Last Updated 19 Jun 2018

The Harmful Effects of Timbering

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Essay type Research
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How does the role of politics and legislation that affect the timber industry today compare to that of a hundred years ago? In the early years of West Virginia"s statehood there was a government that tried to build it"s own identity. Starting out as an underdeveloped state that was rich in natural resources, there was an urgency to erect industry within West Virginia. Upon examination of West Virginia today, one can see the same desire to maintain and increase industry in the state. It is my belief that today, as well as a hundred years ago, the government views industry as it"s top priority versus state residents and the safety of the environment. I will now attempt to compare and contrast the role politics and legislation has played in the growth and development of the timber industry in the state of West Virginia for the last 100 years.

In the early years of West Virginia statehood a definite emphasis was put on industrial growth. Before this industrial growth there was a revolution that took place. As a result of the Constitution of 1863, the law became more industry oriented and moved away from being a protector of philosophy and culture. Following the Constitution of 1872, there was a facilitation to allow the "transfer of land from smallholders to the coal and lumber companies (Lewis p.103-105)."

One of the main goals in the early years of statehood in West Virginia was to establish a strong, striving capitalistic economy. However, their ideas on how to achieve this varied throughout the state. Should the state remain an agricultural society, or move to an industrial society? This struggle continued, and this is when the role government played in the economy was determined (Lewis p. 106).

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As the timber industry grew in West Virginia "lumbermen began to demand that the law help them to overcome their lack of capital so they could develop the state"s resources." The greatest problem at this time was the lack of transportation. The government began to accommodate the timber industry. Corporations were given the right to dam streams or change their flow, with legal permission (Lewis p.107).

Ronald Lewis, author of Transforming the Appalachian Countryside, writes that:

Public subsidy to improve water transportation for lumber was never undertaken in West Virginia, especially in comparison to with the public assistance provided to railroads. The lumber industry during this period developed no giant corporations that could compare with the railroads, and so its ability to exert political power was comparatively limited. It was through indirect stimulus that the law promoted investment in the lumber industry, which conformed the theme of nineteenth century policy (Lewis p.108).

The timber industry flourished through an "indirect stimulus" of breaks given and provided to the railroads.

Legislators gave entrepreneurs many rights to assist with industrial growth, such as building dams across streams or changing the path of a stream, so long as it did not interfere with steamboats and other lumber companies. If a log washed up on someone"s personal property and they disturbed it within the first ten days, they were punishable by law (Lewis p.108).

According to Ronald Lewis it is the belief of James Willard Hurst, a prominent legal scholar and I concur, that the government sided with business and exploited the people. There is enough evidence of court decisions and legislation that favors industry and business over the common man, to validate Hurst"s belief.

The previous paragraphs depict an industry that thrived although it has slowed down somewhat in the last 100 years. Now, I am going to examine the timber industry in West Virginia today. My source will be Ken Ward"s articles that have appeared in the Charleston Gazette about the regulations imposed on the timber industry. Ward"s articles, in my opinion, are biased in favor of the timber industry. However, when writing upon a subject that is so controversial, it is nearly impossible to not show a bias.

An examination of how things have changed, will not show a great deal. However, it is safe to say that more money changes hands today. Today there are more regulations, mostly where permits and licenses are concerned than 100 years ago. "Anyone who is conducting timber operations, purchasing timber, or buying logs for resale has to obtain a permit from the division of Forestry (Ward, State timbering law)." To attain and keep this license, applicants have to pay $50 a year. At every timber operation there has to be at least one person who has completed a certification course from the Division of Forestry. This person is trained in first aid, soil erosion prevention, and safe conduct of timbering (Ward, State timbering law).

The Forestry Division is supposed to be notified within three days of any and all timbering operations. The notification should include the names of those who own the timber. There should also be included a sketch map of the location complete with roads used for the hauling and stream crossings (Ward, State timbering law).

In Ken Ward"s article, ...Critics say more rules are necessary, but backers say present law is sufficient, a Morgantown geologist, Richard diPretoro stated that he believes the timber industry is under-regulated, comparatively speaking.

The coal industry, which is much bigger than timbering in West Virginia today, has much stricter regulations.

Strip Miners have to return the land to previous contour when they are finished. Those in the timber industry can leave the land any way they so desire (Ward, Critics say more rules...).

Loggers are supposed to follow a set of guidelines known as "best management practices." These are a set of voluntary guidelines set up to protect the environment. Environmentalist would like to see regulations for the timber industry become more stringent. However, the director of the state Division of Forestry, Bill Maxey, feels that they have more regulations than they need.

I"m not sure that Bill Maxey"s statement is free of prejudice, because the Division of Forestry is responsible for overseeing loggers and well as promoting the growth of wood product businesses. In my opinion, that would be conflict of interest.

Many people interviewed in Ward"s article discuss how the environmental damage done by the coal industry is more harmful and will last longer than that of the timber industry. Joel Stopha, a wood products marketing specialist, states, "Poor timber harvesting practices will cause only a few years of water quality problems(Ward, Critics say more rules...)." We have the means to ensure that we have no water quality problems whatsoever.

So, how does the role of politics and legislation compare in regards to the timber industry today to that of 100 years ago? I believe that the state government is still mainly focused on the growth of industry in West Virginia just as we were in the beginning of our statehood.

Today we see more regulation in the form of different fees and licenses required. As with everything else in this world, things change. Of course, the timber industry is no different. However, other than the natural changes that occur, there really has not been a huge change in the fact that the state government still favors industry over the state residents and this is reflected in the way the state government is failing to enforce the laws that protect the bodies of water in this state by allowing the timber industry to contaminate bodies of water even if it is for "only a couple of years."

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