Did you know that
forests cover about one-third of all the land in the United States? I like
to collect facts like that. It amounts to some 737 million acres of forests
and, of that, 247 million acres (3.5%) are reserved from harvest by law or
represent slow-growing woodlands unsuitable for timber production. Some 490
million acres are called timberlands, i.e., forests that can produce more
than 20 cubic feet of wood per acre annually.
Even so, you might be surprised to learn that the US imports more than $15
billion in wood products annually. In 2002, the value of these products was
set at $15,876,388,000. This represents everything from hardwood logs and
lumber to railroad ties, softwood lumber to plywood and particleboard. Lumber
for “builders carpentry” represented $1,683,915,000 in 2002.
So my interest was aroused when I learned that, in July, the Bush administration
had launched an “Initiative Against Illegal Logging” and the cost of that
Initiative would be $15 million in taxpayers’ money.
It’s no secret the US is deep into the red ink these days and one would think
it would be looking for ways to cut spending, but this Initiative was deemed
important enough for Secretary of State, Colin L. Powell, to announce it
on July 28. He noted that the World Bank estimates illegal logging costs
developing nations an estimated $10-15 billion every year in lost resources
and revenues. It is money he said, “stolen from legitimate forest products
As I read through Secretary Powell’s address, I noticed that he expressed
his appreciation to Conservation International, a major Green organization,
and the American Forest and Paper Association for their work “in demonstrating
the critical importance of preserving protected forest areas.” Reading further,
I learned that the US had “already entered into agreements with six countries
to generate over $60 million for forest preservation.” So the total is now
up to $75 million for this policy designed to “save” forests from proper
management and use.
Now, let’s understand what we are really talking about. “Forest preservation”
translates as forests from which virtually no timber may be extracted. You
may recall that the Greens have been trying for decades to stop any logging
in the rain forests of South America, among others. And you may recall that
Green logging policies just cost the State of California thousands of homes
and more thousands of acres of trees burnt to cinders. The real cost of these
retrogressive policies has to be calculated in the billions!
Then I noticed who’s in charge of this initiative and this is where the whole
thing begins to wreak of a Green agenda to insure that wood, the most sustainable,
usable, and recyclable product on the face of the Earth, will remain yet
another natural resource the Greens want to deny everyone.
The man in charge of this Initiative is John F. Turner, and he was appointed
the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary in charge of the Bureau of
Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs. Guess what?
Prior to his appointment in November 2001, Mr. Turner was the President and
Chief Executive Officer of The Conservation Fund, described as a “nonprofit
organization dedicated to public-private partnerships to protect land and
Let me translate for you. This organization, like so many comparable Green
groups, is the enemy of private property. Like so many Green groups, its
agenda is to insure that as much land as possible is taken off the revenue
producing rolls. During Mr. Turner’s tenure, his organization “protected”
2.8 million acres of parks, wildlife habitat, and open space across America.
That’s 2.8 million acres that cannot be used for housing our growing population,
for timber production, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking or off-road use
of any kind. And it gets better. Mr. Turner, from 1989 to 1993, was the Director
of the US Fish and Wildlife Service where, among his duties, “he was responsible
for expanding collaborative approaches under the Endangered Species Act,
increasing wetland protection and establishing 55 new National Wildlife Refuges,
the most of any administration in the nation’s history.” Why is this necessary?
It’s not. The total amount of developed land in the US amounts to barely
3.5% of the entire landmass. The US already controls upwards of 40% of the
So, the Bush Initiative on Illegal Logging begins to look more and more like
the fulfillment of the deepest held wish of every diehard environmentalist,
the destruction of the nation’s economy by shutting off access to our natural
resources and the denial of access to our nation’s forests in the name of
protecting so-called endangered species.
And even the American Forest & Paper Association speaks the Green line
saying, “All forest enterprises worldwide should implement sustainable forest
management before the next World Forestry Congress.” A more accurate translation
of “sustainable” is the means by which the use of forests and other natural
resources is restrained and regulated in every way possible to insure it
Even giant forest product conglomerates like the Weyerhaeuser Company, with
sales of $18.5 billion in 2002 and offices or operations in 18 countries,
benefit from the taxpayers’ underwriting of the administration’s $15 million
Initiative. It increases the difficulties of smaller lumber import companies
to compete. This is good news for Weyerhaeuser’s bottom line, but not for
the many wood-importing companies who contract with local producers around
Which brings us at last to the question of how such illegal timber activities
could exist without the compliance of the nations in regions such as the
Congo Basin, the Amazon Basin and Central America, and South and Southeast
Asia? The answer to that is “corruption.”
None of the wood being exported from countries such as Indonesia or Brazil
just shows up at the harbor and gets secretly loaded on ships. Someone has
to certify it as legal for export. The Initiative is going to throw $15 million
in US taxpayers’ money at an effort that corrupt forest product authorities
in nations around the world will render meaningless. Still think it’s worth
the cost? Think “drug trade.”
Lastly, it should be noted that there are already scores of international
laws, rules, and regulations regarding the export and import of wood. This
Initiative fulfills the dreams of every environmentalist who hates capitalism
and the free market.
Alan Caruba is the author of Warning Signs, published by Merril Press. His weekly commentaries are posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center.