the event of fibre shortages, they have built-in supplies. The arguments against these corporations are that they require enormous and guaranteed supplies of wood for their high-cost mills, they have such economic power that governments are unable to develop independent forest policies in changing conditions, they do not necessarily engage in research and development, they are capable of moving investments elsewhere, they modernize operations so that labour demands are constantly declining, and they dominate international markets. Arguments in favor of integrated mills won the day in North America - or better stated, arguments were created after the fact by way of justifying an organization that was designed by investors whose interests lay in large, integrated facilities. Economies of scale were important for the production of standardized long-run materials such as construction wood and pulp. Marchak, M. P. (1995). Logging the globe. Montreal & Kingston, Jamaica: McGill-Queen's University Press, p. 57.

Who is going to save the people who work in the woods and mills, their families, their communities? If we as a country are deciding after five centuries of white-led cultural and environmental rampage across North America to save the spotted owl and fragments of its habitat, then we as a people need to be accountable to the people who will be unemployed, possibly homeless and hungry, as a result. To turn away from this is to act as if loggers and logging communities are more complicit with environmental destruction than the rest of us. This excerpt is from an article that originally appeared in Orion. 195 Main St. Great Barrington, MA, 01230.

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