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Photo: TimberWars podcast.
When the environment wins, logging families and their communities suffer. We need to find ways to meet the needs of both.

Until I heard a report from the investigative radio show Reveal, I didn’t understand the full import of the 1980s fight to save the northern spotted owl, a fight that pitted logging livelihoods against a bird.

Apparently, it was never really about the owl — or at least not primarily about the owl. It was about old-growth forests and the habitats they provide for an array of species.

Activists at the time were concerned that there were no laws protecting ancient trees. But there were laws protecting birds and animals. Getting the northern spotted owl listed as threatened or endangered, activists thought, could save a whole ecosystem.

The TimberWars podcast, here, offers “the behind-the-scenes story of how a small group of activists and scientists turned the fight over ancient trees and the spotted owl into one of the biggest environmental conflicts of the 20th century.”

From Reveal: “In the 1980s and ’90s, loggers and environmental activists faced off over the future of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. In this episode, Reveal partners with the podcast series Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Reporter Aaron Scott explores that definitive moment in the history of the land – and the consequences that reverberate today. 

“We begin with an event that became known as the Easter Massacre, in which a stand of old-growth trees in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest was cut down despite protests that attracted national media attention. 

“The Easter Massacre helped galvanize the environmental movement. Protests intensified in the forests, but environmentalists kept losing in the courtroom because there aren’t many laws to protect ecosystems. There are, however, laws to protect animals. 

“We explore how a small team bet it all on the northern spotted owl in a high-stakes strategy that involved the science of fruit flies and secret meetings at lobster shacks. While environmentalists ultimately succeeded in locking down millions of acres of forests, that success turned what had been bipartisan environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, into cultural wedges. 

“We end with how this conflict affected one timber town and how this fight that started decades ago continues to rage on. With the rise of climate change and the threat of intensifying wildfires, battles over the role of forests take on even greater significance.”

The Oregonian, here, published an update in March of this year. “Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve protections for 3.4 million acres of northern spotted owl habitat from the US-Canada border to northern California, the latest salvo in a legal battle over logging in federal old-growth forests that are key nesting grounds for the imperiled species.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cut the amount of protected federal old-growth forest by one-third in the final days of [the last] administration. … President Joe Biden’s administration has since temporarily delayed putting those new rules into effect in order to review the decision. …

“ ‘We didn’t want to leave any room for error,’ said Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Portland, Oregon. Brown estimated there are fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of the owls left in the wild, but no one is sure. …

“Timber interests, including the American Forest Resource Council, filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the delay in implementing the new, reduced habitat protections and say the forest in question isn’t used by the northern spotted owls.

“The existing protections on logging in federal old-growth forests in the US West have cost Pacific Northwest communities that rely on the timber industry over $1 billion and devastated rural communities by eliminating hundreds of jobs, the group says. …

“The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in a settlement with the timber industry to reevaluate the spotted owls’ protected territory following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a different federally protected species. …

“For decades, the federal government has been trying to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California. Old-growth Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old, that are preferred by the owl are also of great value to loggers.

“After the owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act, earning it a Time magazine cover, U.S. officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the population kept declining, and it faces other threats from competition from the barred owl and climate change.”

Read more at the Oregonian, here.

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The radio show Living on Earth recently reported how negotiations among environmental activists, the timber industry, indigenous people, and the British Columbia government protected 85 percent of a huge Canadian forest.

“Eighty-five percent of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia is now protected … Steve Curwood discusses [the compromise] with reporter Andrew MacLeod of the magazine The Tyee, who explains what’s been protected and what’s open for logging.

MACLEOD: “It’s an area of 6.5 million hectares between the top end of Vancouver Island and the Alaska Panhandle. So it’s an area, about the size of Ireland, and it’s quite remote. There are only about 1,400 people who live there. So much of it has never been logged. This is usually described as the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, a very lush, mossy, moist year-round ecosystem. … We’re talking trees that five or six people put their arms around. Some of these cedars can be in 20 feet in diameter …

CURWOOD: “Tell me what is the [forest’s] Spirit bear?

MCLEOD: “They are a subspecies of black bear. They are a genetic variant that comes out white, so it’s a white black bear. There are also Grizzly bears there, there are whales, wolves, and just a relatively pristine ecosystem up there.

CURWOOD: “And who calls them Spirit bears? …

MACLEOD: “My understanding is that it goes back through the First Nations, there have always been these genetic variant bears there and they’re seen as special.”

When Curwood asks why the timber industry agreed to the negotiation, MacLeod explains that the campaign to protect the forest helped to avoid extended confrontation.

“Lots of First Nations people will tell you they’ve been on the land for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and it’s been sustainable, it’s been healthy, that it’s really only last 150 years of colonialism where you’ve seen clear-cuts and destruction and species driven to extinction. On the other hand, there are lots of people from First Nations who are working in the logging industry today as well. Over time, First Nations have sort of reestablished their rights. There have been some precedent-setting cases just in the last few years that have recognized aboriginal title does exist.” More here.

Of possible interest: Read how Wabanaki diplomacy smoothed a similar negotiation process in Maine, here.

Photo:  Elsen Poulsen/Animals Asia, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
A white Spirit bear fishing

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I checked Gwarlingo not long ago to catch up on Michelle Aldredge’s thorough, sensitive meditations on art and literature.

What caught my attention was her review of a movie about restoring an old house in Japan.

“It is rare to find a film that is pitch-perfect in its cinematography, story, pacing, and length,” Aldredge writes, “but Davina Pardo’s short film Minka is such a gem. (I owe writer Craig Mod a thank you for turning me onto this quiet masterpiece.)

“Based on journalist John Roderick’s book Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, the film is a moving meditation on place, memory, friendship, family, and the meaning of home. Most remarkable, this haunting story plays out in a mere 15 minutes.

Minka is the Japanese name for the dwellings of 18th-century farmers, merchants, and artisans (i.e., the three non samurai-castes), but as Wikipedia explains, this caste-connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional Japanese style residence of an appropriate age could be referred to as minka. The word minka literally means ‘a house of the people.’

“The story of how AP foreign correspondent John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son Yoshihiro Takishita met, and then rescued a massive, timber minka by moving it from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura is full of small surprises and revelations (the biggest one comes at the end of the film).

Minka is a film that celebrates stillness. Pardo’s camera lovingly lingers on sun, shadows, and dust. But the peaceful home is not just a restored space full of beautiful, personal objects, it is also an expression of the deep connection between Roderick and Takishita and of familial love.”

Read about that at Gwarlingo, where the filmmaker will let you watch the entire 15-minute movie.

Photo: Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC
A still from the film
Minka

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Photo: Boston architecture firm IKD.
Designer Timothy Olson, material supplier Fraserwood/Mack Magee. The wood is cypress. “The presence of natural materials such as wood is associated with lower stress and positive feelings.”

There’s a great exhibit about using wood in construction at the Boston Society of Architects on Congress St. in Boston, but only until Tuesday, September 30.

I was surprised to learn that nowadays it is actually possible — and maybe even safer — to use wood for city buildings.

According to the BSA website, the timber “exhibition celebrates wood as the region’s most sensible and abundant choice of material for urban building, highlighting its flexibility and technical qualities, including timber’s potential to combat climate change.

“Yugon Kim, founding partner of IKD, Associate/Director of TSKP Boston, and co-curator of the exhibition explains, ‘We now know that timber is a superior structural building material that should be considered alongside steel and concrete. The carbon offset and sustainability benefits of wood make it an ever-relevant and timely building material in the urban landscape.’

” ‘Urban Timber: From Seed to City’ shows that recent developments — including numerous successful implementations of timber as primary structural for midrise buildings in Europe — point to a different future.

“The exhibition includes a number of case studies, examples of existing wood technology and recent material innovations in the many kinds of engineered timber available to the building industry today.”

Read more about the exhibit here.

Meanwhile, at Andrew Sullivan’s blog (here), we find a quote from James Hamblin about why trees are good for our health: “It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this [year]. And we’re only beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of their tree-benevolence.

“In the current journal Environmental Pollution, forester Dave Nowak and colleagues found that trees prevented 850 human deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in 2010 alone. That was related to 17 tonnes of air pollution removed by trees and forests, which physically intercept particulate matter and absorb gasses through their leave.”

More from Hamblin at the Atlantic.

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Asakiyume put me on to this offer from the nautical museum in Mystic, Connecticut. They have just finished restoring a whaling ship, and the public is invited to apply for the role of stowaway on its first trip.

Now, as we all know, stowaways stow themselves away in secret, against the wishes of the boat’s owners, but the museum has decided to put a new spin on an old concept.

Here’s what the Providence Journal reports: “Mystic Seaport is looking for a stowaway for its restored 19th century whaling ship. Whoever is hired will sail with the Charles W. Morgan ship next summer on visits to ports across New England. The stowaway will receive a stipend and will share the experience through videos and blog posts.

“The museum in Mystic has spent four years restoring the ship that was built in 1841. The Morgan’s last voyage ended in 1921 and is the world’s only surviving wooden whaling ship.

“The ship … will sail with a mission to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the oceans and its species.” More here.

Kind of counterintuitive to use a whaling ship to promote preserving the ocean and its creatures, but I guess no one is going to hunt any whales. Good thing, too. I read Moby You-Know-Who finally in 2010, and I wouldn’t recommend the life aboard ship.

Stowaway entries must be submitted via e-mail to stowaway@mysticseaport.org by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 18, 2014. I like the idea that the stowaway is expected to blog about the trip. S/he just better not be prone to seasickness.

Update 5/11/14: Read here how the whaling ship restoration benefited from special timber stored upright in saltwater at Charlestown Navy Yard in Mass. and rediscovered during the construction of Spaulding Rehab.

Photo: Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal
Matthew Barnes of Mystic Seaport examines the billet head on the bow of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan.

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Cathryn J. Prince has a story in the Christian Science Monitor about a research ecologist who thinks we can have our cake and eat it too: that is, have a strong economy and a sustainable future.

Prince writes, “As head of the conservation biology department at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH, [Tom] Wessels isn’t against chopping down trees or clearing land to farm. He just wants to see more people embrace sustainable forest and land management practices.

“Wessels, trained as a research ecologist, says economics plays as much a role in protecting the environment as does saving energy. Think how the adoption of fair trade principles for growing and selling coffee have changed the economics of that industry. Forests can benefit in the same way.

“ ‘Adam Smith, the father of modern economic theory, wrote about this in Wealth of Nations,’ Wessels says. ‘People will act out of self-interest, but they can support each other doing it. …

“Market forces can help to conserve forests and farmlands, says Wessels, who also serves as chair of the Vermont-based Center for Whole Communities. …

“ ‘We are incredibly frivolous about our energy use,’ Wessels says. ‘Any organism or population that is energy wasteful gets selected out of the system.” Charles Darwin explained this when he wrote about survival of the fittest, he says. Survival of the fittest also means survival of the most adaptable, and the most energy efficient, he says. …

“Partnering with more than 400 organizations in 47 states, Whole Communities aims to help create communities where people rely on each other for their food and other needs.

“For example, Wessels would like to see Detroit become a different kind of urban jungle. The city has lost about 50 percent of its population since the late 1980s. Empty lots abound. But now community gardens have begun to fill these open tracts with food crops. The Detroit Food Policy Council and the city government want to make Detroit food secure by 2020 – meaning that everyone will have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

“ ‘A lot of our focus is around food security,’ Wessels says. ‘Detroit will become a model for other urban areas.’ ” More here.

Photograph: Cathryn J. Prince

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