Protecting Our Natural Resources

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Tompkins Weekly    11-10-21

By Becca Harber

Forests and our effects on them are woven throughout our lives, often without our knowledge. Learning how our choices affect forests and making different decisions can contribute to better health and continued existence of forests worldwide.

Cumulative effects of numerous people making different choices contribute to lessening climate catastrophe in the long run. Examples include no longer buying any rainforest woods products, redwood or many of the numerous food items containing palm oil or having big bonfires.

Regarding wood products from rainforests, “supposed sustainable production of tropical timber is a fabrication of the industry,” according to Rainforest Rescue (, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving rainforests. Tropical timber is in many items, like terraces, garden furniture, window frames and toilet seats.

Becca Harber in Zoar Valley’s old growth forest in western New York. Photo by Henrike Burton.

“Terms like ‘luxury wood,’ ‘hardwood,’ ‘genuine wood’ and ‘solid wood’ disguise mainly tropical timber from rainforests in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” according to Rainforest Rescue.

This includes mahogany, teak, rosewood, meranti, ramin and gabun.

“Oak and locust are very durable as replacement woods,” Rainforest Rescue said. “Other native timber can be weatherproofed with non-toxic wax impregnation treatments … even effective for lightweight, soft woods such as pine. … Unfortunately, ‘sustainable’ or ‘selective’ logging in rainforests is a fiction.”

There is much misleading “information” in the media about climate change. For example, the company Aspiration advertises that for every Aspiration card swipe you make, a tree is planted. There’s a lot of encouragement to plant trees as a way to decrease climate change, yet the reality is that doing this won’t work for many decades.

Trees don’t capture and store carbon until they’re about 30 years old. To lessen effects of climate change sooner, which is crucial, existing older and middle-aged forests need to be left intact, according to most climate scientists, like William Moomaw (

Moomaw sharply criticizes ongoing conversion of forests in the southeastern U.S. to wood pellets to burn for electricity in Europe and elsewhere. So, make sure your pellets are made of sustainable materials, like wood chips, bark, sawdust, brush and other byproducts of lumber milling.

Companies are chopping down native forests and destroying all value these forests contained, replacing them with rows of monoculture tree crops, Scot Quaranda said in his article on, “Pillage and Plunder in the Deep South Part 1” (

“Loblolly, slash and sand pine have replaced the dozens of species that used to call this region home,” Quaranda said. “[In plantations, there’s] regular spraying of fertilizers and herbicides, and plantations are quiet because they’re almost devoid of wildlife.”

Here, I observed poor decisions being considered by local government. In Tompkins County, some county legislators, including some known for making environmentally friendly decisions, supported partial logging of county-owned forests in Newfield and Caroline as a way to “improve” them and “enhance the development of old-growth forests” (this latter being an oxymoron).

I walked the areas to be logged and saw many mature hardwoods marked for cutting, partly to make the logging financially worth it for loggers. Heavy machinery and roads compact much soil, enabling nonnative “take-over” plants, like garlic mustard, not already present, to enter and spread. Thankfully, a majority of legislators voted to let the forests grow on their own.

Unfortunately, the NYS Department of Conservation (DEC) is carrying out its forest plan, cutting down 10% of Connecticut Hill forest. This time, they didn’t ask for public input. Connecticut Hill is a state wildlife management area dedicated to wildlife and hunting.

The DEC told us at a meeting in Newfield that this massive logging will create habitat for grouse, turkey and woodcock. They said these birds thrive best in young forests that will grow there. I’ve seen turkey frequently for years there.

I told them that I thought their plan was mistaken because we need to let existing forests grow older to mitigate climate catastrophe. I explained that we can no longer assume that native forest will grow back as it has previously. Conditions have changed: Hemlock wooly adelgids are killing off hemlock trees, emerald ash borers are killing ashes (15% of our forests), and attempts are being made to control Asian long-horned beetles that devastate maples.

These beetles are now present in New York City and Long Island. Additionally, fungal and other diseases commonly afflict other species, like oaks and beeches. Climate change is already stressing tree species with hotter, drier weather and less snow cover more often. Walking the Finger Lakes Trail in Connecticut Hill recently, I felt sad coming upon two newly clear-cut, 30-acre areas with few scattered trees left standing.

A more controversial subject is hunting. I encourage those who oppose deer or any hunting to consider larger ecological realities. Opposing killing deer here means supporting deaths of numerous species that rely on healthy regenerating forests. The ongoing vast overpopulation of deer is extremely detrimental.

This is because deer eat numerous young native trees, preventing replacement of trees dying of old age, disease or insects by younger ones. They prefer some of the scarcest native plants, like lady slippers, other orchids and lilies, along with species like trilliums who’ve greatly declined due to deer.

The owner of woodlands next door doesn’t allow deer hunting, and I’ve watched deer numbers grow in my yard and a huge decline in what used to be plentiful trilliums. Years ago, I visited an inland island forest in Maine that had deer with no hunting. There were no young trees anywhere. This means the forest will not replenish itself and eventually won’t exist.

Australian possums were introduced into New Zealand and legally protected due to popular support. The now-estimated 70 million animals have been destroying native forests filled with biological diversity.

According to New Zealand Geographic, possums consume around 21,000 tons of green matter daily, the equivalent of a large container ship full of leaves, young shoots, berries, flowers and grasses. Some decimated trees are 1,000 years old. Uncountable species of animals, birds, insects, plants and other organisms that depend on those habitats are gone (

It’s important to not deliberately or accidentally release anything not native to one’s region into or near uncultivated places like forests. Doing so could cause eventual destructive effects we may not notice. Nonnative fish, pets and plants are a few examples.

In 1946, 10 beavers were introduced into Patagonia (Argentina and Chile). According to National Geographic (, their booming population has “colonized at least 27,027 square miles, … decimating nearly 120 square miles of peat bog, forests and grasslands, … the largest landscape-level alteration in sub-Antarctic forests since the last ice age.”

Here, it’s crucial that we don’t accidentally spread the influx of nonnative jumping worms that are showing up in many gardens. These very wriggly worms frequent the upper soil layer and surface, devouring organic matter and leaving soil depleted.

While jumping worms die from winter cold, they leave tiny unnoticeable “cocoons” that become worms in spring. Cocoons are transferable to other locations if any get onto footwear. If you’re buying plants or trees, make sure sources are free of jumping worms. Having a jumping worm infestation, I can no longer dig up clumps of raspberries or herbs to share. There’s plenty of jumping worm info online, including on Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County’s website,

These organizations support forest preservation: Finger Lakes Land Trust, Old Growth Forest Network and The Fund for Wild Nature.

Becca Harber is an herbalist at Red Eft Herbs and educator on ecological, holistic health and other issues. She’s glad to share her nature songs and poetry for benefits. Email her at

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