Friday, January 14, 2005

Heard from the Rain Forests lately?

For the last several days, I’ve had the flu bug that’s been going around. During one of my fever-induced delirioums, I kept imagining the rain forest – God only knows why. Anyway, upon waking and reflecting upon the possible theological implication of my dream (turns out there was none) I got to thinking about how I hadn’t actually heard anything about the rain forests in some time.

As we children of the late ‘80s and early ’90s no doubt remember, rain forest depletion was all the rage among enviro-liberators of all sorts. I am a big fan of Nature and other PBS animal documentaries, you know the ones where you sit there for an hour watching a tiger mull a wildebeast whilst the British narrator says something akin to, “Observe the firely predator as he rips the leathery flesh from his still-thrashing prey.” I remember that at the end of every single one of those kinds of shows, there would be a 5 minute infomercial documenting the devastation of natural environment of, well, everywhere. The rain forests were merely the poster child. I haven’t seen much about that of late. The new rage is sustainable development, so the enviro-folk are more concerned with housing developments (or the lack thereof) and the building of roads (or not) than with trees. But it isn’t all just the changing hem line of environmental fads.

My aunt worked for nearly 20 years in the paper industry, companies like Wisconsin Paper and Xpedex. These are companies that own vast tracts of forestlands all around the world. It was she who first explained to me how, in order to best manage their investment, Xpedex would only harvest certain acres at certain times, much like a farmer does a crop rotation. Moreover in the interests of local wildlife, they left what she called “connected islands,” which are many-acres-large stands of original growth connected to other similiarly situated islands by strips of likewise undeveloped land. And hence, the interest of both paper and wildlife are served. Moreover, the local economy is bolstered by the hiring of local laborers at reasonable wages, meaning jobs for rural-dwelling men who would otherwise likely remain unemployed; and who, if it weren’t for the income from their timber jobs would probably have to subsist selling drugs and coffee like the rest of his rural counterparts.

In other words, the reason we don’t hear about the depletion of the rain forests anymore is because it became pretty evident that they were not in fact being depleted, at least not in the terms presented. Rather, by and large the paper and wood industries have development policies and practices that safeguard their investment in the land. Those abuses that do continue tend to be at the hands of either local marauders or nationalized forests where governments own the trees – both of which are cases of a lack of, and respect for, private property rights. That is a problem, I am sorry to report, that no amount of enviro-activism can fix.


Chris said...

Ron, while you are most certainly right that the rainforest was not being depleted. I don't think that this fact has become abudantly clear enough to a majority of the population in the U.S. and Western Europe to have been the reason why there is a dearth or a significant reduction in the rainforest reporting. I think your first premise (i.e. - changing fads amongst the environmental gloom and doom crowd) is probably more the reason than you think. Though again, this is just mere speculation on my part as well.

David said...

Ron, your post reminds me of the International Paper Company, who discovered that they can make a great deal of money by selling hunting permits so people can hunt on their land, land they are using to grow trees for paper. On average, in the 90s, selling these licenses accounted for 25% of the company's profits. Chalk another one up for private property and the free market.