SAVING THE AMERICAN PUBLIC FOREST:EYTZ CHAYYIM, L'CHAYYIM L'EYTZIM:
CLERGY WRITE THE PRESIDENT.
BRINGING THE TORAH TREE OF LIFE
TO RENEW THE LIFE OF TREES
Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation
409 Mendocino Avenue, Suite A
Santa Rosa, California 95401
Talking Points and Background Notes regarding the Open Letter to President Bush on Forest
The following sections are thematically arranged according to the paragraphs in the Open Letter
The purpose of this Open Letter to the President is to inform The White House and all the nation that there are spiritual values associated with America's public forests and all of the other parts of creation. This is because they are creations of God and may not be degraded to "mere commodities" without also degrading ourselves and our religious heritage.
We take this action of an Open Letter to our President because The White House and much of society have forgotten the place of God and spiritual principle in formulation of national policy. This is evident in many ways, but it is particularly conspicuous in discussions about our national forests. The debate revolves almost entirely around economics, science and commercial interests. None of the agencies or organizations are taking a position based upon what will provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people over the longest period of time - which is essentially the religious position.
Religion is a unique voice in the forest discussion because it has no direct financial stake or vested interest in the outcome. We are examining this issue from the standpoint of religious principle and the common good of society. We address this issue because it is our religious and spiritual responsibility to uphold the moral and ethical standards of our nation.
It is to this end that the following "Talking Points" explicate the various sections of the Open Letter to President Bush.
God bless you as you take this Open Letter to the religious leaders in your area. May the Spirit of the Lord guide and inspire you, for you work for more than the forests. You are laboring for the preservation of the religious spirit upon which this country was founded and you work for the general welfare of the entire nation, now and unto future generations.
§1. The Call of Religion
America's religious leaders are addressing the issue of forest conservation because the underlying moral questions are crucial for the health of society and because the religious dimensions to the forest conservation issue have not been addressed.
The scientific and economic perspectives which have dominated discussion about forests miss the underlying value questions which are embedded in our relationship to God's creation. From a religious perspective, these value questions are central to a right relationship to the land. Without including the moral and ethical perspectives, we will not arrive at an adequate vision of the place of forests in creation or society as a right vision and understanding can never be achieved merely through economic and scientific studies.
To discern this vision of the place of America's public forests, an assessment of their intrinsic value must be included alongside an assessment of the role of forests in the biosphere and the unique services which they provide nature and society. When these spiritual considerations are integrated into an understanding of the place of forests in the scheme of creation, a far higher understanding of their worth emerges than from what either science or economics can offer.
It is from this recognition that there are intrinsic and in fact religious values to forests which cause them to soar in worth beyond their commercial values that has caused a growing number of religious organizations to call for an end to the commercial logging on the national forests.
§2. Religious Declarations on Forests and the Scriptural Foundation
Many religious organizations have issued formal declarations about the importance of ending commercial logging on the national forests.
Many religious organizations have issued clear statements about forest conservation. Some of them include:
- The Episcopalian Environmental Network
- Roman Catholic Franciscans, Holy Name Province
- United Methodist Church, Northern and Southern California disricts
- Reformed Judaism, The Social Action Committee
- The Coalition on Religion in Appalachia (CORA)
- The National Council of Churches' Eco-Justice Working Group
- The Christian Environmental Council (Evangelical Christian leaders)
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis, 111th Congress
- Bay Chapter, The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
- The Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina
- Christians Caring for Creation Prayer Network (Pasadena, California)
- The Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation
- The United Church of Christ, Saron Congregation, Sheboygan, Wisconsin
- The Catholic Bishops of Northern Mexico
(See the texts of some representative declarations in Appendix A).
In addition to these declarations, a substantial Scriptural base exists which informs a religious understanding of creation care generally and forests in particular (See Appendix B).
A study of forests in the Bible portrays a variety of different meanings.
Through well over 450 passages, trees and forests are used in the Bible to convey a number of distinct and even contradictory messages:
The Bible depicts trees as symbols of life, stability, fruitfulness and integrity. Some passages reflect convey a utilitarian view while others depict trees as embodiments of religious value and reflect a sacred view.
At the beginning of the Bible (and also the end for Christians) trees convey ulterior meaning (reflecting the symbolic view) and a right relationship to trees brings "healing to the nations." At times trees reflect legal understanding, such as the command not to cut down trees during times of war. Trees sometimes are the subject of religious discourse, such as the passages concerning Solomon's wisdom and his commentaries on plants and trees. Trees are even the basis for Judgement and define a right relationship to our Creator. From the first book of the Bible to the last, trees are a continual element in the biblical message.
§3. A Quick Jewish and Christian Theology of Creation
Most churches and synagogues have been busy over the past two decades recovering and articulating a theology of creation. This process has provided us a series of Biblically based principles that lead to a right relationship to God's creation.
This theology of creation has always existed, but in the agrarian societies of the past, the need was not as intense as in our modern era of technology. As we have multiplied our ability to shape the earth, we have not proportionately increased our understanding of the spiritual and moral principles which lead to a right relationship to God and creation. For this reason we need to amplify this theology of creation in our society more than ever before.
The following principles represent access points for an introductory theology of creation upon which Jews and Christians may build according to their respective theologies to shape a beginning understanding of responsibility to God for care of the biological systems that sustain humanity.
- Acknowledge God as Creator and Owner
- Delight in God's Law; do not violate the ordinances by which Creation is ordered.
- Keep God's Earth as God keeps us; do not defile or destroy the creation
- Give the land, the people and the creatures their Sabbath rests; do not press creation relentlessly
- Provide for the creatures; do not occupy the land to their exclusion
- Practice contentment; do not exploit the creation beyond what is necessary for meeting basic need
- Preserve creation's regenerative potential; do not destroy creation's fruitfulne
These biblical commands provide a vision for humanity to dwell in harmony with God and the land. It is our human task to "dress and keep" creation and function in harmony with this ancient vision.
For a larger explication of these themes, see Appendix C.
§4. Religion and the Forest
In the Bible the first thing which the first people meet are two trees. God uses trees as a means to teach obedience to the laws of life. The way those first people respond to those trees represents the extent to which they would obey God rather than their own desires.
A religious examination of forests takes us from the general principles of care of creation into the specific ways we apply those principles. A list of themes which a religious engagement with forests produces follows below:
Scripture presents trees as the emblem of God's Creation.
Without introduction trees are the first thing which the first people meet in the Book of Genesis. On the basis of textual prominence alone, the tree is the most important non-human living organism in the Bible. While trees are used in a variety ways, the tree is particularly used to symbolize the blessings that God bestows upon humans through creation. Conversely the destruction of trees in Scripture is a sign of God's wrath and punishment for all transgressions of the order of nature and spirit. Throughout Scripture, trees are the biblical emblem of creation. (Genesis 2:9, Rev. 22:2)
Christians and Jews are called to care for creation and the forests The Scriptures call humanity to care for the land and all its features and creatures. Christians and Jews accept that we are called to dominion and responsible stewardship. This means we should treat the land and its forests as the Lord would treat them: with love, care, respect, humility, and restraint. Neither dominion nor stewardship allow an arbitrary domination or a commodification of Creation. Some believers prioritize a covenantal relationship between God and creation which reflects the promise which God declared to Noah and all Creation, and they consider this promise as crucial in shaping our attitude toward the land. This view also requires responsibility to God to care for Creation. Regardless of the spiritual principles which one holds sacred, for Jews and Christians, acknowledgment of God leads to care for Creation and respect for forests (Genesis 1:28; 2:15).
Forests represent a spiritual test
In the Creation story as told in Genesis, God commands care of the Earth.
In the primordial Garden God places two trees before the first humans. The choice of whether and how to eat from the Tree of Life or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a spiritual test for those first people.
The way in which they chose to eat set them at odds, first with God and eventually with the Earth. Theologians tell us that those two trees are still before us so that in our day, the way we treat trees but also all creation continues to be a spiritual test. Our interaction with trees still represents the way we choose between obedience to God and disobedience, the health of the whole Earth or personal selfishness. Ultimately the choice is between life or death (Genesis 2:9, 17).
Forests are places of inspiration and beauty
Creation reflects the handiwork of the Creator. Just as Beauty is an aspect of the Lord who infuses magnificence and wonder into the shape of creation, so every tree embodies the glory of God and every forest manifests the infinite wisdom of its Maker. We are spiritually enriched therefore as we intuit in forests the Great Architect of life and respect that Superior Wisdom which manifests in its diversity, intricacy, beauty and fruitfulness. (Isaiah 44:23)
Forests provide regeneration and spiritual lesson
There is a spiritual dimension to forests. The Bible says that the forests "clap their hands for joy." Many people can often feel the subtle yet discernable presence which fills an ancient forest. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes, "when one's tongue is quiet, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you, and tells you of its unreality, but the Reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly blazes transparently with the Reality of God." People who have access to intact forests also have access to peace, quiet, renewal and the regeneration that native forest land offers. Wild forests have therapeutic values for the human spirit which are only now becoming recognized. (Isaiah 55:12)
Forests teach us how to wonder
Poets, scientists, people of faith plus the insights of innumerable informed and casual observers alike discern an infinite depth to every facet of God's creation. The paintings of Rembrandt and the magnificent art works of inspired human creation pale in comparison to the great natural art which graces intact native forests and fields. The natural heritage of ancient forests which we inherit out of antiquity ought to be preserved for all people and for all future generations to admire and study. This is a moral responsibility for our generation (Psalms 9:1).
Intact forests support healthy rural communitie
We are concerned about justice for our neighbors and for rural communities. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that there are over thirty times more jobs when public forests are not cut than when they are. These jobs provide more income for rural communities than logging or pulping. Wherever industrial forest exploitation occurs, these areas decline in recreational potential. Intact forests provide more to the rural community than logging or chipping (Ecclesiastes 5:9-10).
Forests are always more than we perceive
Former Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Jack Ward Thomas writes, "Not only are forest ecosystems more complex than we think; they are more complex than we can think!" A host of witnesses and reasons therefore cause Christians, Jews, forest conservationists plus millions of people of faith and good will to join in declaring that our public forest heritage is an irreplaceable national treasure which should be cherished, protected and preserved. (Job 12:9-10, 23)
§5. The Economics and Demographics of Forest Conservation
The heart of the economic problem is that one great redwood tree can be worth over $100,000 to a logger. This financial value of the tree as a commodity overwhelms the ability of society to value trees for all of the ways in which they contribute to healthy living and quality of life.
A key political question not well explored is should short term private profit have priority over the long term good of society and the life of the planet?
If society could place a monetary value on the tree based upon its "natural services," then the actual worth of individual trees would soar far beyond its rather cheap commodity value. Natural services represent the many ways in which trees provide tangible benefit to society and the planet. The natural services of forests include their ability to metabolize carbon dioxide and release oxygen (and so restrain the forces of climate change); their ability to transpire moisture into the atmosphere and aid the process of rainfall; their filtering of water which gives the world clean streams and rivers; their intricate root system which stabilizes hillsides and prevents soil erosion; their ability to provide habitat for a variety of creatures. The list continues and is lengthy. They capture airborne particles and give us clean air; they offer unique recreational and spiritual opportunities that contribute to the beauty of life; they are even used by God to provide a spiritual test (cf. Genesis 3ff).
Clearly, if we could expand our system of accounting, we would find that trees have far greater dollar value through their natural services than through their monetary value as a commodity. This assessment would be particularly striking if we could stretch our accounting over the decades and centuries. In this larger system of calculation the value of forests accrues to all people and the whole of creation. In the smaller private scale of financial accounting the credit accrues only to the logger and the debit counts to all society and to a diminished quality of life for the world. This is patently unfair and it is this injustice which drives the push to see the public forests saved from commercial exploitation.
To provide an apt parallel, imagine your family wishes to take an inventory of its assets. Would you assess your favorite pet in terms of its value as table protein - i.e., hamburger and services? Wouldn't there be a great outcry from your children if you sold a dear household pet merely for its burger value? Isn't it because there is a higher value to the pet based upon its intangible and intrinsic value as a living thing which cannot be measured merely in pounds of flesh? The same is true of our public forests.
Another more personal parallel: Imagine the value of lung capillaries soared in dollar value. If you started to sell your capillaries, you might experience a brief boom period, but you would eventually reach a point beyond which you could no longer sell those capillaries without risking serious damage to your cardiovascular capability. The result would not only be diminished ability to oxygenate your body, you would risk serious illness and perhaps death. Because the forests are the "lungs of the planet," we risk a similar dilemma at the planetary level through commercial logging of our forests.
Through our call for an end to commercial logging on the national forests, we are not only saving the forests, we are confronting a mentality which would assess the value of living things in quantitative terms.
From the standpoint of all the religions of the world, this utilitarian vision is not just merely wrong, this is blasphemy! This is a taking of the life of the Creator and reducing it to money. This has led to a "reign of quantity" which devalues the worth of living things, including people, and fosters a way of thinking that measures value only through numbers. This cannot be done without a violation of religious and spiritual integrity. Yet this is precisely what the corporate mercantile mentality tries to convince us is proper and the accepted way of business. It is not.
The consequences to this "reign of quantity" is a mentality that touches every facet of life. Scientists report that if we had not cut the planet's great ancient forests, we would still have sufficient CO2 metabolizing ability to ward off the forces of global climate change.
This same mode of thinking prioritizes global trade over local markets. In the process cultures become overwhelmed by outside influences and a form of economic determinism takes hold of the world with a virulence never before recorded in history.
Education is affected. Schools of forestry consider trees first as a commodity, an agricultural crop which can be managed like corn and wheat and which de-emphasizes and disregards the larger natural values of forests. For this reason there is less advocacy for these values because they are possessed by no one person (although they are shared by everyone).
Thus we prioritize the lesser value of trees as a commodity over the value of trees for the good of society and benefit of all the world. This has given us a generation of tunnel vision foresters and forest managers, too many of whom prioritize only one dimension to the green of the forests.
Global society is affected by this mentality and great poverty results. Dr. Molefe Tsele, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, laments the impact of the market economy and concludes, "We must have the courage to admit that the market and globalization have failed more than two-thirds of the world population who live in poverty. The evidence, which is impossible to hide any longer, is that we are now living with the legacy of unparalleled inequality between North and South, impoverishment, and deprivation of the barest necessities of life and dignity" (WCC Press Release, August 22, 2002).
The market mentality which sees the natural world only is terms of commodities is a bankrupt world view and counter to the sacred view which all traditional religions teach. As the clash between markets and morality comes into focus we must admit that religion in the West has often been captive to a culture which has over valued science and material goods. The result has been a lulling of our conscience to the danger hidden in economic determinism.
Regarding jobs in rural areas, a 1995 study by the U.S. Forest Service showed that there are over 30 times more jobs and income for rural communities when the national forests are not cut. These jobs involve motels and gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, fishing tackle and hunting supplies, camping equipment and rentals and all the infrastructure associated with recreation and tourism.
As for potential job loss due to the end of logging on national forests, there is legislation before Congress which would provide job retraining or an opportunity to participate in forest restoration if any individual were to lose employment because of this proposal.
Further, the national forests do not provide much of the timber used by logging companies. In 1996 the total U.S. wood consumption amounted to 100.3 billion board feet. The timber volume from national forests amounted to 3.8 billion board feet, less than 4% of the total yearly timber consumption.
Most of the American population wants to end commercial logging on the national forests. Poll data show that Americans appreciate the fact that the national forests belong to the people. A 1998 poll taken by Market Strategies, commissioned by Tax Payers for Common Sense, surveyed national attitudes about commercial logging on the national forests. Their results showed that 69% of Americans support an end to commercial logging on national forests. Since that time the numbers against commercial logging have increased.
A similar poll by Luke, Sosin, Snell, Perry and Associates found that Republicans opposed commercial logging on national forests by a 2 to 1 margin, and Democrats by 4 to 1! Independents and all others were against commercial logging on the national forests by a margin of roughly 3 to 1.
More recent state polls show higher numbers than these are now opposing logging of the public's forests by private companies. Citizens increasingly realize that as public wealth is handed over to private corporations, a few become wealthy at the expense of the many. Meanwhile the quality of public lands diminishes and everyone bears the burden of degradation.
§6. The Spiritual Values of Forests and their Natural Service
The spiritual values of forests have already been introduced in earlier sections. The nation needs these values. It should be no surprise that religion is losing ground in America. There are many reasons for this decline, but the consequences to the integrity of our nation show in the rise of incarcerations, now approaching 3% of the entire population; in the decline of business ethics and morality, the effect of which is shaking financial markets; in the decline of the family, the traditional building block of a stable society; in the growing gap between the rich and the poor, now at record levels of disparity.
Urban youth who visit the national forests receive new perspective on life and many have found inspiration in wilderness to change from lives headed into crime into stability and creativity.
Religious camps are most often in rural areas and often make use of public lands for hikes and education. The "grounding" which wild nature provides teaches basic lessons about life and relationships. It is no accident that religions begin in wilderness. There is greater access to the great spiritual experiences in the outdoors than in urban settings.
People are often touched in special ways by their visits to forests because they are places of inspiration and beauty. They witness to the power and majesty of God. Forests also reflect a unique handiwork of the Creator that reconnects us to the wonder and mystery of creation.
The forests also provide material benefit to society. A study reported in the journal Science shows that the "economic value of wild ecosystems far outweighs the value of converting these areas to crop land, housing or other human uses." The report calculates that preserving a network of global nature reserves would provide a cost-benefit ratio of "more than 100 to one in favor of conservation." This is a bargain given that current habitat loss "costs the world the equivalent of about $250 billion each year."
The nation's leading biologists and forest scientists concur. In March, 2002, the nation's leading scientists issued an Open Letter to President Bush on forests. Responding from every state in the nation, they ask that the President adopt a national policy of ending commercial logging on the national forests. (See the letter by leading forest scientists, Appendix D.)
The New York Times article about this letter is informative because it describes the impact of our present logging policies on the future and on those of coming generations (See Appendix E).
§7. The Failure of our forest policy is evidenced in catastrophic wildfire
Fires are part of a healthy forest. Fires provide a purging, cleansing action on forests that scours them of woody debris and converts these into a renewed nutrient layer of ash which actually contributes to new growth and renewal in the forest.
Logging removes the more fire-resistant large and medium trees but leaves behind the smallest, most flammable, material including all of the slash debris the combustible twigs, needles and branches from felled trees.
By removing the medium and large trees, logging reduces the forestcanopy cover, creating hotter, drier conditions on the forest floor. The increased sunlight, in turn, causes a more rapid growth of flammable brush and weeds within a few years, thus leaving the forest more vulnerable to intense fires.
The exceptionally intense fires of 2002 are the result of decades of mismanagement in which fires were suppressed because of the misconception that fires destroyed the forest. In fact when fires occur at a natural rhythm of between ten and fifteen years (for western forests other areas have different natural rhythms) the forest becomes healthy and the underbrush is removed.
Further commentary on fires and thinning:
excerpts from an August 27th, 2002, article in The New York Times:
Jerry Williams, director of fire and aviation for the Forest Service, addresses the fire issue: "The key to restoration is the reintroduction of low-intensity fires," he said. "To get there you have to take some of the heat out of the woods. No one is talking about thinning and walking away."
On the issue of thinning, the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Mont., the premier laboratory to study fire behavior, found that the only thinning needed to protect houses - even in the most tinder-dry forest - was within a "red zone" of 150 to 200 feet around the building.
"Regardless of how intense the fire is, the principal determinant is based on the home and exterior characteristics," said Jack D. Cohen, a research scientist with the fire laboratory, which is part of the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Severe tree-killing fires used to constitute 20 percent of large blazes, Dr. Covington said. The average has grown to almost 40 percent, and in the recent Arizona fires it was near 50 percent.
The Forest Service itself helped lay the groundwork for the increase in severe fires. Agency officials say 50 years of fire suppression, which it began to reverse in the 1970's, deprived the forests of the periodic purging fires that they had evolved with.
But with an unnatural buildup of fuels, large areas can burn with extreme intensity, destroying the natural fire mosaic and thwarting recovery.
Environmentalists say the Forest Service is using the fear of wildfires to allow logging companies to remove medium- and large-diameter trees that they can sell, rather than just the small trees and brush that choke the understory of the forest and make the fires more severe.
That could mean more trouble. A growing body of research shows that clear-cuts and thousands of miles of logging roads carved into the forests over the last century have greatly altered ecosystems, drying out large areas and leaving behind vast expanses of wood waste.
Researchers on the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Report wrote, "Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuels accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent activity." That includes fire suppression.
One point on which scientists, including Mr. Cohen, are unanimous is the need not only for more research, but also for research with a different focus.
"We've been asking commodity questions," Mr. Cohen said. "Now we're faced with questions of environmental sustainability, and we've not been asking those questions."
An editorial on the role of fires in a healthy forest can be read in Appendix F.
§8. Religious statements about forest conservation
The number of different religious statements addressing forest issues shows that concern about forests is not just one or two religious groups which are involved. Christians and Jews of every denomination have issued strong statements calling for forest conservation. Five years ago, there was not a single religious statement on forests. As the intensity of the forest debate has increased, so has the need to bring a religious perspective to the discussion that takes into consideration all of the different arguments.
Significantly the religious perspective is the only voice which does not have a vested interest in the discussion and which can approach the question dispassionately and assess the different considerations with a concern for the greatest number of citizens and for the future.
Because the view of religion is concerned about justice, about values and about the greatest good for the greatest number, the voice of religion is a voice which reflective citizens ought to hear.
A collection of religious declarations on forests is contained in Appendix A.
§9. Why forest issues are connected to religious concern
Religions are systems of belief which connect the believer to Ultimate Value. They provide vision and a sense of meaning that stretches beyond the immediate and the transitory. As they address the great questions of life they connect awareness of the spiritual with the physical. In this process they provide direction and a sense of propriety to society.
In this context they address forest issues. The principles at the core of religion define a right relationship to the land and the cosmos. These principles point to the ultimate ownership of all things in God, they require the maintenance of fruitfulness on the part of humanity, and they declare the intrinsic good of all things.
It is the values which derive from this vision which prioritizes respect for the purpose of forests before regard for their commercial value. The trees of the forest have a purpose in the cosmic scheme which must be respected.
As we enter the 21st century, the great forests of the world are disappearing. In our own country, barely 4% of America's original great forest remains intact. Even though we have more people in the world now than ever before, the action of trees is diminishing precisely when we most need it! For this reason, religion is addressing issues of forests and repeatedly calling for the conservation of our forests.
§10. Growing Support for a Growing Movement
A movement is developing across the U.S. and around the world to save the trees.
As an example, in Mexico where forest degradation is worse than in the U.S., President Vicente Fox has declared that the national security issue of Mexico is forest and water conservation.
The Catholic Bishops of Northern Mexico echo this view and have called forest conservation a "life and death issue" for the rural people.
This is because forests aid rainfall, they provide habitat for species, they moderate climate and provide a vast array of benefits to rural communities. Without the forests rural communities have dried and people have migrated to the cities or across the border into the U.S.
Across America there is a growing sense in religious congregations of the moral dimensions of forest conservation. "Greed is destroying the national forests," say many. Others see a corrupt relationship between campaign financing and government welfare to corporations that enriches a few at the expense of the many.
Debates about forests and their conservation have been going on for over a century. John Muir, at the beginning of the 20th century, wrote:
"Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed - chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fall trees plant them, nor would planting avail much toward getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. It took more than 2,000 years to make the trees in these western woods - trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests.... Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time - and long before that - God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but He cannot save them from fools - only Uncle Sam can do that."
Muir's insight is still true. Religious leaders East and West echo a similar sentiment.
Pope John Paul II declares, "We are running the risk of leaving as our heritage to future generations the tragedy of deforestation in many parts of the world."
Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes, "we must stir ourselves to save these forests now when they are dying" to avoid "what could become a universal winter."
Patriarch Bartholomew speaks for the Eastern Christians when he says, "For humans to degrade the integrity of Earth... by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands... these things are sins."
There is a further lesson hidden in the plight of the forests, the historical lesson. According to a study by former Under Secretary of Agriculture William Lowdermilk, 13 of 15 historical civilizations fell, not because of foreign aggressors, but because they abused the land. Only two fell because of warfare.
If we would heed this history lesson, we would pay more attention to internal decay than to concerns about petty belligerents in distant areas of the world. Unfortunately external problems are easier to address than internal problems which are rooted in our social mores and attitudes.
The reasons then that cause us to advocate for an end to commercial logging are many. They begin with the needs of a healthy forest that works for the good of all citizens. They include the need for clean air, clean water, and opportunities for time in wild places where one's sense of connection to the cosmos come alive. They stretch out and address the larger issues of globalization and poverty, class stratification and the emergence of a super-rich elite, growing levels of urban violence and record incarceration levels - all of which are fueled by a utilitarian vision of the world that reduces the value of life and diminishes the worth of people. Ultimately defense of the forests means defense of a religious vision that upholds an ethic of the land and that sees inherent value in creation because it is a creation of God.
Therefore, as religion speaks out on forest issues, we are addressing a crucial issue. But it is an issue which is connected to a hundred othervissues. As we address the forest issue, it is a mistake to think that this stands alone because we are reaching through the forests to an array of concerns that extend civil rights, that would hold off the forces leading to global climate change, that defend the integrity of species, that amplifies a respect for life, and that engage wider issues which involve the common good and the general welfare.
At its essence then as we advocate for forests, we are drawing a line on the ground and saying we will not capitulate to the mercantile vision of life which would commodify creation and promote economic determinism as a way of living. This world view is espoused primarily by multinational corporations and it is a dead vision. It is dead because its effects kill the life of the land. It turns people into units of production without intrinsic value. It values only money and power. Religion however has a long commentary on this agenda. Therefore as we declare support for forest conservation, we are upholding LIFE and representing a view that sees all the related issues as integrated into an indivisible whole.
In the final analysis we advocate for forests because we obey God and seek to do on earth as it is in heaven. This is our divine commission, and for this reason we advocate for the protection of the Lord's good forests.
*** These talking points are printed on kenaf: 100% tree free, chlorine free and acid free paper
Plus four statements from various sectors of religion (List of appendices plus Appendix A and Appendix E):
A. Religious declarations calling for end to commercial logging on national forest
An incomplete listing
B. Biblical Principles which inform a religious ethic of forest conservation
A collection of pertinent passage
C. Foundational principles for a theology of God's creation and forest
Biblical Principles inform Attitudes toward Creation and Forests, by Cal DeWitt
D. Open Letter to the President by Leading Forest Scientists on National Forest
Scientists Call on President to Protect National Forest
E. Article on Scientists' Open letter to President
"Top Scientists Say National Forests Need Protection, Not Logging," The New York Times 04-16-02
F. Editorial on the Role of Fires in the National Forest
"After the smoke from fires fade, expect a rekindling of controversy," The Portland Oregonian
G. Editorial addresses "The myth of 'thinning' forests"
"Timber companies exploit federal lands," The San Francisco Chronicle.
H. A Religious Ethic of Consumption
By cutting demand for wood products, we can protect the national forest
I. Background information about the national forest
Basic data about the national forests and tree
** This booklet is printed on kenaf: 100% tree free, chlorine free and acid free paper
Appendix AReligious declarations calling for an end to commercial logging on national forest
A selection of religious declarations from a variety of traditions follow. Many others exist. Some of these can be located on our website. Please visit us at www.creationethics.org.
California United Methodists Call for an End of Commercial Logging on National Forests, on All Public Lands and in Old Growth Forest
Resolution Nr. 46
WHEREAS, Psalm 24:1 proclaimed "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell in it..."
WHEREAS, in Genesis 1:12 God proclaimed the goodness of trees and other plant life,
WHEREAS, forests are crucial for sustaining life, ensuring clean water, purifying the air, protecting fish and wildlife, regulating climate, stabilizing soil, and preventing landslides,
WHEREAS, forests absorb CO2 and restrain the effects of global warming and climate change,
WHEREAS, we don't need to log national forests for our timber supply, given the fact that the timber cut annually from national forests nationwide now comprises only 3.9% of this nation's total annual wood consumption and less than 5% of the saw-timber used for construction,
WHEREAS, the national forest timber sales operated at a net loss to taxpayers of at least in $791 million in fiscal 1996 and returned $0 (no receipts) to taxpayers,
WHEREAS, if we ended the timber sales program on national forests and redirected the logging subsidy, we could provide over $25,000 for each public timber worker for retraining or ecological restoration work - and still have over $200 million left over to reduce the federal deficit in the first year alone,
WHEREAS, ancient and old growth forest which comprise less than 5% of the forests left in the United States are an irreplaceable national treasure,
WHEREAS, our commitment in the United States to protect and restore ancient and old growth forests on public and private land is a very important symbol for us to make so that other nations might be more willing to follow suit,
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we call for the immediate cessation of commercial logging on all public lands including our National Forests;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call for the redirection of all timber industry taxpayer subsidies into worker retraining in forest restoration jobs that lead to healthy rural economics and communities;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon all people, all churches and communities, to pray for and to learn about the spiritual value of respect for forest lands;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that local congregations, the California Pacific Annual Conference, and the General Conference of the United Methodist Church urge our lawmakers to enact legislation to end commercial logging in our National Forests, on public lands, and in ancient and old growth forests.
Roman Catholic Franciscan (Holy Name Province) Declaration on Forest Conservation
adopted, January 17, 2002
Around the world, there remain only about 20% of Earth's original forests, with greatest losses occurring within the past three decades. Healthy forests stabilize the climate, provide clean air and water, prevent erosion and landslides and buffer the planet against global warming. Moreover, they provide habitat for about two-thirds of the world's animal and plant species. Finally, forests have always provided people with a special space where they could more deeply encounter God in the diversity and beauty of creation.
In spite of all this, God's forests are rapidly disappearing. At the current rates, an estimated two-thirds of the world's plant and animal species that rely on these forests for their habitat will become extinct by the year 2100. These forest ecosystems are being sacrificed on the altar of unbridled consumerism and greed. It is especially the poor and future generations that will pay the full price of our shortsighted actions.
The seriousness and urgency of this problem is one of the signs of the times to which the Holy Spirit calls us to respond. Our Franciscan tradition challenges us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who came to heal and reconcile not only people, but also all of creation. St. Francis forbade his followers to cut down a whole tree so that it might grow up again. With a great gladness he exhorted the forests to love God and serve Him joyfully. His awareness of the profound interconnectedness and kinship with the creation led St. Francis to experience all life as being upheld and embraced by a loving God. The poor, the lepers, the birds and the forests were all Francis's brothers and sisters. Each was worth to him far more than the limited value ascribed to them by his contemporary society.
Mindful that the way we live in relation to God's creation is the way we live in relation to God, we, Franciscans, commit ourselves to raising the issue of forest conservation among our brothers and sisters and to advocating for better public policy.
Also, we call upon ourselves and the rest of society to:
- Recycle waste paper and reduce the consumption of wood products.
- Purchase paper that has been 100% recycled or one made with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled paper.
- Prayer and a search for wisdom concerning the spiritual value of forests, and our duty to care for them.
Furthermore we call upon our federal government and urge people to advocate for:
- Cessation of commercial logging on all public lands,
- The immediate end to all cutting of ancient and old growth forests, and the phase-out of international trade in old growth lumber.
- The redirection of taxpayer logging subsidies into forest restoration that would benefit communities dependent on timber harvesting.
- Increase of grants for research and development of environmentally sensitive non-wood alternative paper.
The Franciscan Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation committee of the Holy Name Province, United State
THE COMMISSION ON SOCIAL ACTION OF REFORM JUDAISM
Ending Federally Subsidized Commercial Logging on Public Land
Adopted by the Commission on Social Action
Judaism teaches that we have a sacred obligation to our Creator, to Creation, and to future generations to safeguard and protect Earth's ecosystems. Before the flood, Noah and his family protected at least two of every animal species, enabling all creatures to make safe passage from one era of history to the next. After the flood, God said to Noah: "Behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle, and of every wild animal of the earth with you" (Genesis 9:9). It is our duty-as people of faith and citizens of our nation and our world, to safeguard and weave together the patchwork of remnant forests as best we can.
In a brief moment in the life of our planet, we have destroyed all but a remnant of Earth's ancient forests. Over the last 300 years, the United States has lost a stunning 96% of its old growth forests (forests typically older than 200 years with large trees, dense canopies and an abundance of diverse wildlife). Remaining old growth forests exist almost entirely on public lands.
As a result, thousands of species are at risk of extinction. Within the U.S., one-third of species are presently endangered or at risk of becoming so, according to the Endangered Species Coalition. Worldwide, 25% of mammals, 20% of reptiles, 25% of amphibians, and 34% of fish are in danger of extinction. Destruction of forests is a leading cause. Rivers and streams in the U.S. and around the world are polluted with the soil that has washed off of bare mountains. Our biological inheritance is being forever diminished, reducing potential sources of medicines, foods, and fibers.
Our remaining old and second growth forests are refuges for thousands of threatened creatures and plants, and are vital to the protection of clean water sources for tens of millions of North Americans. Forests, both old and second growth, also serve as refuges for the human spirit, places where we can witness the creator's majesty, reflect upon the mystery of life, and hear the small, still voice within.
National Forests represent 19% of all timberland in the U.S, and timber from National Forest lands account for less than 5% percent of the nation's annual wood products consumption. The 1998 report of the Comptroller General regarding distribution of Forest Service timber sales receipts reveals that, of the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money that is annually expended on the Forest Service timber sales program, only a small fraction finds its way back to the Federal Treasury, resulting in an enormous net loss to taxp