by Betsy Herbert
The term "working forest" is commonly used to describe forests that we humans use primarily to produce timber. The term "working forest" brings to mind traditional working class values. One can imagine a "working forest" struggling and straining to produce timber, while taking great pride in its practical endeavor to provide decks, paper, and plywood.
The term "working forest" is very misleading, though, because it implies that forests that are not logged are "non-working forests," which don't serve any practical purpose. It suggests that a forest that isn't logged is a kind of free-loading, lazy, good-for-nothing forest. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the past several decades, we've learned that all forests are working forests, in the sense that they provide natural services like water filtration, wildlife habitat, flood control, and carbon sequestration. We've learned that these natural services from forests are extremely valuable economically. While water treatment plants can costs many millions of dollars, forests can and do provide water filtration for free.
We've also learned that forests play a vital role in earth's life-sustaining processes, including the carbon cycle. Mature forests have a great capacity to store carbon. Carbon storage is a natural service that is critical to counteracting global warming. Redwood trees take in carbon from the atmosphere, like all plants, through photosynthesis. Because redwoods are so big, they store enormous amounts of carbon. Redwoods continue to take in carbon from the atmosphere for a long time, because they live so long.
Now that global warming and drinking water protection have become such important issues, redwood forests will become more valued for the vital natural services they provide, rather than just the timber they produce. Preserved redwood forests are not just beautiful and inspirational; they are also some of the world's hardest working forests, without ever producing a stick of timber.
Reprinted from The Mountain Echo, Spring 2007, published by Sempervirens Fund.