The rise of ‘Chain-saw Environmentalism’


As momentum builds across the West for an increased timber harvest to better manage forests, a new term has emerged: “chain-saw environmentalism.” The Salt Lake Tribune, in an in-depth story, says the movement is picking up steam nationally, as well as locally in an attempt to save aspen groves in Colorado.

Too late to head off a wave of climate-fueled beetles that have altered the evergreen landscape for generations — if not forever — foresters still believe they can rejuvenate this resort town’s namesake. They say the white bark and fluttering yellow heart-shaped leaves that announce fall in the Rocky Mountains are due for a pruning.

It’s chain-saw environmentalism, and some of the West’s most ardent wilderness lovers have signed on. They face strong opposition from groups that believe Mother Nature can best repair her own, and their struggle over how best to legally protect untrammeled wild lands will profoundly shape the future of these hills.

“It’s no longer as easy as just saying wilderness is good and everything else is bad,” said John Bennett, a former Aspen mayor and current executive director of the advocacy group For the Forest.

Many of the environmental groups that would have typically opposed such a move have now changed their mind.

Others who love wilderness, and indeed moved here to live among it, point to the bark-beetle infestation — which stripped more than 6 million acres of Colorado evergreens — as evidence such hard-line protections are outdated.

“I’m a total wilderness advocate,” said Tom Cardamone, who moved here to work on a student-led wilderness campaign in 1972 and now directs the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies [ACES]. “Also, I recognize the increasing importance of hands-on forest management.”

Even advocates of the increased harvest do not claim to have all the answers. But it’s clear that new solutions — without the hard-lines limitations of the past — are necessary to save the Colorado forests.