There’s a lot of greenwashing happening these days in forest politics. As climate change threatens the stability and health of our world’s ecosystems, rather than recognize forests as the powerful natural climate remedy that science has shown they can be, Big Timber has ramped up its propaganda machine to convince Congress, state legislatures, governors and other elected officials that clearcuts and industrial tree plantations are climate solutions rather than the climate catastrophes they really are. Big Timber sells its clearcuts as “regenerative,” young uniformly aged plantations as “climate-smart,” and giant timber beasts like Weyerhaeuser as aligned with rural communities and “family farmers.”
As an organizer working in the forest and climate movement, I’m often asked how these things are possible—how sweeping legislation can be passed to fund commercial logging under the guise of community wildfire prevention, and how clearcuts can continue to occur in community drinking water supplies across the country. My answer is: Big Timber has been telling big lies. These lies have led politicians to push for more clearcuts in the name of restoration, and have left community members in the lurch as generous subsidies and tax breaks go to support the very forest practices that threaten their lives and those of generations to come.
Below are some of the most egregious falsehoods coming from Big Timber-backed interests—lies used to support the status quo of industrial clearcut logging in forestlands across the country.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “Clearcuts are based on sound forest science.”
TRUTH: Clearcuts and corporate tree plantations are not forestry. We cannot replace a forest that took millions of years to evolve with a plantation. After clearcut-logging, what is typically replanted are industrial tree plantations that bear no resemblance to the natural forests they’ve replaced. These tree plantations are biological deserts that are more susceptible to fires, floods, droughts and other climate change stressors than real forests. For decades, scientists have advocated for a “Forestry for the 21st Century” that replaces clearcutting and tree farming with techniques for harvesting timber that leave a healthy forest behind. Against the backdrop of climate change, it is more important than ever that we consider management practices that account for long-term carbon storage, and ecosystem resiliency rather than clearcut management.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “Short-rotation plantation forestry is good for the climate because young trees sequester more carbon.”
TRUTH: The timber industry continues to falsely claim that young tree farms are better for the climate despite the fact that the best available science shows that old forests store far more carbon than young timber plantations. Big timber’s erroneous claim ignores the long-term picture and lifecycle impacts of clearcut logging, focusing instead on a myopic and misleading view of forest-carbon. If we look at the big picture, replacing healthy old forests with young plantations emits a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere and creates a carbon-debt that could take centuries to repay. The best way to ensure forests play their critical role in combatting climate change is to protect our existing dense carbon stores in old growth forests and rehabilitate unhealthy young forests to their full carbon storing potential.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “Regeneration Harvests” are different from clearcuts.
TRUTH: “Regeneration harvest” is simply a euphemism for a clearcut. These practices often leave under 5% of the original forest behind after a cut, and result in the same impacts for the land base as a traditional clearcut. Far from being meaningful environmental reforms, these practices use ecologically friendly terms to greenwash heavy-handed logging, avoid thorough environmental analysis and skirt public scrutiny on logging proposals.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “Wood buildings and burning trees for energy help combat climate change.”
TRUTH: Despite the fact that Big Timber continues to promote biomass as a clean transition fuel, burning wood sourced from corporate clearcuts is one of the most expensive, inefficient and carbon-intensive ways to make energy. Wood is half carbon by weight. Most of the carbon is lost through the logging process and by the time the standing tree reaches a biomass plant, less than half of the carbon is remaining. When it’s burned or converted into wood products, most of the carbon still left stored in the wood escapes into the atmosphere.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “We create jobs and generate tax revenues for local communities.”
TRUTH: Wall Street, foreign, and other big logging corporations have shed millions of jobs over the past twenty years by replacing people with machines and automation. These corporations are tax dodgers, evading income and property taxes that once funded schools, public services, and infrastructure while amassing generous subsidies for themselves. Big Timber is currently benefiting from tax breaks that could otherwise be supporting rural communities and needed public services. Recent investigative articles done by Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Oregonian and ProPublica exposed some of these shady practices, revealing that Big Timber is indeed stealing from rural communities, not supporting them.
BIG TIMBER LIE: “Logging reduces fire risk and fuel hazards.”
TRUTH: Commercial logging greatly increases fire risk by leaving dried out slash and brush on the forest floor, by replacing moist shady environments with hot dry microclimates, by increasing winds that fan flames, by opening up the forest to more abandoned campfires and by directly igniting fires through sparks from logging equipment.
As momentum for forest practices reform mounts on state and national levels, it’s time we challenge the shady claims coming from the logging industry. The urgency of the climate emergency and the real challenges ahead demand an immediate shift to climate-smart forestry that prioritizes carbon storage and long-term forest health, for the sake of forest ecosystems and our communities.