The High Cost of Going 'Extreme Green'

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OREGON -- Everywhere you turn these days, it seems someone is telling you about the benefits of going green. Some groups have even targeted children with their green message.

While taking care of the environment is a good idea on the surface, a deeper look at the Green movement reveals it may not be all it's cracked up to be.

Oregon's 'Decimation'

With its breathtaking waterfalls and rich evergreen forests, the state of Oregon is a testament to the beauty of God's creation. A battle is brewing over this beauty -- should it be hands off? Or should it be harvested and maintained?

On one side, you have the powerful environmental movement, the Greens, as they are called. Rallying around the global warming flag and the fight to reduce carbon emissions, they explain that mature forests have great potential for carbon storage.

Their message is that harvesting timber turns the land into a desert that's not liveable. Many want landscapes to be left untouched, and with their large funding resources, the Greens are not afraid to go to court and file lawsuits against logging and harvesting projects.

These lawsuits have caused dismay for Jim Geisinger, executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers.

Ironically, in a state of postcard perfect landscapes, he calls Oregon the poster child of decimation at the hands of the Green movement.

He points to the loss of jobs, padlocked mills, and abandoned stores that once sold wood products as proof.

"The federal lands here used to supply over half of the timber that our industry used," Geisinger explained. "Because of the activities of the environmental community -- appeals, litigation, lawsuits, legislative efforts -- today those lands produce about 10 percent of what we use."

"We're producing about half as much timber for our industry as we did 20 years ago, and it's largely the result of the involvement of the environmental groups on our federal forests," he said.

Geisinger says that has translated into tens of thousands of job losses in Oregon -- direct losses like those at mills, as well as unemployment in the support and service industries.

Broken Contract, Broken Promises 

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, told CBN News a contract with rural America has been broken.

"We don't have management of our federal forests, which in many areas are 70 percent of the forested areas in Oregon," he said. "Basically, they've shut down. The industries are gone. Our way of life in rural America is gone, and we're now seeing 20 percent or higher unemployment in these communities."

Oregon state senator Ted Ferrioli represents about a third of the electorate in Oregon. He told CBN News the Green movement's promise of sustainability has been broken.

"From my perspective, the environmental movement hasn't really saved the community," he said. "It's destroyed the economic underpinnings of the community, and now when you go look at the forests of the east side, they're decaying -- decadent, dying trees, bug infested and overcrowded stands."

Bob Luoto owns a logging company named Cross and Crown. The fourth generation Oregon logger says he has taken his share of hits from environmentalists.

"The environmental movement has cut our operations in half in the last 20 years," he explained. "We would have 85 people working for us, now we have probably 30 to 35 people. It's been a real detriment to our industry."

Grounding Northwest Jobs 

It's not just in Oregon where the logging industry has taken a hit. One study revealed that since 1989, in the entire Pacific Northwest, 445 mills have been shut down, and more than 51,000 mill and woods jobs have been eliminated.

Forestry jobs in the air have also been grounded.

"It's a movement," said Max Merlich, vice president of forestry for Columbia Helicopters. "It's almost like a religion."

Columbia's choppers help fight forest fires as well as harvest timber in environmentally-sensitive areas. They haul away timber by air without having to clear-cut or build roads. The helicopters also help in salvage logging and rehabilitating a forest after a fire.

However, Merlich says even his business has been targeted by the Green movement.

"Now, environmental movement takes every single job to court that has anything to do with dead timber, and you have a short window, a couple of years, and then the timber is no longer marketable," he told CBN News. "They learned how to delay that in court, and they've become very good at it."

Merlich says even a delay in harvesting equals a victory for environmentalists, and a defeat for helicopter logging and forest management. Equipment sits idle like the helicopters, and once again, jobs are cut.

"Our company could be employing another 300 people, if we were able to just manage forests," he said.

Burning Up Common Sense 

Like an unruly, undisciplined child, a wildfire can rage out of control in a forest that is not managed well. Forestry and logging leaders point to Oregon's 2003 B and B complex fire. It burned more than 90,000 acres of federal forest.

Many in the Green movement have a zero-cut policy. They want to let nature run its course. Forestry experts explain managing a forest involves thinning, harvesting and reforestation so the forest doesn't provide so much fuel for fires, which are a major cause of greenhouse gases.

Forestry and logging officials say managing a forest not only keeps it healthy, but it also requires labor, thus putting people back to work.

"Since when has logging been a crime?," Rex Storm of Associated Oregon Loggers, asked. "Since when was it bad to grow, harvest and reforest trees for the benefit of natural resources, for the benefit of society, to produce products and habitats that we all want."

The bottom line for many opposed to the extreme green movement is balance.

For logger Luoto, who is also a Christian, it is having a balanced perspective.

"We are here as Christians to maintain God's planet and His domain. And I think that's important," he explained. "But I also think that we have to have some common sense in what we do, and understand that this is here to use."

For many, that common sense involves maintaining a healthy environment without sacrificing the health of humanity.

*Originally published July 23, 2009 

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.