What urgent questions are on the minds of Californians? Probably they are not about forestry. Perhaps there is a general uneasiness about important environmental issues like toxics and water quality. If a question from forestry is of concern it is likely to relate how to stop wild fires from burning homes or to fears that the last redwood tree is being cut.
Most Californians, certainly those in cities and suburban areas without much vegetation, value trees--especially huge old oak or redwood trees. There is something almost mystical that connects urban California to its forested lands.
There is also something very practical. Forests are intimately involved in producing clean air and water. They also provide space to take vacations and live. Forests also grow some of the wood that Californians use for buildings and furniture making, although in reality we import about 50% of our wood.
It seems odd that something both mystical and practical should escape from our attention so easily. But we do take many things for granted, from food at the stove to efficient police and fire protection.
Recently, however, some people have not been taking the state's forest and range resources for granted. Under the leadership of the state Board of Forestry, which is the governor-appointed body charged with providing for an adequate forest policy, new efforts are being made to talk about what forests and range mean to the state.
Basically, people agree that the forest and rangelands need to be protected. Californians expect that these lands will continue to provide everything from timber production to wilderness. This sounds like motherhood until the issues involved in reaching this vision are set out. Consider just a few of the 20 key issues identified.
--How can California land-based industries compete with capital investment options and realize a profit?
--How can the environmental diversity of California forest and rangelands be maintained and enhanced?
--How can rural values be fairly represented in an urbanizing state?
--How can private rights to manage, harvest, and graze be guaranteed?
The risk of ignoring the future of the state's wild lands is great, for forestry becomes a boat without a captain or a course. It wouldn't matter if it were just a small boat. But the fact is that most of California is dependent on where that boat goes.
HAROLD R. WALT
Walt is chairman of the California Board of Forestry.