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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 3.18.10




A New Land Ethic

Destructive forest practices need to end

By Art Paz

How does drinking water from nearby rivers and domestic wells and local forestry chemical practices affect your personal health? In Oregon, it is not clear that today’s industrial forest practices clearly understand this connection and how it directly affects the well being of our communities. 

Sixty year ago, Aldo Leopold, one of our nation’s first formally educated foresters, observed that America needed a land ethic to preserve the complex soil, water and biotic richness of America’s forestry. He sighted the essential “capacity for internal self-renewal” that defines desired soil health fertility, water retention, insects and carnivore habitat prevalent in a healthy forest ecology. More recently, forest scientists at the Andrew Forest Research Center in Oregon’s Upper McKenzie old-growth watershed have recognized similar self-renewal patterns in a broad host of organisms that function as parts of interdependent forest communities creating a healthy, complex and dynamic bio-diverse environment. 

Most Oregonians do understand the critical importance of healthy forestry and its relationship to quality drinking water as being integral to the health of our regional environment. However, daily media reminds us of our unfolding climate crisis and global issues related to sustainable forestry. Scientist recognize the critical role of forestry in maintaining global sequestration of CO2, its role in establishing regional biodiversity while supplying timber resources, biomass and maintaining water safety and security. Yet Oregon’s culture of laws governing industrial forest practices still encourage large-scale clear-cutting of forestry and biomass extractive mining processes. These same laws allow phenoxy herbicide applications like 2-4-D, which is related to Agent Orange, the chemical receptor molecule disruptor of the nervous system, a la Vietnam War, to be used in forest management. Its use directly affects wildlife, fisheries, and local watersheds. 

This past summer, Weyerhaeuser clear-cut harvested 40 acres on the ridge line of the west fork of Cedar Flat, just east of Springfield. The property is just outside of the city’s urban growth boundary, in the Lower McKenzie Watershed. This north-facing watershed drains into Cedar Creek and subsequently flows into the McKenzie River which supplies drinking water for 150,000 plus residents of the city of Eugene. The geography of the property has a natural interface with the nearby urban growth boundaries of Springfield and its Lower McKenzie Watershed. As such, it would seem that Weyerhaeuser’s shared responsibility, to the immediate neighbors and their families and friends and those of Eugene and their frequent world visitors, is to protect the natural community commons affecting soil fertility, clean water, fisheries and clean air.

As the adjacent resident to the Weyerhaeuser Cedar Flat property, I witnessed first hand their application of industrial technology in clear-cutting forestry and the remaining tree stump landscape. As a veteran of the Vietnam Era, I am not looking forward to Weyerhaeuser’s plan to apply the organophosphate 2-4-D and Oust in March or April of 2010.

Presently, there is no law that restricts application of a timber-managed 2-4-D chemical herbicide into the Cedar Flat watershed. It’s a discretionary decision, an ethical decision that needs to measure petrochemical use in a neighborhood watershed. Given that the jury is still out on the need for using synthetic chemicals to achieve a healthy forest, and that chemical dosages of parts per million and in some cases parts per billion can cause ill effect on human immune systems, the planned mixture of 2-4-D, or Transline as recently announced, in combination with Oust and a later use of Glysophate seem unwarranted. In addition, the human immune system exposure to petrochemical cocktails, a mixing of different synthetic petrochemicals, is known to be highly dangerous. 

For 10 years, my adjacent forestry has maintained a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in an effort to maintain the highest forestry health. In addition, we are in our 20th year of maintaining an organic certified blueberry farm. The farm produces tons of produce sold to local and regional markets annually through out Oregon and into San Francisco and Seattle. 

It is my hope that Weyerhaeuser will adopt a broader forest management direction embracing business profits while enhancing the local environment as advocated in “Resource Guidelines for Watershed Good-Neighbor Programs,” published in 1998 by the UO Center for Watershed and Community Health. This is about creating a healthy forest flora and fauna, while enhancing a community watershed, for the residents on Cedar Flat and the cities of Springfield and Eugene. It will require a more nuanced review of timber practices for all watershed interfaces. Weyerhaeuser has an opportunity to help formulate a new land ethic approach for water quality in our local forest that interface with urban centers. Let’s hope they do so.  

Artemio “Art” Paz Jr. is principal of APAZ Architect, AIA, in Springfield and has been an architect and urban designer since 1972. He has also served as an assistant adjunct professor of architecture at UO.