Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Save A Tree?"

My latest Central Maine Power bill has a provision for getting receipts for payment electronically. “Save A Tree,” it says. I pay automatically and find that option very useful. But regarding receipts, I like paper and for good reason.

Of course CMP is not unique in their tree-saving efforts. For sure, lots of people who opt out of hard-copy receipts do so in all earnestness. Besides, I’m sure it makes them feel good, too. After all, everything we can do to contribute to the health of our environment is a good thing. Isn’t it?

Let’s consider paper. Here in Maine, the pulp and paper industry (I have absolutely no connection to the industry, by the way) owns the lion’s share of our woodlands. With the exception of a few parks and other lands owned and/or maintained by the various land trusts, we have the pulp and paper people to thank for what wild land remains.

Taking things a step further, were it not for the paper companies, what do you suppose would happen to all this wild land that we are so proud of and that so many of us freely recreate on? I’ll tell you what would happen. It would be sold to private industry, read that to mean developers, before you could say Jack Robinson.

Like them or hate them, the paper companies have kept our woodlands woodlands. As Jim Robbins of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont once said, “In northern Maine, they cut trees and grow trees. In southern Maine, they cut trees and grow houses.”

Jim’s astute comment pretty much sums up the situation. As an example, consider Plum Creek, a mega-developer that eats up woodland and spits out resorts. Plumb Creek has, as we all know by now, gotten its money-making hands on land around Moosehead Lake, the premiere, wild lake of the eastern United States. The company planned to build from the start and after a long, legal struggle, has come out on top and now the once-pristine, Moosehead Region will soon resound to the “music” of heavy equipment and then, hammers and saws. That’s what happens when paper companies are driven to sell their woodlands.

“But these companies cut trees,” someone might say. Sure they cut trees. Paper is made of trees. However, the same person who so dutifully objects to taking the life of a tree has no idea in the world what kind of tree he or she is defending. But I do. Let me tell you.

Historically, paper was made and still is, of balsam fir, Abies balsamea. People who can’t immediately recall what a fir looks like have only to consider Christmas trees. Balsam firs are THE Christmas trees.

Firs grow well over 40 feet tall, but by that time, generally have been attacked by disease and insects. Cut a big fir and chances are good that it will be what woodcutters call, “hollow-hearted.” Firs are short-lived and for that reason, fast-growing. To put it simply, firs are a renewable crop, no more and no less.

In my own lifetime of a little over 60 years, I have seen many woods-cutting operations on the same plot of land. Private woodcutters did this, people who concentrate upon fir and sometimes spruce for the pulp and paper industry. In fact, I was once an independent logger and the woodlot that I now own and live on, was once my worksite.

While I’m getting a bit old to take on a full-fledged logging operation, my woodlot is about ready for another go-around. That’s how fast fir grows.

Industry has, since I carried a chainsaw into the woods for profit, developed a way to use poplar, too. “Popple,” as many refer to the various members of the Populus group, was once utterly worthless, not fetching enough money to warrant cutting it. Poplar is, first and foremost, a pioneer tree. It is one of those trees that quickly colonized cut or burned-over land, establishing the canopy so necessary for other, more long-lived trees to gain a foothold.

So here we have two, different trees that if not cut and used, will sooner rather than later, succumb to disease, insects and even high winds. It’s better to cut fir and poplar and allow a new crop to come online, than to keep the old specimens in situ. Regular, thoughtful and planned harvests insure that our trees and our forest in general, stay healthy.

So before jumping on the “save a tree” bandwagon, consider what trees are worth saving and what are better used to our good when they reach their prime. Besides, if we save too many trees, there might not be any more trees to save. Our forests will revert to houses and resorts, not a good thing at all. That’s the way it works.

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