By Jan TenBruggencate
Many Hawaii residents are hauling their Christmas trees to the recyclers or to compost heaps or to the dump this week.
Besides a few locally cut Norfolk Island pines, which arent true pines, most of the Christmas trees arent from here. Its no surprise that almost all of them are imported, arriving on barges in November and early December in refrigerated containers.
Most of our lumber also comes from trees grown elsewhere, as does cardboard in which holiday presents are boxed, and the paper on which this column is printed.
Should we be more actively logging Hawaiis back country? Some folks complain that koa logging of Hawaii forests is damaging their viability as key parts of native ecosystems. Others argue that there is virtually no koa logging in native forests, and that most of it comes from pasture areas and severely degraded woodlands. Still, in recognition of the issue, the Hawaii Forest Industry Association is trying to promote the use of other, non-native woods for home woodworkers, crafts people and cabinetmakers.
But all in all, including the koa and all the other woods that are cut in the Islands, it doesnt add up to a lot of timber, compared with other states.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, in a review of the role of the timber industry in state economies in 1998, found that Hawaiis logging represented a smaller part of the economy than logging does in any other state. Only the District of Columbia, which listed no logging at all, had a lower figure.
The Commerce figure showed that just two-tenths of 1 percent of the states employment was attributable to logging. Nevada was next at three-tenths of a percent, and New Mexico at half a percent.
Hawaiis figures will change over the next few decades, with the increasing planting of trees on former sugar cane land, but we are unlikely to reach the levels of the big logging states, such as Alaska (3.2 percent), Arkansas (3.7), Maine (4.2), Mississippi (4.8), North Carolina (3.2), Oregon (3.4) and Wisconsin (3.3).
State officials appear convinced that there is a strong role for the former sugar lands as commercial woodlands, but as the Islands try to restore the depleted remaining native forests, there seems to be no support for logging in those areas.
The Sierra Club, in a report titled "Seeing the Forests for their Green: economic benefits of forest protection, recreation and restoration," suggests logging may not be the highest and best use of a tree.
"Forests can boost the economy in two major ways: by providing commodities or services," according to the report. Logs are the major commodities of forests. Sierra Club argues that the services of the forests, as places for hiking, as watersheds and as scenic backdrops, ultimately have more value than the goods they provide.
Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertisers Kauai bureau chief and its science and environment writer. You can call him at (808) 245-3074 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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