A history of deforestation: The big players in the logging game
This is the fourth article in a series about deforestation: how it started, what it means, and what people can do about it. In this article, certified arborist Jeff Karwoski discusses how logging is ‘the most dangerous occupation in the United States’ and the importance of people transitioning to a more conservative relationship with forests.
By Jeff Karwoski
Photo: The demands of the flat-pack furniture industry rely on what consumers want: ‘Now more than ever,’ Karwoski warns, ‘is the time to pump the brakes on the consumption of forest products.’ By Danaildanail, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In the last article, a bleak picture was painted: A world full of people chopping away at trees, Earth’s most useful and precious gift; scenario in which the primeval forests of the world are scoured off the face of the planet to meet the demands of the flat-pack furniture industry and America’s great obsession with toilet paper. Often, the mentality in the world of tree cutting is, ‘You might as well cut the trees and make the money, because if you don’t, the next guy will.’
A large logging concession called West Fraser Timber, for example, owns multiple mills across the United States and the company has a market cap of around $10.20 billion. Another company named Weyerhaeuser made a profit of $681 million in the first quarter of 2021. There are other large companies producing profits on a similar level, not to mention countless smaller ones too—and this is in North America alone.
These companies are big players with teams of lawyers and lobbyists; they often have friends in high places. Much of the time, this ensures that large land acquisitions (logging companies are some of the largest private landholders) are able to be made and the activities on those lands can go on behind closed doors.
What this can mean for these companies is the ability to cut down entire groves of ancient forests, replace them with a monoculture of fast growing species, and get their lumber stamped with a sustainability certificate because they replanted the area that was cleared. In the process, there is a staggering loss of biodiversity and release of massive levels of carbon into the atmosphere. Ancient forests, after all, are better at capturing and holding carbon than newly formed plantations.
As much as we revere the majesty of trees, we also do so for the lumberjack who cuts them down. The “saw man” is an iconic figure throughout the world revered for his ability to fell giants and manipulate them into useful products on the market.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, logging is “the most dangerous occupation in the United States.” There are thousands and thousands of families who rely on income from logging and the people who do it often risk their lives for others’ dining room tables. I like wood products as much as the next person, but if we are to move forward with our effort to restore the planet, destructive logging practices need to be quickly phased out in favor of more sustainable methods.
The question remains: What can be done? If people change their toilet paper brand can they change the world? In short, yes: If billions of people have created the demand, then billions of people can dissolve that demand through their daily actions.
The reason forests began to be cut down in the first place is because people demanded it. They—for good reasons—prized the products that came out of forests and built an existence based upon them. Supply is only met by demand, and it is people who are creating the demand. Now more than ever is the time to pump the brakes on the consumption of forest products.
Awareness is the first step in reversing deforestation. Think about what is now an old adage: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Consider, for example, if you really need new furniture or if you can hold onto what you have until it becomes “retro.” If you are going to buy, you can buy used; by doing so, you can buy valuable time for society to transition to a better system. Every day, more sustainable brands become available on the market: With your business, you can support and reward the ones who are making a positive difference for everyone. By transitioning to a more conservative relationship with forests yourself, you can drive industries to take on better practices for the sake of the greater good.
Since people are unable to escape their dependency on trees and forests, it’s important to make that dependence a healthy one. Each person won’t be able to turn all of the industries around and eliminate all of the problems deforestation causes in their lifetime. What they can do, though, is pave the way for future generations.
The race is on. The facts are in. The declining conditions of forests are no secret. Many nations have initiated projects to restore forest lands and there is a growing industry of large and small-scale forest restoration going on in both the private and nonprofit sectors. Millions of people are joining the environmental movement for the sense of community it provides and the pride they feel for being a part of it.
In the next issue, I’ll highlight some of these organizations and their forest restoration efforts.
Jeff Karwoski is a certified arborist and the Executive Director of Reforest Our Future, a newly founded nonprofit focused on connecting people and trees. He works in the Pittsburgh area designing native plant installations and is a founding partner of the Leyte Reforestation Project on Leyte Island in the Philippines. You can reach him at email@example.com.