RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

AN OPEN LETTER TO RIGHT A WRONG AND SAVE OLD GROWTH FORESTS

In May 2019, the College of Forestry at Oregon State University clear cut a15.6 acres of predominantly old growth Douglas Fir with trees ranging from 80 to 260 years old with an origin date of 1759 and one tree dating back to 1599.  A memorial was held on October 20th sponsored by the Spring Creek Project and the Friends of OSU Old Growth, https://friendsofosuoldgrowth.org/ which is how I learned of the travesty. I posted the notice of the memorial on FaceBook.  120 people responded and one suggested we write to the University, which I did, indicating that I would make his answer public.   The interim dean, Anthony S Davis wrote back, “I’ve just concluded a second listening session and am working on responses to questions and comments that came up; this is invaluable in crafting a pathway forward. I’ve attached this email two letters on the issue that may be of interest to you. Going forward, I am certain our actions will properly reflect our values.”

I am sure you can receive both letters, dated July 12 and July 26 which are referenced below from the College of Forestry if you inquire.

It is both terrifying and encouraging to see how much has changed in terms of our environmental situation and consciousness in such a short time, in just six months. The climate is declining at lightning speed and our understanding while also rapid is insufficient.  Changes of mind and action such as we have never conceived are required and we are all reeling.  Dr. Davis proposes a three-year process to institute a new program which at some point in our history would have been reasonable, but no longer. Three weeks, given what we are in, is too long and also at the same time we must be careful and thoughtful.  He also proposes, reflexively, consulting with all the “stakeholders” so that their various interests would be considered.  This is, equally, no longer a judicious and tenable approach except to focus the different perspectives and skill sets on the goal we must all accept: reversing extinction and restoring the climate and natural world. 

In 1972 I was invited to a living room reading of Christopher Stone’s argument in the California Law Review aloud: Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. We were electrified. We knew that an original and revolutionary way of thinking had entered the public discourse, and everything could change to meet our insipient awareness of environmental devastation as a result of what was rapidly becoming a global lifestyle.  And though legal rights have recently been granted to rivers and mountains, this conceptualization has not been established fast enough or broadly enough to save our planet from impending climate dissolution and extinction.

I have been sitting with Andrew Davis’ reply for a month.  Something more seemed to be required than argument, disagreement or criticism.  These approaches would not likely lead to the changes that are mandated by these times. In the 19 Ways, http://deenametzger.net/19-ways/ which were transmitted to me and which I teach, the No Enemy Way and Alliance are core principles.  How might they serve us here?

The coincidence of two events this week called me to begin the open letter which follows that I had committed to write to Andrew Davis and the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.  As I began writing, I understood that we are all in this together and we must find the ways to make this clear and undeniable.

Although this letter is written, ostensibly, to Andrew Davis and the College of Forestry, it is written to all of us.  We are each called to attend the issues identified below.  And more.  Unsure of what to say, I wrote this essay under the spreading branches of an oak tree I watched spring up from a seedling that had planted itself and the line of Eucalyptus trees at the border of the house and Topanga State Park which have sustained me for thirty-eight years.  If there is any merit to what is said here, I attribute it to the intelligence they transmitted and, of course, any foolishness is entirely mine.

            ***

Dr. Anthony S. Davis, Interim Dean, College of Forestry, Oregon State University

Dear Anthony:

Thank you for responding as quickly as you did and appending the two letters of July 2019 in regard to College of Forestry having harvested a 15.6-acre unit within the McDonald Forest including many old growth trees, one dating back to 1599.  I have been contemplating your note of October 9th in light of the growing planetary crisis, of our rapidly growing awareness of the crises which threaten all life and so all of us equally.  Your letters reveal the perhaps inevitable differences between most institutions’ slow responses and the necessary agility of individuals. The opening concern in your letter of July 12 is with management and timber revenue, albeit to sustain a university and the community it serves.  Quite differently, your letter of July 24, begins with a sojourn in the forest with your family, hiking and biking that leads you to ask fundamental, even daring questions about global responsibility which conventional forestry policies have not recognized as essential considerations.

I am moved by your instinct to go to the forest to contemplate the grievous and thoughtless action of cutting down the old grove. In the same way I take note of your signature, Anthony, on your email, as it confirms that we are each, personally, intimately involved in the current tragedy and need to meet it together. Because the global situation is drastically different than we have understood, because the times are critical, I am hoping to change the conversation between us, not only you and I, but between all of us, including between institutions and living beings, human and non-human, whose very lives and futures are at great risk.

Actually, going to the forest is exactly the suggestion I offered in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue who is directing the Forestry service to remove protections from the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska threatening the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America.  http://bit.ly/SaveAKRoadless As the son of a farmer who must cut down trees for farmland, he may not know trees and forests for themselves and so may not intuitively understand that they are as necessary to our lives as breath, that they are our breath, that we are kin.  But in the forest, one can learn this.

Kindergarten knowledge teaches us that trees absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale and provide the oxygen we need to live and that this evolutionary step provided for the emergence of mammals and humans.  We are not accustomed in western culture, to thinking systemically, interdependently, interconnectedly, and in terms of seven future generations as are Indigenous peoples; we do not fathom what this means nor understand how we must live accordingly. 

The following paragraph from botanist Barbara Beresford-Kroeger’s acclaimed new book, To Speak for the Trees , makes this simple and essential point:

“Earth’s atmosphere at the time of change from the ferns to the evergreens had concentrations of carbon dioxide too high to sustain human life. …Trees don’t simply maintain the conditions necessary for human and most animal life on Earth, trees created these conditions through the community of forests.

“…The truth was right there, so simple a child could grasp it.  Trees were responsible for the most basic necessity of life, the air we breathe.  Forests were being cut down across the globe at breathtaking rates – quite literally breathtaking.  In destroying them we were destroying our own life-support system.  Cutting down trees was a suicidal act.”

Institutions, universities, academic departments may not be able to grasp immediately what individuals must that our current circumstances require radical and rapid rethinking of everything.  Within a few years, perhaps even a few months, concerns about multi-value management, various stakeholders, revenue concerns and needs for timber products have become irrelevant before the urgent need confronting all institutions and people to preserve the basic condition of life.   —  oxygen, (air) water, earth, climate – and, therefore, forests and species diversity essential to life.  Ironically, the Forestry Departments which once ‘managed’ and harvested timber are now charged, contrarily, with preserving and extending all our forests as the single most important activity on the planet. 

Two events called me to write to you today.  The first is this the statement signed by 11,000 scientists in the Journal of BioScience:  ““We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/05/climate-crisis-11000-scientists-warn-of-untold-suffering

I was not aware until I copied it for this letter that the lead author is Prof William Ripple of Oregon State University, your colleague.  In my mind, this synchronicity underlines the understanding that we are called to meet this moment in new and radical ways. As I write this, Australia is burning and the Amazon is burning still.  I appreciated your understanding that everything is connected and that our values and actions have consequences elsewhere, as you write: “What role do North American values play in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon…?” Or. Anthony, in the fires that are currently raging, or in the increasing inability of people  (and animals) to breathe in India?  And how might the overriding concern for timber revenue which dominates your letter of July 12 be a factor in these fire storms or, more locally, the Kincaid fire, or even the Getty fire, which caused me and so many others to evacuate last week, noting that the wild do not have evacuation routes or centers to protect them.

The second reason for writing to you today was Secretary Purdue’s intention to cut down the Tongass and Chugach National Forests for lumber.  When I wrote to you in October, I requested that the College of Forestry make substantial and appropriate amends for the felling of the ancient trees, though we realize they will not be replaced before 2439. Now, I see an action that would go far beyond making amends for a singular thoughtless transgression against nature but would in fact begin a process of setting things right while preserving the ancient ones. 

It would be most appropriate if you would intervene with Agriculture Secretary Purdue to protect the millions of acres of old-growth forests which are threatened in Alaska. It would be an act of contrition and alliance on behalf of all breathing beings.  In addition, it would be appropriate for the College of Forestry to intervene and to gather other Forestry Departments in North America and globally to do so as well.  It could be the equivalent of the 11,000 scientists who are sounding the alarm.   

You can see, I am sure, the beauty and rightness of such an intervention. 

Desperate times require extreme measures and in this case, swift actions.

I hope you will consider this and act and behalf of all life and the future.

Sincerely,

Deena

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3 responses to “AN OPEN LETTER TO RIGHT A WRONG AND SAVE OLD GROWTH FORESTS

  1. Jim Devereaux November 10, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Brava! There is no foolishness therein.

    Jim

  2. maiabythesea November 10, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    “If there is going to be a miracle…it will come through courage…determination, selflessness and love…giving us the compass…to make fair and wise decisions…We desperately need that compass.” (H.E. Blake, ORION) Your Open Letter reveals the finely balanced needle of that compass trembling and pointing the way…
    Thank you for your courage and your love,
    Maia

  3. Regina O'Melveny November 18, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you dearest Deena for your wise, soulful and yes – true practical words, for what could be more essential than tending those trees upon whom our lives depend? Recently in Inverness, a deep-heart place for me, I stood on the deck of a small house and looked out at the trees. Usually I observe the rare beauty of distinct trees, a curving oak or fragrant bay laurel, but this time I was pulled into forest, the whole rooted flow and reaching breath that came towards me. I could only bow, offer thanks, and come away carrying forest within me. Now every decision I make will have forest in it. . .

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