Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 15th, 2002

Common Sense
By Al Campbell

My wife says I only see what I want to see and hear what I want to hear. I suppose that's right in many cases, but I'm not alone. Last week I reported that the Black Hills were on fire and that the fire intensity was worse than it had to be due to endless litigation by several environmental groups. I mentioned that the logging industry could be used to improve the balance and health of the forest if forest managers were allowed to do their job without a lawsuit over every proposed timber cut.

From that point, things took an uncomfortable but predictable course. In the span of a couple days there were posts on the bulletin board about the ravages of loggers. I got about 2 dozen e-mails, many of them real nasty. I read about massive clear cuts, scarred land damaged beyond repair, silted streams and most of the other doomsday messages used by the same environmentalist groups who litigate each timber cut in the Black Hills. I'm not saying that the posters and e-mailers are part of the problem we face here. I'm saying that some people only see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

I have traveled all over the Black Hills in the 16 years I've lived here. In all that time, I have yet to see a fresh clear-cut. That isn't the way timber in this area is harvested. If they can get past the lawsuits, timber managers in this area use a thinning type of logging operation. Roughly 2/3 of the trees in a selected cut area are removed while the others are left standing. Each tree to be cut is marked and each tree to be left is marked differently. Any tree that shows evidence of bird or animal habitation is marked with a big A indicating an animal tree. Animal trees are left standing. The remaining mature and immature trees are left standing and undamaged to provide a reasonable canopy that is thin enough to reduce the tendency of fires to spread fast through the tree-tops, but provide reasonable cover and hiding places for the wildlife living there. The result is a forest with greater diversity than it had before the operation.

There are several companies who collect wood loggers that can't use for lumber (including treetops), shred it and transport it to a particleboard company called Merillat in Rapid City. There the wood that would have otherwise been waste is processed into particleboard and eventually used in kitchen cabinets made at another Merillat factory. Merillat also uses sawdust and other wood scrap that local sawmills can't make boards out of. Anyway, that's what usually happens.

Unfortunately, the same people who oppose any logging of any type in the Black Hills also oppose Merillat. Some of the more visible environmentalists call them tree murderers and accuse them of being part of the big business plan to destroy the environment. Let's get this straight, Merillat helps clean up after loggers and gets called names for it. I know it sounds crazy, but that's exactly what happens.

Adding to the insanity is the lawsuit that blocked the recovery of lumber after the 85,000-acre fire two years ago. The trees were dead and standing, posing a threat to public safety, but they also could be used for lumber and particleboard. Common sense says to use the lumber, recover the waste and let the forest recover, but that isn't what happened. The same environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the courts blocking any harvest of the dead trees. If they follow their prior actions, they will drop the suit when the timber is no longer useful as lumber or particleboard. Why continue to fight a battle they might lose in court if their actions have already achieved their goal?

Personally, I think the actions of some environmental groups in the Black Hills are insane and barely short of criminal. I don't side with the logging industry in everything they do, and I have reported several operations for violating environmental standards in the past, but those violations were rare. However, I do believe that logging is a valuable tool that forest managers can use to minimize the ravages of fire and improve the overall health of the forest. That is, if forest managers are allowed to do their job.

There you go guys; fuel for the fire. Go ahead and send the nasty e-mails accusing me of environmental devastation and corrupt profit like you did last week. Call me a tree murderer like the guys locally do to Merillat and the lumber mills. Tell me that it's guys like me who are destroying the earth and making it uninhabitable for your children like one guy did last week. It's a free country and I'll continue to believe what I believe is true; and no amount of threats and nasty e-mails will deter that. I'll even make it easy for you to send the hate mail. I have a new e-mail address. It is

I know what you're about; your actions tell the story. I'll say in public what I believe while you send your little messages in private. At least some of the guys who had different views were big enough to post their thoughts on the bulletin board for all of us to see. I'm big enough to tolerate an opposing view; are you? ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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