Years ago, many of us were taught that environmentalists were hippies who ate only vegetables, smoked a lot of pot and hugged trees.
Maybe more than a few were.
Still, I never thought I would begin to see the importance of nature and the environment in much the same light as they see it. What opened my eyes, literally letting me see the trees for the forest, was when I flew over the Mother Lode. The scenery was breathtaking, with visibility for miles. It was a good thing my brother was busy flying the plane as I was gazing in awe, looking for landmarks to get my bearings.
Of all the magnificent sites seen from above, what changed my life forever was what had been done to the surface of the planet – all in the name of profit. One site seemed like the pit from hell, while another was like some horrible mistake.
The first of these awful sites was a massive crater left over from the now-defunct Jamestown Mine.
From above, one fully gets a feel for this enormous excavation that scraped away the earth on the old Harvard Mine property to get at the gold-bearing ore below. The mine was operating from 1986 to 1994, and it did provide jobs and tax revenues for the local economy. But today this huge empty pit with all its toxic leftovers is a considerable financial burden for the county and the state – another example of how the free market works. The profits were privatized, but the costs have all been socialized.
The second example was a clear-cut patch of forest. From thousands of feet above, I thought that this devastation was some kind of development, yet these clear-cut areas were methodical. Some were vast swaths of forest, others seemed to be in a checkerboard pattern.
It is understood the local timber interests provide those few decent-paying jobs that exist in the Mother Lode, and they pay taxes, too. And the thinning of dense forest and clearing of fallen trees and brush is also essential to good forest management. But is clear-cutting sustainable? Is it a tool we can use for the long-term?
Some say yes, as new trees are planted. Some say no, it’s not a real forest free of environmental impacts.
Then there’s the Rim fire. This forest fire burned 400 square miles of woodlands, some in the national forest, some belonging to timber companies and a great deal in Yosemite National Park.
What do these three sites have in common? All were instigated by man. Two were motivated by profit, and the other was attributed to an accident; an illegal campfire left unattended.
Nature has a surprising way of letting you know she is around. It could be the trees harvested from the Rim fire, still smoldering months later. Or it could be an abandoned mine pit, filling with rainwater and becoming toxic from seeping arsenic, residual chemicals and runoff.
Our environment is both delicate and sturdy, but it can take many years for it to repair man-made damage. It is our duty to protect it and be good stewards. The viability of our environment should take precedence over profits.
If this makes me an environmentalist, then find me a tree to hug.
Logan is a resident of Sonora and a former Bee visiting editor. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.