The Coastal Post - September, 1998

Savage Or Salvage Logging?

Edward W. Miller

The "salvage logging" planned by our Marin Municipal Water District and first described in the IJ in February is underway. As noted in the same paper two weeks ago, "650 exotic pines on 15 acres will be removed beginning August 10th." Some aspects of this plan, however, may prove detrimental to the ecology of our watershed, deprive the on-coming generation of trees of much of their needed soil support, and affect both the quality and volume of water available to future Marinites.

Although some pines targeted for removal are of the Monterey species which are dying from a combination of beetle and microbial infestation common along our coast, the great majority of "non-native" (Coulter, Bishop, Jeffrey and Knobcone), are resistant to the blight, and though aging (they were planted in the 1930s), with careful pruning may survive for years. Although the MMWD report says these non-natives are "not adapted to these sites," the fact that they have thrived for over 60 years suggests otherwise, as does the statement in the report that "their roots are invading the grasslands" and "thousands of seedlings remain."

Another issue voiced in the MMWD printouts is biological diversity. My Webster's dictionary defines diversity as "the condition of being different." Since these so-called "exotic species" are different, killing them off to improve diversity makes no sense except to the members of the California Native Plant Society, which has been lobbying both the MMWD and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to remove non-natives. No human lives long enough to intelligently interfere with competition between species, on-going since the earth was new and described by Darwin as the "survival of the fittest."

Our district vegetation ecologist Dennis Odion was quoted as saying: "The problem with Bishop, Jeffrey, Coulter and knobcone pines is they creep along, their fast-growing sprouts invading grasslands." (February IJ) However, isn't it those old, deep-rooted conifers which are presently protecting our watershed? Their thick forest floor releases its moisture slowly, come summer heat. Grasslands, by contrast, already brown by May, can't hold water and can't match a tree-lined lake or reservoir. For years the largely grass-surrounded Bon Tempe Reservoir has been silting in. Grass, in California's desert climate, cannot contain or add to the topsoil as do the roots of a tree. Thus, to clear those trees which presently border on Bon Tempe will increase silting, particularly if we face another of El Nino's wet winters. Carting away dead trees (except the infected Montereys) simply steals from the next growth and does not decrease fire hazards. As an aid in pruning, the modern diesel-operated chopping machines can reduce an eight-inch diameter branch in seconds to mulch for the forest floor. Dead trunks, left lying, will feed the next generation of trees.

The forest floor is a living, breathing factory of life and death. The out-reaching roots of a great tree search out from that chemical stew we call soil not only moisture but those elements it needs while its solar panels, or leaves, exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Years later, when this aged giant completes its cycle and falls, crashing to earth, those very organisms and creatures which sustained it in life will gradually disassemble its biomass, returning to the soil those molecules which the next generation of seedlings, already sprouting, require for sustenance.

China with its press of population has destroyed over 97% of her timberlands, and losing the confining root structures, her soil has washed into the seas. The Yellow River is yellow with the topsoil of that continent. The flooding this month is nature's revenge for overcutting. The devastating floods of Bangladesh arise not so much from the typhoons from the Bay of Bengal, but deforestation of the Himalayan ranges to the north which send their topsoil down the Ganges River, where thousands drown each year during the monsoons. Here on the West Coast we see the same process. Winter rains wash topsoil from clear-cut slopes, filling the streams, destroying the habitat of animal, birds and salmon. Come winter that brown stain moving along our Pacific Coast makes a mockery of the lumber companies' "sustainable yield."

Forest biologists such as Herbert Kronzucker, Ph.D., point out that dead and dying trees sustain the coming generations, are not a hazard, and are essential to the health of the forest. Alaskan fire management official John LeClair has noted that dead trees left standing, rather than increasing the hazard of fires, burned more slowly, retarding the conflagration in contrast to the "explosive inferno" when a live tree full of inflammable resins caught fire.

Doctor Kronzucker offered an even more cogent argument against "salvage logging" in our conifer forests. This involves the chemistry of nitrogen. With logging, Kronzucker says the dominant form of soil nitrogen shifts from ammonium to nitrates which the rains leach from the soil, thus slowing or often preventing the next growth of conifers from taking hold. Dead or dying trees, however, in their slow decomposition, transfer these precious chemicals to the new growth. Efforts to replant viable forests in large areas of North America have failed. In British Columbia nearly 4 million acres of once-productive forests have been written off as failed plantings. (Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 1997) Last month MacMillan Boledel Ltd., one of British Columbia's giants in the forestry industry announced it will discontinue clear-cutting and switch to "variable-retention logging." Their projected higher costs will be offset by decreased environmental damage, better public relations and increased yield over the years. How we interact with this chemistry of life and death will determine our survival on this planet. Wherever we have ignored or failed to appreciate the intricate pattern nature has evolved over the millenniums, we have paid the price.

* * *

International Tribunal

As the Boston Globe reported on the 17th of July, and after a month of intense debate, "rebuffing U.S. objections, United Nations delegates from 120 countries resoundingly approved a treaty establishing a permanent international criminal court, in what was hailed as a historic step toward ending impunity for the world's most heinous crimes." The treaty was approved 120 to 7 with 21 abstentions, but must now be ratified by 60 countries for the Court to become a reality. China and Israel voted with the U.S., while Russia, Britain, Canada and Germany supported the treaty.

Key provisions include the Court's power to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and the Court's right to issue both arrest warrants and summons to appear. The court, which may accept referrals from the U.N. Security Council, the Court's own independent prosecutor, and from a country, may not exert a death independent prosecutor, and from a country, may not exert a death penalty but may invoke life imprisonment. To be situated in the Hague in the Netherlands, the Court will have 18 judges and will be overseen by an assembly of representatives from those countries accepting the treaty.

Two delaying tactics insisted upon by the U.S. and France undermine the Court's prestige: The Security Council may delay a case for a year, and parties to its signatories may exempt themselves from jurisdiction for War Crimes for the first seven years of the Court's existence.

During the protracted discussion in Rome, U.S. representative Bill Richardson, (U.S. ambassador to the U.N.) agreed the Court should target crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, but he demanded the U.N. Security Council alone trigger the prosecutorial process. Since the US pretty well controls the Security Council, most delegates immediately discarded Richardson's second suggestion. Another objection Richardson voiced was a desire to protect U.S. soldiers serving abroad in peace-keeping operations: "They need to do their jobs without exposure to politicized proceedings."

Responding to Richardson's apparent concern for protecting U.S. peace-keeping troops, Pyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies noted: "The U.S. is essentially trying to create an international court for everyone except itself.... The Pentagon claims that they are against this treaty because they have so many troops on humanitarian missions. In reality, U.S. troops are disproportionately absent from peace-keeping missions."

Richardson emphatically insisted the Court steer clear of prosecuting individuals accused of waging national aggression. However, as international lawyer Francis A. Boyle points out, "Contrary to Richardson's baloney, the United States government has legally and officially recognized that waging a war of aggression is an international crime since the Nuremberg Charter of 1945."

Boyle added: "This principal of international law was expressly incorporated in the United States Army Field Manual 27-10 (1956) as follows: Any person, whether a member of the armed forces or a civilian, who commits an act considered a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment." Boyle also noted that the Customary Law of War is part of the law of the United States and is binding upon all citizens of the United States.

In his column (New York Times, July 20), Anthony Lewis noted: "An overwhelming number of countries in the world embraced the principle that government leaders and their agents are to be personally accountable, by law, when they commit genocide or crimes against humanity."

Fallouts from this momentous international decision at the Rome conference were not long in surfacing. The Israeli radio and press immediately criticized the Treaty. They could foresee the Court's future position on their illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Since the Fourth Geneva Convention on Human Rights of which Israel is a co-signer, specifically makes such land seizure illegal, Israel would stand naked before International Law in the new Court, lacking the usual U.S. veto to protect her. Our own Senator Jesse Helms, in step with our isolationist Republicans, immediately announced he would pull out all stops to prevent U.S. Senate approval of this Court.

Washington's concern at the Court's threatened presence is understandable. The U.S.' genocides in Laos and Cambodia, our invasions of Grenada and Panama, plus our bombings of Libya's Tripoli and Benghazi were all war crimes, as was the Allies' massive massacre by bomb, machine gun and napalm of those thousands fleeing north along the road from Basrah in the Gulf War.

The conscience of the World spoke in Rome. Whether that still, small voice will survive for the required 60-nation vote, time alone will tell.

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