Seeing the forest and the trees

Have you ever thought about the cost of a tree?

Geez, you’re thinking, not another tree-hugging message from those enviros at SN&R. Haven’t they got something more important to write about? The answer is: not really. The effects of what happens in the forest range from the microscopic to the planetary, and they concern people’s lives.

And that issue regarding the cost of a single tree will land in court in California soon, and major players in government, the timber industry and environmentalism will be involved.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos has just sued Pacific Lumber Co. for fraud for deceiving government officials about the harmful effects of chopping down trees. By withholding key information about damage to slopes and streams, the company was able to cut 30,000 more redwood trees and thus harm the watershed in the Headwaters Forest. The district attorney wants the company to pay $2,500 per tree.

Is that outrageous or justified? If you were to ask members of Northcoast Earth First!, they’d certainly say that is a low figure (see “Life and limb,” page 20). After all, they’re willing to risk their very lives for a single tree. (And our cover story writer, R.V. Scheide, took a risk by climbing up a towering tree for an interview.)

So, the value of a tree can and will be argued. But we ask that you consider it in a larger context. Forests are interconnected webs held together by strands of plants, soil, water and air. For instance, the bacteria and fungi decomposing in a fallen tree will affect bears. Also, consider that the legal costs to a lumber company could very well affect the livelihoods of hundreds of company employees.

Also, for better or worse, consider that the paper you are holding may have come from one of those valuable trees.