When we, as a society, succumb to the belief that the market comes first, and that we must constantly tailor our lives to appease market forces, we enter a prison of our own making. We surrender. We get our priorities backwards, and make the market our master instead of our servant. In doing so, we expose the environment to plunder, and ourselves to exploitation.
It was liberating, therefore, to visit the Menominee Nation in northeastern Wisconsin to look at logging practices.
The Menominee are explicit about their priorities. The forest and their community come first, they say, not maximizing profit. Or, as they put it more expansively: « Market demand or short term market opportunities do not drive forest management decisions. The timber harvested depends on what the forest can sustain. »
Following this philosophy, they’ve been remarkably successful. They’ve logged their 950-square-kilometre reserve for 146 years, and have more harvestable trees now than when they built their first sawmill in 1856, even though the number of trees they’ve cut is double the number now standing.
The forest, I might add, remains thick and luxurious, so dense that the reserve is easily identified on satellite photographs.
Sales of wood and wood products for 2000 were about $29 million (Can.), and net income (which, as a product of native enterprise, was free of taxes) was about $845,000 before special charges. The year before, net income was $1.3 million on sales of $23.7 million.
« However, our real profit is in sustaining the community, » says Larry Waukau, president of Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE), the organization that runs the forestry operation and is owned by by members of the tribe, which has 8,000 members. More than half the members live off the reservation.
MTE employs 350 to 460 people in logging and milling. « I would be happy if we only broke even and people had a decent life, » says Waukau.
This is one of the finest examples of sustainability at work that I have seen. Here are examples of Menominee thinking, taken from a key MTE document, describing how economic, social, and environmental issues are treated as a single integrated whole:
- The goal is not to manage for individual species, but to manage each individual species as a component of an assemblage of species.
- The whole resource is needed to protect any part.
- The way the forest is logged is akin to living on interest, not drawing down capital.
- A diverse forest provides diverse wildlife habitats…. Diversity minimizes the risk to the forest of an unpredictable future by retaining « all the pieces » of the forest, and not « putting all the eggs in one basket. »
- Never should more resources be taken than are produced within natural cycles, so that all life can be sustained.
- Debasing the forest would be a threat to Menominee culture, just as cultural devaluation would be a threat to the forest.
Logging is done on a 15-year cycle with 2,500 to 3,200 hectares of hardwood and 800 hectares of softwood being cut each year. In hardwood areas, no more than 12 or 13
trees for saw logs, and seven or eight for pulp logs are cut per hectare, and the maximum gap that can be left in the canopy is 27.5 metres across.
Clear cuts for trees such as red pine, which need open space to regenerate, are limited to 16 hectares.
Crews are fined for leaving tire ruts in the forest floor, and for damaging one tree when felling another. And habitats are maintained for birds, animals, and fish.
Meanwhile, here in Ontario, provincial guidelines allow clear cuts that mimic the damage caused by forest fires.
It’s conceivable, then, that an Ontario clear cut could be the size of the entire Menominee reserve. It would be an act of hideous plunder.
NEXT WEEK: Adopting nature’s rules