Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reforestation: When will Habits Change to Help the Environment?

By Kristie Murru

The term reforestation suggests images of healthy budding forests filled with wildlife and the idea that nature is the main focus. When there are forest fires, the term reforestation is used to describe restoring what had been damaged. In other words, the forest must literally be replanted. Unfortunately, this is not the only case where the term is used and it holds a commercialized connotation. Lumber companies use it as a way to refer to the planting of trees after having cut down forests for business.

In the United States and other countries, reforestation is a way for lumber companies to make a profit from selling harvested trees cut down in large areas and maximizing every square foot of land. In these situations, herbicides were and are used in order to target plants for potentially threatening to shade out the trees that are replanted. According to Professor Howard Horowitz, who worked as a tree planter for many years in the Pacific Northwest, herbicides were used to target not only invasive plants but those that were natural to the habitats. Precautions can be taken to limit where the herbicide is sprayed, but the chemicals are still able to seep into the soil and spread to other shrubs, he said, as well as get on tree planters.

What I found interesting about his account is that an alternative to using chemicals as a means to target the shrubs was manual removal. Instead of having workers pull or cut the shrubs out, the companies chose possibly the cheapest route, spraying herbicides. This decision obviously stemmed from the companies wanting to avoid potentially having to pay their workers more money for the physical labor that manually removing the shrubs would entail. All it would take to replace the use of herbicides is physically fit, younger workers in order to remove the plants. This reliance on hazardous chemicals as a way to maximize profits is not a good thing. It promotes a society that is reliant on an easy fix to a potentially larger problem.

The use of chemicals is even more disheartening considering that approximately 15-20 percent of trees were actually being affected by the shrubs, Professor Horowitz said. Meaning that about 80 percent of the forest was filling back in with healthy trees, a number that is still statistically good when factoring in a potential profit. And so, realistically there is no valid reason for chemical interference other than greed.

Another interesting point that Professor Horowitz made was that the workers would be given directions to plant trees extremely close to one another. This does not take into account that trees need room to grow and become healthy. That process in and of itself played into a potential loss in profits for the lumber companies because the trees, in such conditions, are not given the opportunity to truly grow in a proper habitat.

It is known that mixed forests tend to be the healthiest, Professor Horowitz said. So, the lumber companies that only wanted certain trees planted in forest areas that had been clear cut were more concerned with quick profits than in allowing healthier forests to regrow. As the climate changes, and large companies continue to operate in ways that were once common, the question that rises is at what point will individuals realize that habits too must change?

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