This was written by Bill Keye, Government Affairs Specialist for the California Licensed Foresters Association.
On a scale not seen since the Great Depression, unemployment and underemployment continue to grind away at California and the United States. 27 years ago, in November, 1982, the unemployment rate in the Golden State hit 11.0%. It hung around that level for several months, and then began to drop. It never touched those heights again, until 2009.
This year, we’ve already hit 12.2% and may well exceed 13% in 2010. California is worse off than most states this time around, a couple of points above the national level.
In forestry, we’ve seen mills shut, colleagues (or ourselves) laid off, Main Street businesses wither away.
The Board of Equalization (BOE) reports that in 2008, timber harvest in California was only 1.37 billion board-feet, very likely the lowest since – you already know – the Great Depression. Actually, timber harvest levels may even have been higher during the Depression because California’s current habit of importing most of our wood is a recent phenomenon.
When the BOE updates their state harvest stats next year, it seems predictable that the figures for 2009 will be even more depressing.
So we’re slogging through unsettling darkness, the grinding all around us. A chewing up and rearranging of economic tectonic plates, communities and human lives.
Still the trees grow. It’s helpful for me to remind myself that even during the Great Depression, when bitter hardship and dislocation were rife, very few Americans starved to death.
This puts things into perspective. We’re still a wealthy country and an especially wealthy state despite our self-inflicted difficulties.
Ever present is the challenge of using our vast forest resources for something closer to Gifford Pinchot’s “greatest good.” This year, our California legislature actually passed a bill that does something nice for California forestry: AB 1066 (Mendoza). That, in itself, is pretty amazing.
High unemployment has a profound effect on policy makers, even in eco-arrogant California.
AB 1066, although not a major bill, is still symbolic. It means more than just the resurrection of a few expired THPs. AB 1066’s legislative success may portend something bigger, a growing recognition of the full importance of our renewable natural resources, including extractive uses that physically sustain people.
Sustainable forestry, of course, could employ many thousands more people in California than it currently does, helping to spur economic recovery. We can sequester more carbon, spark more electricity, support more families and cut pollution by importing less wood and curbing wildfires.
We can also plant more trees, fix roads and build trails, improve habitat and so forth. Actually touch the land and feel its goodness. And still revel in California’s Golden beauty.
In our current darkness, there is light. Foresters have solutions.
Reprinted by permission from the California Licensed Foresters Association Update newsletter, November, 2009