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The Meaning of Deforestation

February 20, 2012 - Have you seen that picture of the Amazon that looks like it ought to be captioned "Iowa Farmland?"  It's been awhile since I saw it, but it's difficult to forget my dumbfounded surprise when I realized it was actually a picture of the Amazon rainforest.  I recall lovely rows of something being grown - it was resplendently green - with a pathetic patch of forest, growing so avidly it broke the heart to see its eagerness, having been beaten back into a corner of the picture.  My gosh, didn't my soul just ache.  If it were possible to take a picture of avarice, that surely was it.  What a loss, what a loss, what a loss.

All the more reason, then, for the rest of the world to take care of their forest heritage.  I have good news to share on that point, good in more ways than one.  A federal appeals court in Denver has refused to review the Clinton administration's rule barring most logging and road building in nearly 60 million acres of national forests.  This ruling was sorely needed, because without it our national forests are subject to piecemeal management, i.e., one state manages its national forests one way, another state manages them another way.  This has allowed for the gradual deterioration of some forests, due to industrial development.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in upholding the Clinton rule, has provided legal backing for what many American environmentalists view as one of the past century's most important environmental protections.  In essence, the court has refuted the state of Wyoming's contention that the rule created wilderness area.  Environmentalists maintain that the rule protects wilderness already in existence.  With the rule's newly-upheld legal status, the Obama administration is now free to enforce the ruling.  The hope is that this will be done as quickly as possible.

Not only is the court's finding important in that it grants adequate protections to some of America's wild areas.  It is just as important for representing the great good that can be accomplished when our courts act in a just and reasoned fashion.  Our government has suffered possibly irremediable damage with its slow pursuit of Wall Street "banksters."  Citizens need to be reassured that the courts system acts on behalf of all Americans, not just the well-connected.

Ok - so 60 million acres of trees will remain untouched, available to all Americans to enjoy.  Is the need for Americans to recreate really that pressing?  I suppose one could argue that, in an age where stress plagues all but the happy few, it really is a momentous matter.  That's not why I think these millions of acres of trees are so important, however.  They are important, firstly, for their air-cleaning capacity.  As more and more of us come into this world, each with our list of very American must-haves, the air becomes more and more polluted, and I'm thinking here particularly about carbon dioxide.  As we all learn in grade school science, trees "breathe" in carbon dioxide, and exhale oxygen.  That's a life-enhancing benefit, for those of us who like to breathe oxygen.

Anytime you hear of land being deforested, try to remember the broader message.  If a tree's roots are no longer there to anchor soil on a hill, the result will be a mudslide (think California); if a tree's roots are no longer there to anchor soil that is being overgrazed, the result will be desertification (think Africa); if a tree ceases to breathe, so one day may we (think of your children).  We desperately need our trees.  This spring, do us all a favor: plant a tree - preferably with the help of a child.

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