Thursday, September 29, 2016

When loggers were green

The Forest History Society awarded its 2016 Blegen Award for the best article on forest and conservation history to Erik Loomis for his "When Loggers Were Green: Lumber, Labor, and Conservation, 1937-1948", published in Western Historical Quarterly.

Soleduck Falls shelter, Olympic National Park, constructed 1939
(M. Stupich, courtesy of National Park Service, Pacific Northwest Region)
The IWA was a strong supporter of the creation of the park for protecting old-growth forest

There's a lot of law in the article, though the union was often on the losing side. The opening paragraphs:
In April 1939, Harold Pritchett, president of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), went on radio station KIRO in Seattle to explain his union’s program for forest conservation. Pritchett bluntly attacked the timber industry for its wasteful practices, noting, “under the present policy of timber destruction three feet of Northwest timber is being used for every new foot being grown.” Saying the nation’s forests were too important to serve corporate masters, Pritchett demanded a government-led reforestation program that would hire unemployed loggers and recharge the timber resource. He argued for federal policies mandating selective logging rather than clear-cutting large patches of forest. Pritchett justified federal intervention by comparing it to the New Deal’s expansion of government authority into public utilities and banking as well as the passage of the Social Security Act. Only through “initiating a forest program that is based on the needs and also the responsibilities of the forest land owners” under “federal control of forest cutting practices,” Pritchett declared, could the forests of the Northwest remain productive for future generations.
From its founding in 1937 through the early 1950s, the IWA articulated a powerful working-class voice for conservation, challenging the timber industry’s control over Pacific Northwest forests. This article explores how the IWA combined working-class power with conservationism to fight for community stability in an ecosystem threatened by private forestry. The IWA was the first American labor union to make natural resource planning a central policy position. It denounced timber companies for their “cut-out-and-get-out” attitude, resistance to reforestation, and indifference to the region’s future. It demanded greater government regulation of forests to make them work for laboring people’s long-term economic security. In the midst of the Great Depression, Pritchett described an IWA vision for forestry that explicitly connected the work humans did in the forest and the work forests did for humans by providing wood products and jobs. Only through controlling both forms of labor could the nation achieve a sustainable timber supply and sustainable rural communities. The IWA sought to advance its forestry agenda in the halls of Congress but failed when federal agencies and corporate interests joined to increase timber production by the 1950s, leading to the liquidation of timber supplies fifty years later. Yet in taking up this fight, the IWA made alliances with conservationists that lasted for decades. Not since the conservationists of the 1910s, and not again before the environmental movement of the 1970s, would an organization provide the timber industry with as strident a challenge to its forestry practices as the International Woodworkers of America.
For more on the connections between labor and environmental law, see (for example) earlier posts here and here.

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