Logging forest to save the land –that's the controversial deal arranged by an environmental partnership outside Seattle. It will preserve a stretch of land twice the size of the city. But most of the land will be logged over the next 40 years. Liam Moriarty reports.
CURWOOD: In recent years, some conservationists in the Northeast have used limited logging as a compromise to protect designated areas of habitat for wildlife. Now, this approach is coming to the Cascade Mountains, just beyond the suburbs of Seattle. A non-profit group hopes to use logging to save more than 100,000 acres of land from the threat of suburban sprawl. Liam Moriarty reports the plan has led to great excitement among Northwest environmental groups, and some soul searching as well.
MORIARTY: The property is immense, nearly twice the size of the city of Seattle. But it’s not likely to be mistaken for wilderness. It’s a working forest. For the past century, these hills have been continuously logged by the Weyerhauser Company.
[SOUND OF WATER FLOWING]
MORIARITY: There are some tall fir forests. Other sections are dotted with trees in various stages of growth. Still, other areas are clearcut, raw and torn up, with muddy mounds of roots and discarded slash.
Charlie Raines is my guide. We park and walk down to a river as a light rain falls from the low-hanging mist.
RAINES: Typical spring day in the foothills.
MORIARTY: Mr. Raines is with the Cascade Land Conservancy, one of the non-profit partners in charge of this unusual project. He says that even after all the logging, the tree farm is home to a lot of wildlife.
RAINES: From bald eagles to jays, crows and ravens, lots of woodpeckers. There’s deer and elk here year round, bear, bobcat, cougar.
MORIARTY: Their habitat would be destroyed, he says, if this land were converted to malls, and housing subdivisions. The booming suburb surrounding Seattle can already be seen encroaching on nearby ridges in the Cascade foothills. So the Evergreen Forest Trust, the main non-profit partner in this deal, will buy the tree farm from Weyerhauser.
It will set aside 20,000 acres of the most sensitive land, like this riverbank. Then the environmental partnership will log the rest, for at least another 40 years. The Trust will use the money to pay off the property’s $185 million purchase price. Mr. Raines, a long-time environmentalist, is painfully aware of the irony.
RAINES: The clearcutting is not pretty. It’s certainly not my preference or a lot of other peoples’ preference for how to manage the forest. But the alternative is to see all the trees cut down and then have the land paved over, which is far worse.
[SOUND OF WATER FLOWING FADES]
MORIARTY: Gene Duvernoy is Charlie Raines’ boss at the Cascade Land Conservancy. We meet in a small downtown Seattle conference room, hung with woodcut prints commemorating the group’s preservation of forests, wetlands and open spaces. Mr. Duvernoy says working forests are worth protecting. And conservationists have already waited too long.
DUVERNOY: We expected that land to always be there as forest. And, we continue to debate on the degree and type of forestry while we have been waking up of late, and recognizing that those forests are being converted to other uses.
MORIARTY: Mr. Duvernoy says two decades of fighting over logging in the Northwest has been divisive. It’s drained environmentalists of money and energy. He says this model–buying a working forest, then using the proceeds to pay for its long-term preservation–is the next step.
DUVERNOY: There needs to be a new paradigm. We’re not interested in battles. We’re interested in creating a successful mechanism for providing the wood that this society clearly needs, but providing it an environmentally sustainable basis.
MORIARTY: Mr. Duvernoy says there will less logging as the land is paid off, and logging with greater care for streams and wetlands than is required under government regulations. Since the non-profit won’t have to keep investors happy with ever-increasing returns, he says, it can afford to log more carefully than commercial timber companies often do.
DUVERNOY: There are some people who are afraid of a new way of doing business. And there are some of us who say it’s time to look at new ways to do business. And that’s what this is about.
MORIARTY: While this new way of doing business has been embraced by many mainstream environmental groups in Washington State, others say doing business is the problem, not the solution.
BLAELOCH: This is not protection. It’s not conservation. It’s not environmentalism. It’s cutting down the trees to pay for the land.
MORIARTY: Janine Blaeloch heads the Western Lands Exchange Project. The group watchdogs land swaps between corporations and the government. Ms. Blaeloch says she’s dismayed to see environmentalists so eagerly adopting a corporate approach to the land.
BLAELOCH: As long as the motives behind what we do are profit, we can never hope to save the things that truly need to be saved. If everything has its price, then everything eventually will be sold.
MORIARTY: The sale is still not a done deal. It hinges on some "first of its kind" financing– tax-free bonds. Typically, those bonds are used by cities as a low-cost way to finance big projects such as sewers or hospitals. Before they can be used in this deal, either the IRS or Congress will have to say it’s okay for a non-profit group to issue them for land conservation.
Gerry Johnson, president of the Evergreen Forest Trust, predicts if that happens, the bonds will soon be used on other environmental projects around the country.
JOHNSON: Well, we think the potential is enormous. And, there are lots of Snoqualmie tree farms around the country that could benefit from this mechanism.
[SOUND OF WATER FLOWING]
MORIARTY: Standing on the banks of the Snoqualmie River, Charlie Raines watches a small bird bobbing for food among the mossy river rocks, and reflects on compromise and doing what is doable.
RAINES: I grew up in the greater Seattle area. And so I’ve watched the suburbs move from where I grew up farther and farther east every year. And areas that you thought would never get developed are now covered with houses. I don’t want to see another 100,000 acres of it turned into suburban development.
MORIARTY: It’s a long reach for many environmentalists to see logging as a tool that can be creatively used to contain suburban sprawl. For now, what’s planned at the Snoqualmie Tree Farm remains an experiment, cutting down the trees to save the forest. For Living on Earth, I’m Liam Moriarty in the foothills of the Cascade Range.
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