National Geographic : 1974 Apr
payments, and that we should hold to the principle of free trade. They point out that demand is growing in Japan and Western Europe, and that if we don't reap the profits, Canada or the Soviet Union will. We could stretch our timber supplies through improved technology. At the Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, I glimpsed the sawmill of the future: A computerized headsaw sys tem to instantly compute the "best opening face," the crucial first cut that determines how much lumber a log will yield; and an ul trasonic scanner to spot hidden defects in logs and lumber before costly errors are made. I saw plywoodlike boards made of wood chips and glue, large beams fashioned from many smaller boards, and two-by-fours actually made of paper. Laboratory director H. O. Fleischer point ed out that timber savings could start in the field. Today an estimated 1.6 billion cubic feet of usable wood is left on the ground after harvesting each year. Forests Ravaged by Natural Forces At other Forest Service laboratories scien tists seek better ways to guard our standing timber against nature's ravages. Insects and disease nullify about a fifth of our annual timber growth. And despite new technology and massive organization by the Forest Service and other agencies, fire sweeps some three million acres a year. What about substituting other products for wood-steel, plastics, aluminum, con crete? The Forest Service points out that such materials come from nonrenewable resources, and that their production draws heavily on already burdened energy supplies. Many believe the only way to significantly increase our timber supply in the near future is by improving the management and in creasing the cut in the national forests. With only 18 percent of the nation's commercial timberland, they now hold a whopping half of all our softwood sawtimber. Crucial to the proposal is the harvesting of much of the old growth and its replace ment with young, fast-growing trees-in short, providing Weyerhaeuser-type manage ment to those national forests with appro priate soil and climate conditions. This is the course recently recommended by the special President's Advisory Panel on Timber and the Environment. Ralph Hodges, Executive Vice President of the National Forest Products Association and a panel member, told me: "Growth could be doubled. The nation would have more tim ber, the government more revenue, and the environment can still be protected. It would be a waste not to do so." Woodlands Growing More Popular Many conservationists disagree. They see the old-growth stands as an irreplaceable natural legacy to be enjoyed and preserved for future generations. They point out that public lands, unlike industry-owned lands, serve varied interests. Last year, for instance, visitors spent more time in the forests than in the national parks. Gordon Robinson, consulting forester for the Sierra Club, views the panel's proposals this way: "Industry has cut over and mis managed its own lands; now it wants to do the same to the national forests." He points out that timber harvests in the national forests have already jumped from 4.8 billion board feet in 1950 to 12.2 billion in 1972-17 percent of the nation's pro duction. And he claims that clear-cutting, which accounts for 60 percent of national forest yield, has already led to massive abuse of the forests and the land. "They say clear-cutting is necessary to re generate certain species such as Douglas fir and loblolly pine, which do not grow well in the shade of taller trees. "That's true, but a clear-cut of a quarter of an acre to ten acres is all that is required bi ologically. When you get clear-cuts of forty or a hundred acres, the only reasons are to increase timber yield and make industry's job easier. Then it's timber mining, not forestry. And the impact on the environment is similar to that of strip mining." Gordon prefers selective cutting where pos sible: the marking and felling of individual Felling tree after tree, a harvester guided by a lone operator methodically cuts 20-year-old slash pines planted by the Owens-Illinois company in northern Florida. The machine shears the trees at ground level, severs the limbs, saws the trunks into 6 1 /2 -foot logs, and bundles them for later pickup by truck. Timber: How Much Is Enough?