The North Coast deserves a thriving economy that celebrates our magnificent natural resources, rewards innovation and supports communities with family-wage jobs.
Despite incessant calls for greater diversity in our economy, no business sector has stepped up to drive an economic revival. Ecotourism has yet to be a significant economic factor in our economy.
Perhaps Arbor Day/Week March 7-17, with its focus on conservation and planting trees, will shift attention to an often overlooked path toward economic stability.
Conservation is the key. It leads to sustainability and the wise use of resources.
Conservation is also vastly different from preservation.
For decades, efforts to preserve North Coast forests have reduced
active forest management, made forests increasingly off-limits and
brought the forestry industry to its knees. From 1988 to 2008 harvest
levels on public forests in the state plummeted 95 percent percent,
hundreds of jobs have been lost, and 40 percent of the California's
sawmills have closed since 2000. North Coast unemployment now hovers
near 12 percent with few predictions for imminent improvement.
Preservation ignores the fact that it is literally impossible to
preserve dynamic forest ecosystems in a static state. It fails to
consider that people have been a natural part of forested landscapes
for thousands of years or that we have a responsibility to manage
natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations.
Whereas preservation makes us passive observers of change,
conservation lets land managers take an active hand in our forests'
California's North Coast has emerged as a hot spot for sustainable
forestry. More has been done to advance science and technology in the
woods in our own backyard than perhaps any region of the world. More
spotted owls live on California's actively managed private forest lands
than on public forest lands left to nature. Our area has invested more
money in watershed restoration and salmon research on actively managed
private forest and ranch lands than anywhere else.
Imagine if local forestry were actually supported. Maybe California
wouldn't import 75 percent of its lumber. We could sequester more
carbon in healthy forests and tap tremendous potential to produce
bio-energy and replace fossil fuels. We could enhance biodiversity and
put communities back to work taking care of the forests that have
sustained North Coast livelihoods for generations.
But instead, preservationist policies restrict forest management and
limit investment opportunities. Tax incentives pay twice the dividend
for renewable wind and solar energy than they do for renewable biomass
energy. Regulatory costs to forestry companies and taxpayers alike have
skyrocketed even though the harvest levels have dropped dramatically.
We're all for diversifying the local economy. But encouraging an
existing, job-producing, sustainable business sector is more cost
effective than trying to lure new ones that may or may not bring the
family-wage jobs forestry provides.
The forestry companies that have survived perform to the highest
environmental standards in the nation. While research shows that
California law sets among the most stringent regulations anywhere, most
North Coast forest landowners have taken the additional step of being
certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable
The "locally grown" movement has inspired people to rethink their
food consumption habits and support local food producers. It should
cause us to rethink forests, too. As Dr. Keith Gilless, UC-Berkeley
dean of the College of Natural Resources notes "the arguments to
promote local food are no more or less valid when considering one's
consumption of forest products."
It's time to choose conservation over preservation, to actively
shape our forests and rebuild our economy by supporting working forest
landscapes that provide perpetual employment opportunities.
Support locally grown. North Coast forests just might drive an economic recovery.
Lisa Perry is a Westhaven resident and chairwoman of the North Coast
Chapter of California Women in Timber. She can be contacted at