Good farms vs. bad farms: Trees are more natural than grapes

I continue to be perplexed by the double standard that people who are in the business of farming vegetables and grapes like to place on those who are in the business of farming trees.

The July 12 article titled "Local family farms urge logging restraint" is the latest to highlight this double standard. The article outlines a letter several Jackson and Josephine county farmers sent to Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden urging the senators to consider these small farms when making policy decisions regarding timber management on the former Oregon & California Railroad lands.

The writers of this letter suggest that certain forest practices uphill from their farms would hinder their ability to produce "high quality natural products." To be clear, the only "natural" product that is farmed in this region is trees. The "natural products" these farmers claim to be growing aren't natural at all; they are in fact non-indigenous crops such as grapes and lavender that never grew naturally on the lands they are now farmed on.

On the other hand, the tree farms uphill of these crop farms are growing native tree and shrub species that provide habitat for native wildlife species. Additionally, the lands in the valleys where these non-natural products are being farmed have been converted from natural ecosystems into monocultures being managed for unnatural crops. Furthermore, these farms in the valley aren't providing habitat for any native species that once flourished on that ground before the land was converted into row crops.

Whatever wildlife species that once lived where the vineyards and vegetable farms now "flourish" are long gone. So the comment that policy changes to federally managed forestland would "sacrifice the landscape" is interesting considering the farmers who wrote this letter "sacrificed the landscape" where they operate a long time ago.

"Any management policy that threatens the water quality or the environment would have a devastating impact on our crops," claim the writers of this letter. Really? Their crops are currently growing on a devastated landscape that has been stripped of its natural ecosystem components. And now they're claiming that these crops couldn't possibly sustain the altered environment of lands miles away?

The letter also claims that these farms require "scenic views" in order to grow abundant foods on their farms. I would love to hear an explanation of how scenic views are a necessity to crop production. Regardless, it brings up an important point: Tree farms are ugly and vegetable farms are pretty.

Despite the facts about native crops and native habitats that I highlighted earlier, this point of aesthetics and "pretty landscapes" is usually what most people equate to healthy environments, when in fact it just isn't true. So I would ask the writers of this letter who claim to need a "healthy environment to produce their crops," what exactly they themselves are doing to contribute to this healthy environment.

It blows my mind that a person can sit on a severely degraded and transformed landscape and pump their fist at another landscape less transformed, simply because they don't like how it looks. Some of us may not like the kind of native habitat that some tree farms are growing ... but at least it is native habitat with native species, a fact that the writers of this letter cannot claim.

Mark James Johnson of Grants Pass has a degree in business and forestry and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the timber industry. He currently works as a timber faller for Gyppo Inc. in Josephine County.

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