Keeping The Delicate Balance
For the last year we have been regulars on the Family Channel talk show Home & Family which is broadcast live daily from Universal Studios in Hollywood. As you might have guessed we are the fix-it guys and we regularly do segments on home repair, maintenance, cleaning and occasionally a segment on cooking or even a family matter or two.
Recently, we had the pleasure working with a group of wood shop students from a local high school. Their visit included a demonstration on carving and one on furniture refinishing. During the presentation we asked the teacher why his students were removing paint with wire-wheels instead of paint stripper. He responded by saying that his students did all of their projects “green”. When we asked what he meant by “green” he explained that it was his policy to teach his students to be as environmentally conscientious as possible. He said that he didn’t like the idea of using harsh chemicals when it wasn’t necessary. We were pleased that the instructor was teaching his students to respect our good earth. However, the furniture that was being refinished was nearly a hundred years old and that meant that there was a very good chance that the paint being removed contained lead. Well, one of the most dangerous ways of removing lead paint is by sanding. On top of that, children are more susceptible to the dangers of lead than adults. Naturally, the teacher agreed that a chemical stripper made more sense than kids forcing lead particles into the air with a wire wheel at the end of an electric drill.
The moral: sometimes in our attempt to do right by our environment we don’t stop to think about the other dangers.
Another example: Recently we had the good fortune to tour redwood forests in Northern Oregon. We had the opportunity to visit old wood forests, forests that had been selectively harvested and others that had been clear cut. What we learned was that there is an imbalance in our redwood forests that needs to be discussed. Some would have us cut down every living thing to insure that plenty of material is available for the construction of wood frame buildings. Others don’t want the forests touched for the sake of planet and all species of wildlife. But this isn’t about who is right or who is wrong – it’s about what happens when redwood forests are selectively cut instead of clear cutting.
We first visited a redwood forest that had been selectively cut. It had gorgeous bark floors, massive redwoods, a spattering of stumps that remained from a harvest a decade before and even an occasional flower or two. The temperature was cool and the surroundings were definitely oriented toward human occupancy and comfort. At this point we were convinced that clear cutting was an evil beyond explanation. The next forest we visited had been clear cut nearly a decade before and it looked terrible. The redwood trees were only about 16- to 20-feet tall (no giant redwoods like the ones we saw in the selectively cut forest). There was an extremely dense underbrush that reached over eight feet into the air — a traveler could not possibly negotiate such a dense barrier.
Next our tour guide explained what we had just seen. We were amazed. He said that the two adjacent forests had been a part of an ongoing experiment that began a decade before. One selectively harvested and one clear cut. He then asked us to look for animal tracks in the selectively harvested forest. We found none. On the other hand the edge of the brush in the previously clear cut forest was covered with tracks. He went on to explain that animals and people look for different things in a forest. Animals want underbrush and people want clear open paths. Our guide explained that underbrush will not grow back in a forest that is selectively cut because the sun can’t get through to promote new growth at the shady forest floor. Not even freshly planted redwood trees can survive on the floor of a selectively harvested forest. The bear, deer, rabbits and other forest occupants were enjoying the protection of the heavy undergrowth in the area that had evolved out of the clear cut forest.
Here is what we were amazed to learn. Clear cutting is not the evil technique that some “green” thinking folks would have you believe. In fact, our American Indian predecessors burnt down forests for the sole purpose of reconstituting the land. Now don’t get us wrong. We don’t think that the forests of the world (redwood or otherwise) ought to immediately be clear cut. What we do think is that there should be some balance and common sense when it comes to how our forests are managed. What’s more, with the shortage of redwood created by recent regulations small family companies have been run out of business and larger companies that have less redwood available to them are making bigger profits than ever on a supply that doesn’t meet demand. Don’t we live in a confusing world. Remember: when it comes to how decisions are made in congress — your vote controls their vote.
Last but not least — as you know we are always in search of alternatives to harsh chemicals that aren’t good for the environment. But, just as with the green students who were exposing themselves to lead poisoning, there must be balance. It is OK to use strong chemicals if they are properly handled, and most importantly, it they are disposed of correctly. And, good luck!