Letter to the editor: Timber harvesting strategy steeped in good reasons

I’m writing to express my dismay at the misinformation again being spread about the Telephone Gap timber project. Timber harvesting on the Green Mountain National Forest is good for Vermont and the environment. Stopping harvesting is not a magic bullet to stop climate change, an incredibly complex problem with many possible pieces to the solution. Yelling “Stop harvesting timber and save the planet” makes for a catchy headline and pushes some fundraising but misses the mark. For more on our thinking about timber harvesting go to the Vermont Forest Products Association website video page: vtfpa.org/videos.

I have been working in the forest products industry my entire 49-year career. I have learned that trees 80 to 150 years old are in the prime range for harvesting, providing the best quality forest products and fitting in with sound management practices. We harvest trees in that age range regularly and produce vibrantly healthy forests as a result. These results demonstrate quite clearly that cutting mature trees is not bad for the environment. Anti-timber groups want anything over 80 to 100 years old to be old-growth so they can limit harvesting, regardless of scientific evidence or economic consequences. They conveniently do not mention the fact that in Vermont, we are harvesting a little less than half of the annual growth. That means we are constantly increasing our carbon storage while supplying a robust forest product economy that supports many jobs and provides products that we use every day. 

Housing is a major issue in Vermont and it takes lumber to build houses. When more houses are built, that lumber will come from somewhere. I believe that having sustainably harvested timber from Vermont supplying some of that construction lumber for houses in Vermont and around the nation and indeed around the word, is a very good thing, since we are growing more timber than we are harvesting.

Timber harvesting provides habitat benefits for wildlife that go far beyond the game species the letter writer mentioned so dismissively. The amazing variety of songbirds that we enjoy in Vermont are here in part because of the diverse habitat created by timber harvesting, and the list goes on with many small mammals. Diverse habitat is not just about hunting and brings many benefits that are not found in old growth.

Biomass is another point that I believe is off base. The carbon in coal was stored 300,000,000 years ago while the carbon in biomass fuel was stored anywhere from 35 to 150 years ago. It makes sense to me that continuing to consume fossil fuels, with their useful energy density (a plus) and very long carbon cycle (a negative), at the high rates we are currently consuming them, will affect the environment. With a dramatically shorter carbon cycle, biomass presents an easier problem for the planet to deal with. For another opinion on biomass, go to www.sustainable-carbon.org/biomass-carbon-neutral-or-worse-than-coal-environment. 

Another statement in the letter complains about Vermont forest products sent to other states and other countries as it is “cutting more than our needs.” Under that logic, California would not send any food to Vermont, we would shut down most maple syrup production in Vermont and there would be no international trade. This is an astonishingly narrow-minded point of view that fails to acknowledge the complex, interwoven nature of both our supply chains and climate change. We depend on other states and other countries to produce and sell what they are most productive at. Vermont is part of the global supply chain, exporting maple syrup, cheese, lumber, furniture and a huge variety of other products. We all depend on each other for the products we use in our lives.

Another item mentioned is “let private land cover the need for timber.” Most importantly, our public forests should be serving as an example to the world about how to practice sustainable forestry. Striking a balance between all the competing needs is hard and the Forest Service has done it well. Second, the state recently made it possible to have forestland in the Use Value Program without cutting timber, reducing the available timberland in the private sector. Vermont has some of the finest and best managed hardwood forestland in the world. I feel strongly that it is important to keep the public lands producing timber to make products people use in their lives every day and demonstrate best practices for all to see.

The Green Mountain National Forest team are professionals, dedicated to their jobs and working hard to stay up to date on the best science and forestry practices. Telephone Gap will not be 12,000 acres of clearcuts, there will be selective harvesting with many trees left standing, to produce the wide variety of benefits their team is striving for. They do world-class forestry on the National Forest here in Vermont, and we can be proud of their work. They are not trapped by dogma or outdated science. They are affected by the public input process, where a concerted effort by the anti-timber crowd produced a lot of negative input about the Telephone Gap project. These professionals have earned our support, not our condemnation. I believe the National Forest should be managed for everyone, not just Standing Trees and Save Public Forests.

What we can do:

1. Submit a comment supporting Alternative B and supporting the work the Forest Service is doing managing our public forests. Go to: cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public/CommentInput?Project=60192.

2. Call or write our Senators and Representative. Tell them you support Alternative B and that the Forest Service is doing good work managing our forests and that reduced harvesting is not a good choice.

• Rep. Becca Balint: 202-225-4115, balint.house.gov/contact.

• Sen. Bernie Sanders: 202-224-5141, sanders.senate.gov/contact/contact-form/

• Sen. Peter Welch: 202-224-4242, welch.senate.gov/email-peter

4. Reduce our own carbon footprint and consumption of all sorts. It’s too easy to say, “We made someone else stop harvesting trees, so I’ve done my part.” The climate crisis is driven in part by personal consumption choices we all make every day. 

Kenneth Johnson

General Manager

The A. Johnson Co. LLC


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