Timber!

By By Craig Ziemba
February 24, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
A pretty patch of young woods near my home was clear cut this year. I had tried to buy it to let it grow naturally but couldn't afford the asking price. Last week I took a walk through the stumps and brush piles and saw something that I had seen happen before: scores of young oak trees anywhere from 15-40 years old were cut down, piled up, and then left to rot.
The lumber company pulled out the more profitable timber and moved on leaving me angrily asking, "Why?" Why kill something you don't intend to use? Why destroy hundreds of years' worth of slow growth for nothing?
I have hardwood floors, use lumber in my building projects, and favor the responsible harvest and use of timber. Timber is a vital, renewable resource that is as important to us as wheat and corn is to the Midwest. But I see some trends that make me wonder what the future holds for Mississippi's forests.
As a pilot who views the state weekly from several thousand feet, I can tell you that our Southern landscape is being rapidly and dramatically changed from a diverse mixture of hardwoods and evergreens to a homogenous stand of genetically improved pines. This sure beats smokestacks, but perhaps for the sake of the environment and our economy, we should take a hard look at how this change is happening.
Mississippi's natural environment includes oaks, magnolias, dogwoods, hickories, maples, poplars and pines. This diversity benefits the soil, the wildlife and the beauty of the landscape and is something worth preserving.
Planted pines have their place as a crop, just like wheat and corn. But as with any other crop, betting the entire future of the industry on a single species is inviting trouble. The law of supply and demand warns that when everyone plants the same crop, the market will become flooded and the bottom will eventually drop out. It is also possible that a single pest like the pine beetle could devastate our economy, much like the boll weevil did 100 years ago.
It may be prudent for we landowners to begin looking at hardwoods, like those stacked up and left to rot, as the valuable resources that they actually are rather than weeds to be exterminated to make way for pine trees.
Now, usually when it comes to environmental issues, many respond with the well-intentioned but often ineffective sentiment, "There ought to be a law …" affecting whatever the problem may be. Wouldn't it be better, though, if instead of more laws, we landowners gave some serious personal thought to how we treated our property? Whether it's wasting timber, leaving buffer zones on streams to prevent erosion, or something as simple as picking up the trash in our yard, the ultimate future of our environment rests not with the government, but with each of us.
The principle of private property is a God-given right protected by the Constitution that serves as the basis for our economy.
Without it, all of our other rights would be jeopardized. Just as important as the principle of private property is the principle of stewardship, or taking care of what you have. The boy who said, "It's my horse; I can beat it if I want," may have understood ownership, but had no clue about stewardship. Ultimately the earth belongs to our Creator, and we are just temporary stewards of what we own. That' s the best reason to take care of our land.

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