Have you ever been to a clearcut?
Nothing is left but stumps and silence.
Have you ever been to a clearcut BEFORE it was a clearcut? When it was a lively natural forest? With habitat for woodpeckers, bears, cypress trees, salamanders and flowers? That natural forest allows people like you and me to hunt and fish. It gives us a place to hike. At a clearcut, you’ll find yourself walking around looking down at stumps, not staring up at the wonder of an 70-year-old oak. Unfortunately, clearcuts are all too ubiquitous in the Southern United States.
Emily Zucchino and I spent two weeks on an outreach tour in the Gulf South to meet with people who are passionate about protecting Southern forests and are pushing back against destructive industrial logging practices in their backyards. We traveled through the swamps of Louisiana, the marshes of Alabama and the coastal forests of Florida. We explored longleaf pine habitats and kayaked through streams surrounded by cypress swamps.
The breathtaking beauty became so much more visceral as we realized that for every natural forest we saw, there were twice as many clearcuts.
About 85% of the forested acres in the Southeast are harvested using the clearcut method. It is ugly, extractive and has severe habitat, ecosystem and climate effects. When was the last time you read about an 80-acre forest being clearcut, though? It’s a legal practice; yet, it only benefits the corporations who would rather bypass social responsibility for their financial gain. Politicians look the other way. The public hardly hears about it. Yet the future of forests depends on management practices right now.
Let us not allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes: there is no societal gain that comes from a clearcut.
Clearcutting in our Southern forests has increased because big power companies in Europe want to burn our forests for electricity. In 2015 alone, over 10 million tons of trees were clearcut in the US South and sent to Europe. Even more, we have caught this industry red-handed, clearcutting sensitive bottomland hardwood forest ecosystems.
Clearcut a wetland forest and guess what happens? It’ll never return.
Enviva, one of the worst offenders of forest destruction, has this quote on their website:
‘Do you source wood from forests that have been clear cut?’ While some images of clear-cut forests can be unsettling, this practice is entirely consistent with, and in many cases essential to, sustainable forest management.
Does anyone really believe that? It seems to us that Enviva thinks that “sustainable forest management” means only growing monoculture pine plantations. That’s not a forest; that a crop row.
Drive out of the city and into the countryside in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida or anywhere in the Gulf South, and that clearcut you see may have once held beautiful trees that are now being burned in the UK to keep the lights on.
The biomass industry is bad for our forests, communities, health and economy.
Southerners care deeply about the land, though, and the activists Emily and I met with are strengthening their grassroots power to catalyze an end to the destruction and an increase in protection for the precious forests of our region. Dogwood Alliance has increased the protection of over 90 million acres of forests across the region. We have created leading environmental policies with Fortune 500 companies, including Staples, Office Depot, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson and more.
The movement for forest protection in the South is alive and ready for a paradigm shift.