Chain Saw Scouting Story – Colbert Earns Mythical Preservation Merit Badge

I think Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report is brilliant, but even brilliant people can get things wrong.

Here’s the story The Colbert Report refers to that ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer claiming the scouts love “a different kind of green: cash.”

If I heard right, Colbert said:

“… [the Boy Scouts] will have to start a fire using the apparent friction between what they say and what they do.”

As a Registered Professional Forester in California, I take issue with such a Manichean depiction. Trade-offs and gray areas are part of life. Most likely, the areas that the scouts logged were second-growth and had been logged before. Forests do grow back.

I have my differences with the Boy Scouts, but give them credit for wrestling with stewardship and not simply perpetuating the illusion of preservation. Preservation tries to maintain the land in an unaltered condition. That is an impossible task. Trade-offs are part of life (download and read American forest policy-global ethical tradeoffs).

I agree with Jess D. Daniels, Ph.D. He wrote,

“The bottom line is this: If we are going to continue using more and more wood, then we have a moral responsibility to grow more wood to meet that demand. By not striving to grow our own wood, we inevitably shift that burden to other nations and regions not able to do it as responsibly and sustainably as we do. That makes us a nation of hypocrites, preaching the virtues of environmental protection while encouraging other nations to disregard those virtues for our benefit.” (Daniels 1993)

So here’s a tip of my hat to the Boy Scouts (who said they would replant the logged sites) and a wag of my finger to you, Stephen Colbert, and to the Hearst media conglomerate.  We should not simplistically fob off providing this country’s wood needs to other countries with low environmental standards and call it conservation. That would make us hypocrites.


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