Carol Van Strum / Newport News Times
Featured image by Dennis Demick, showing clearcuts in central Oregon. Most of the uncut, green areas in this photo are industrial forest lands growing monocrop plantations, not healthy natural forests. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Governor Brown touted the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between timber corporations and environmental groups as “historic” and “extraordinary.” It is neither. The MOU simply dresses up the status quo in new clothes, offered as a giant pacifier to a public tired of lies and industry-generated controversy about poisons.
The MOU is, in fact, an empty and misleading promise that allows business as usual for years to come — vast clearcutting, aerial poison spraying, road-making and pollution of entire watersheds — while opposing signatories “negotiate” unenforceable buffer zones and inadequate protections for endangered species. In return for agreeing to such hollow negotiations all signatories agree to withdraw and refrain from legislative petitions to protect their opposing interests.
Significantly, none of the signatories to this MOU represent those of us on the ground who are, and have been directly affected by timber industry practices. The so-called environmental group signatories have, in fact, agreed to deny us — Oregon communities and citizens directly affected by clear cuts and poison spraying — any right to say no to being poisoned, to having our livelihoods threatened, our properties destroyed by clearcut-caused landslides, our ecosystems ravaged, etc. The timber industry, with state sanctioned approval, has denied us that right for many decades, but for allegedly environmental groups to sign our rights away without our consent is an unconscionable betrayal.
In the 1970s, my neighbors and I won what was truly an historic court victory against the U.S. Forest Service aerial spraying of Agent Orange poisons on our watersheds and homes, leading in further lawsuits to a halt of aerial poison spraying on all national forests and a total ban of two forest-use poisons. Despite our pleas, not a single so-called environmental group supported or approved our efforts back then — we were on our own, as were others in the Northwest who eventually banded together as the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP).
Since those historic events some 50 years ago, I have researched, written about and litigated pesticide and timber issues nationwide, compiled in the huge Poison Papers and Columbia University Toxic Docs data bases (see e.g., https://theintercept.com/2017/07/26/chemical-industry-herbicide-poison-papers/). Much of that research has detailed the fraud and lies underlying all EPA approvals of the poisons used in forestry, which prompted the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that the U.S. Forest Service could not rely on EPA approval of such pesticides because no valid studies on their safety existed (to say nothing of the untested synergistic effects of poison mixtures commonly used in forestry).
There is therefore absolutely no excuse for state and timber industry use of such poisons, or for environmental groups to agree to continued exposure of us, our children, our land, our livestock, our wildlife, our water and ecosystems to what are legally defined as “economic poisons.” Such commercialization of forests, watersheds, life and nature itself is responsible for the global catastrophe of climate change that the MOU signatories perpetuate with smoke-and-mirrors illusions of reform.
One illusion is the MOU’s unenforceable buffer zones around schools and homes. These are a toxic joke, as aerially applied poisons drift, blow and drain for miles. Were the MOU signatories truly interested in preventing further harmful exposures, they would have followed the U.S. Forest Service’s example and stopped the vast strip-mined clearcuts that require aerial poison spraying to establish unhealthy commercial monocultures.
Contrary to the timber industry’s dire predictions back in the ’70s, the forests did not die, nor were 22,000 jobs lost without using Agent Orange on the national forest. The national forests today are thriving with healthy diversity. The only valid compromise between timber and environmental parties would be an immediate, unequivocal, environmentally and economically sound agreement to halt clearcutting and its requisite poison applications. For any alleged environmental group to agree to less is a profound betrayal of public and environmental health as well as basic human and natural rights.
Carol Van Strum is the author of “A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights,” “No Margin of Safety,” “The Oreo File” and other works. She lives in Tidewater.