The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Allowable waste – a philosophy

....“But economically it is not sound.”
....“There just has to be some waste, it’s too expensive to clean up the entire forest floor.”
....“Well, we’re cleaning up more than we ever used to.”
....The above statements refer to wood waste that our forest industry leaves behind after logging, and would also serve as statements to the waste from booming grounds, deadheads, sinkers, etc. These remarks have not been con-fined to just the top men who direct our industry, but have been said by people all down the line. It is as if there were a philosophy about “allowable waste,” a sort of eleventh command-ment, and it is to this philosophy that I shall direct this article. So , sue me!
....From the time of its infancy this forest industry on the coast of British Columbia has accepted, rationalized and defended its non-use of logs. Because our tree sizes were, and still are in a lot of cases, large, there has always existed a difficulty of handling. The great “long-butts” and “top-cuts” from giant Sitka Spruce in the Queen Charlotte Islands were left to rot in the woods in the twenties and thirties, because they were too difficult for the logger or the sawmill to handle. Only the choice cuts were taken — the nice large, round, straight-grained logs. The logger did this—the company OK’d it and the Forest Service allowed it. Long-butting, or the sawing off of the swelled butted tree was a common practice on this coast until 1950. Likewise limby tops - crooked trees and partially rotted logs were left behind. We, the loggers were educated in this philosophy. It was allowable to leave all this behind. And, without going into figures as I shall not do, the waste was enormous. For at the same time we did not take out any small trees at all. We logged the prime lands, the prime timber, and we believed in the philosophy. Let me tell you, if we didn’t the logger soon went broke. All the logger could concern himself with was to take the best in the easiest manner possible.

....For you see, the mills were not set up to take these odd-ball cuts of wood. I remember seeing giant spruce logs, sitting in a pulp mill log pond for a year because of the fact that no one would take the time to cut them down to a size that was useable for the mill. In fact the philosophy worked so well that someone finally turned them loose so the problem could drift away.
....Red cedar has been loved and hated in this industry. It used to be said that more loggers made fortunes or went broke on red cedar than on any other species. The waste in this tree has been appalling - for it is a tree that, because of its huge size can easily smash to bits when it is felled. A cedar slash is a sad memorial to those beautiful giants that had stood their ground for hundreds of years. The stumps will be large because of the difficulty of falling the tree, the slabs will be abundant because of their fragility, and the tops will litter the ground because of the immensity of the branches on the trees. Cedar slash has formed a big part of our eleventh commandment “allowable waste.”
....In truth, maybe we are no different than other industries. We in Canada have come of age from a land of “allowable waste.” We wasted our buffalo, we wasted our fertile deltas by putting houses on them, and we have wasted our farm produce and plowed it under. And in truth it was done in the name of progress. But along the way we caused a waste to our most precious commodity—our people — the native Indian—the poor—and the slum dweller. We grew used to waste and we could rationalize it by a philosophy of “allowable waste.”
....I criticize not just our forest industry, but I criticize ourselves for so long accepting this odious philosophy—and I have lived in that industry that grew to believe as a commandment, that philosophy. So what? You say. So this—it’s a darned hard commandment to break. Our people in the woods, in our Forest Service and in our leadership
still cling to that handed down philosophy. They can’t help it, because they can rationalize it by the word “economics.” This funny looking word is the saving grace—the “pardon” to our actions.
....I am in disagreement with the general view of Foresters that in order to have a good secure second crop, we must slash burn the waste left after logging. I believe this view is a direct descendant of the philosophy of “allowable waste,” and our Foresters in government or in industry are only following its heritage. I’m against slash burning because it’s a waste of perfectly good material that even under close utilization policies we have come to accept as permissible or allowable. I’m against slash burning because it is also dangerous. Even under the best controlled methods there is still the real possibility that things may get out of control. Man does not yet control the weather and until he can say he is able to do so there is the chance of damage to standing timber, to adjoining new growth and to a host of damaging conditions from felled and bucked timber to towns.
....The simple pros and cons of controlled slash burning—as it is called—do not weigh in favour of the flame. Why in the name of sanity, at this stage in our so-called modern world’s development we continue this annual salute to the fire gods is beyond my thinking. For every piece of good wood we burn, be they stumps, chunks, tops, slash or fringe damage, we must cut down more prime forest to make up for the loss. And aren’t we trying to conserve our forests for perpetual yield?
....Oh, yes—economics. Well what’s so cost saving about burning useable wood that sits on the ground begging to be made into some product—and then turning around and cutting down more trees to keep our quotas up? If our governments or big forest firms are so concerned about the future of our industry—or its environment —
British Columbia Lumberman, March, 1974

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or its competitiveness—then why do they tolerate this continued “allowable waste.” It makes little sense to worry about the next crop if we don’t look after this one, which we shall never see the likes of again.
....I sometimes think that too many people on our coast are on a “Scandi-navian Kick.” Get rid of the big stuff and let’s start growing nice orderly forests of small trees. My answer is “Count your blessings B.C. —because what we’ve got here right now is what Scandinavians would dearly love to have.”
....To waste—or to burn?
....I believe the forester’s concern is that if we don’t leave the allowable waste and don’t burn, the second crop will have difficulty in being planted—or if planted, in growing. So, burn is his answer, and really under today’s “economics” he’s stuck with the salute to the fire gods. It is true that beside the accumulation of allowable waste from the felled trees, the bottom lands soon fill with thriving brush to dim out the light from the planted seedlings. But then as a point against burning—even in brushy accumulations on the floor I still believe that, like a good gardener, more attention could be given to the seedlings each year by cutting away the brush until the little plant is high enough to fend for itself. Really, in the overall picture of the finished product very little actual money is spent on reforestation.. So maybe we should dig up some more money for this phase of the timber industry and eliminate the forester’s need for clean ground for the new crop by means of burning.
....Better yet—what ever happened to all that talk back in the sixties about small pulp mills to be located in vital areas to take care of the waste and small stuff? I guess someone blew the whistle on the idea of a fifty-ton mill by saying it was “uneconomical.” Well I think it’s uneconomical to waste money on lots of things—like booze and expense accounts and big cars—but we all like these things and we can find a rationalization about them. Couldn’t somebody start to ra-tionalize on a fifty-ton pulp mill to use up a precious commodity? Or do we keep letting the idea drift away down the inlet like the big spruce logs.
....If you want clean ground to plant on—if you want the public to stop screaming about skies full of smoke—if you want to stop fringe damage to good stands of timber—and if you really want to conserve—then cast off

the old philosophy of the ancients on “allowable waste” and simply start a crusade for utilizing what we are now leaving behind. What we leave behind makes us burn—that causes smoke, that the public hates us for, and destroys good fibre we could utilize. What we leave behind causes people in other lands to look upon us as wasteful and “fat cats.” What we leave behind causes us to be lazy with new ideas and allows our competitors to beat us to the customer’s dollar.
....I have listened to those who tell me that great plans are afoot to solve this
problem of waste. Professors are working on it at large universities, research directors are working on it in labs, industry and governments are developing ‘white papers’ on it. But look you lowly logger, you are still committing the sin of the eleventh commandment. When do we start? Where’s the action? Or do we continue to rationalize the old philosophy—‘allowable waste?”
....So, sue me!
Keep out of the bight,
British Columbia Lumberman, March, 1974