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Loggers Who Lay Waste to Beauty

Mar 4, 2007
Our family lives in King and Queen County, Virginia, around forty-five minutes northeast of Richmond. We’ve lived here for four years, in a very pleasant two story white farmhouse on a small hill. We’re surrounded by fields and woods and a horse farm across the road. It’s bucolic, beautiful and infinitely better than the dreary landscape of the suburbs, where our four children were previously raised. We’ve vowed never again to live in an ugly environment, if we can help it.

Yet it was here, in this peaceful area of Virginia, where we first ran across a group of individuals that I’ve decided to call “The Loggers Who Lay Waste to Beauty”. The first time we saw the desolation caused by their handiwork, we were driving down a road that we had traveled many times, when suddenly we turned a corner and saw a vast expanse of broken tree stumps and piles of dirt, mixed with wood chips and underbrush. It had been a beautiful stretch of woods, inhabited, I’m sure, by a variety of now displaced creatures.

Our entire family’s collective jaws dropped to the bottom of the van as we slowly drove by a scene that reminded me of a World War I no man’s land battlefield. Ugly, tragic and desolate didn’t even begin to describe it. Since that day, we have driven by dozens of areas that have been literally laid waste. In one case, the cleared area of woods revealed a lone house in a field that previously had been sheltered from the road by the trees. Now the house stood alone, stark amidst another torn up battlefield. If I had been that home owner, I would have been very unhappy indeed, because of the destruction of beauty as well as the drastic decline in the value of the property. Who would want to buy the house, after that?

Now, before my gentle readers immediately haul out their wood chippers and decide to dispose of me, with cries of “Hey buddy, we need the wood, you know”, let me acknowledge that I realize that new homes need boards made of wood, and paper needs wood, and even the pencils that we buy for our children’s art class need wood. I’ve got it. I really do appreciate that the logging industry is fulfilling a need. I use a lot of paper for the things I write, so I’m not condemning logging outright, although there are probably many ways that the logging industry can improve.

I mourn the loss of the centuries old hardwood trees that were here when the settlers came. We should do more to replant hardwood trees - not for harvesting but for the joy brought to future generations. I think we should do more research about alternate sources of paper and building materials, to save more trees.

In this column, however, I’m simply recommending that the logging industry make some minor but important changes to their method of cutting down trees. Of course they have to continue to cut, in order to supply all the good things that come from wood. However, when they cut, they should cut in such a way that they no longer lay waste to beauty. I believe that a very simple set of policies would make a very large difference. If the logging industry does not adopt these polices, I strongly recommend that state legislatures pass them into law to force logging companies to comply.

First and foremost, the environment of beauty should be protected. In real terms, that means that the view of those who live and travel in areas where trees are cut should be protected. In our county, that policy could have been served by simply leaving a wide border of trees between the roads that we drove on and the area that was cut. How wide that border of trees should be is partly dependent upon the type of trees. Evergreens might not require as wide an expanse as deciduous trees that lose their leaves. The borders of trees should be wide enough so that passersby can’t see the desolation on the other side, even in winter when the leaves fall. These borders should be on all sides of the area, and the road into the area should have a bend in it, so that trees block the cut area from the view by the entrance.

Using the “preservation of a beautiful view” paradigm, clear cutting should not happen in a valley, where all the houses on the hills around the valley will have to look at the ugly results. In the same way, a policy should be put in place to prohibit clear cutting in areas where the view cannot be protected by a sufficient border of trees, or where the woods themselves are commonly walked in and enjoyed by local residents.

I believe that this will require legislation to be effective. Without legislation, a local property owner can’t legally be stopped from selling a patch of woods to loggers who then raze it to the ground. However, I don’t believe that governments will act on these issues by themselves. It is up to us to raise a hue and cry, and to vote for the preservation of beauty in our communities.

(Comments are moderated and must be approved.)
Peter Falkenberg Brown
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