This article was first published in The Viking News, January 28, 2004 (Volume 73, No. 1), a bi-weekly publication of the State University of New York, Westchester Community College.
By Taffy Lee Williams
Stalwart efforts by student groups and environmental organizations across the US have resulted in a nationwide campus crusade to save our vanishing forests. The campaign, called the Tree Free Campus campaign has brought commitments from over 30 colleges and universities to remove "virgin" or old growth forests paper or wood products from their institutions.
Globally, the statistics are grim; the news elsewhere is distressing. Today, over 75% of the world's old growth forests have been logged or degraded. 125,000 square miles of rainforest is cleared each year to create grazing land. 95% of Scandinavia's original forests are now intensive industry forests with logging continuing of old growth, all to supply paper to the UK and Europe. In Canada, the last of the world's temperate rainforests are disappearing to supply paper and timber products. In the US, less than 3% of our original old growth forests remain and these are under constant attack by the logging industry, developers and the Bush Administration's hostile approach to forest conservation.
With widespread adherence of the "tree free campus" philosophy, the looming ecological disasters may be slowed or even prevented. Continual recycling of paper products will ease the pressure on decimating forests and by ongoing relentless non-sustainable harvesting.
With an almost insatiable demand by US business and the construction industry, and with that "throw away" mentality, our paper and wood consumption is staggering. The US, with just 4% of the world's population, consumes one third of the world's paper products. Although the overall recycling rate in the US has dramatically risen in the past decade (to approximately 35%) we still fall short of the 70% paper recycling rate that most European nations have achieved. Some believe recycling doesn't stop when you throw your reusables in the proper containers.
Forest ecologist, Tim Fahey, Professor of Natural Resources at Cornell, recently said "You're not recycling unless you buy recycled." Processing raw wood into paper is a "very nasty industry," highly polluting, and energy intense. Recycling paper into reused product uses 70% less energy and causes a great deal less pollution.
The timber industry claims to follow "green principles" and boasts that for every tree cut down another one (or more) is planted. What they fail to tell you is that the new growth trees replanted are of one or two species specifically desirable for harvest, such as pine or birch. This "monoculture" of single species "plantation" forests creates a habitat barren of species diversity already obliterated by the act of clear cutting. Non-adaptable wildlife and plant species dependent on biodiversity simply cannot survive and are driven into localized extinctions. They also fail to mention that the newly planted homogenized forests are planted in row after row of hybrid trees genetically modified or bred to minimize undergrowth and grow tall and straight for easy future harvest. Brush and shrubbery near to the ground has been eliminated. A monoculture forest with thin tall toothpick trees is a fire disaster waiting to happen. During periodic naturally occurring fires, original old growth forests, thick with underbrush and wide diameter trees, low brush burns off but large-base trees survive. The matchstick effect of rows of tall narrow-base trees with no brush, when ignited, generates a conflagration that spreads with the wind and consumes everything to ashes.
To save old growth forests and their diversity of flora and fauna and to demonstrate their absolute opposition, desperate activists from groups such as Earth First have literally laid down their lives in front of heavy trucks and logging equipment on their way to clear cut old growth trees. After the Rainforest Action Network, American Lands Alliance, the Student Environmental Action Coalition and forest activists kicked off their Tree Free Campus campaign in 2001 over 30 campuses across the US responded with commitments to remove old growth products from their school. Indiana University and Notre Dame University, the University of Maine and University of North Carolina are just some of the major institutions removing old growth products from their schools. Some schools, like the College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar Harbor, Maine, have gone a step farther by pledging to switch to 100% recycled, non-old-growth, chlorine-free, forest friendly paper products in everything from notepads to toilet paper. COA has even pledged to substitute salvaged, recycled or non-wood building materials for campus construction projects. What's more, COA has stopped purchasing wood materials from companies that stock supplies from old-growth forests, harvested US public lands, monoculturized forest plantations, genetically altered trees or chip board from virgin trees.
Many commercial institutions have followed the non-old-growth policy of the Tree Free Campus campaign. Home Depot is phasing out old growth products, while Kinko's, 3M, Hallmark, Hewlett Packard and dozens of others businesses have put in place strict policies against the purchase of old growth paper, pulp and lumber. In March, 2001, a national day of action brought protestors to over 100 Staples stores to demand the super chain start selling 100% recycled paper products and stop selling old growth and virgin paper products. By November, 2002, Staples bowed to pressures and a two-year boycott with a plan to phase out products from endangered forests, including non-protected forests in the southern US, endangered US National forests and the Canadian Boreal Forests. Staples also agreed to work towards an average of 30% recycled content in all its paper products. 100% recycled products are now widely available in the store.
Can we remove old-growth and virgin paper products here at WCC? The answer is "Yes." Can we adopt a policy to prevent the use of old growth wood and building products here as well? The answer is "We must." The results will be a continuing movement toward environmental responsibility that identifies the greatest institutions of higher learning.
For more information visit: http://www.ran.org/ran_campaigns/old_growth/.
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