Imagine that you were told by your neighbor that he was going to tear down your house, rip out your plumbing, (and spray you with a blend of chemicals (something we won’t get into here). In response to your protests, he just calmly told you not to worry: “Oregon law requires that I rebuild it.”
There is plenty to criticize about how private and state-owned forests are managed in Oregon. Among the common ways that people defend our weak logging rules is by pointing out that we “replant”—that replanting recently clearcut areas is mandatory by law and so clearcuts aren’t actually damaging our forest landscape.
This is an amazing suggestions. Yes, to some people, businesses, and hedge fund managers, forests are only a crop. Something to be grown, chopped down, and replanted. But that is missing most of what forests actually provide: water & air filtration, fish & wildlife habitat, places to play and find peace, and physical structures that keep our slopes intact and prevent flooding and drought. When we clearcut a forest parcel, we lose or significantly damage all of these functions for many many years.
A clearcut and replanted forest parcel releases CO2 for at least the first 15 years. It does not help to slow climate change. The notion that CO2 is stored in wood products forever is highly dubious. Studies indicate that a large portion (most?) of CO2 is released from the wood during logging, milling, and processing. So, replanting does not help with the climate.
Fish & wildlife rely on forests for innumerable habitat qualities. Many of these qualities are instantly lost during clearcutting and others—water quality and temperature—can be compromised in the short and long-term. This is analogous to a person having their home demolished and their plumbing ripped out. Yes, a refugee may be taken in by his/her family or might find another temporary home, but we can all very easily imagine the problems this creates. Can you imagine dealing with this scenario for 40+ years while your home is rebuilt? Even FEMA does better than that!
When a hillside is clearcut, it can take a handful of years before root structures decompose. However, once that decomposition takes place, it becomes appartent that clearcutting has adverse affects on slope stability. Clearcuts can increase the likelihood of landslides—bad for water quality, bad for roads, and bad for human safety. Again, it may take 40 years to rebuild those stabilizing root systems which keep our hillsides intact.
Perhaps most importantly, replanting in the style of industrial logging lands is not an effort to restore forests. It is an agricultural practice whereby monoculture plantations of densely packed doug fir dominate the landscape. This may be prudent for short-term financial gain, but it does not provide the types of resilient, diverse, healthy forests that we need.
Replanting may be better than not replanting. But let’s not kid ourselves by pretending that we can destroy our forests at any rate we so choose so long as we follow Oregon’s replanting law. Anyone who tries to defend Oregon’s forest laws by relying on the fact that we replant, is being deceived or deceitful.