We've lost the will to use natural resources

For the first two centuries of our country's existence, America was noted for her freshness, novelty, expansion and healthy growth. From the time of the industrial revolution to the end of the 20th century we worked harder, built more, produced more and created more wealth than any other nation on the face of the earth.

In the past 25 years, a change has occurred that is difficult to define. We have become a consumer nation and not a producer nation. We buy much more from other nations than we sell to them. Our trade deficits are staggering, as is the flow of wealth exiting the United States every year. Unfortunately, it seems like almost nothing is made in the U.S. anymore. One hears reasons and justifications why this has happened, such as "cheaper labor," an insatiable demand for foreign oil, more governmental restrictions and regulations or environmental concerns.

However, it goes far beyond that. The U.S. is a country that has a wealth of natural resources, and natural resources are the prime source of wealth creation for all countries and their citizens. To create wealth one must extract and use natural resources to manufacture products, grow and raise products and add value to products.

Most people don't think about natural resources and what they mean to a society. However, if you take a moment to look at the physical things surrounding you, you'll note that everything you see or touch has come out of the ground. Everything we use, we feel, we see and we consume either came from the earth or was harnessed by something that came from the earth. Even the winds (windmills) and our sun's rays are harnessed by products (solar panels) of the earth. Moreover, the air we breathe is a product of the myriad plant species that grow upon the earth. Natural resources are the lifeblood of all nations. It's how we utilize our natural resources that helps define us as a country.

The problem is not just that we don't fully use our natural resources; the problem is deeper than that. This once great producing country has lost its will to use our own bountiful natural resources. Insidiously, we've reached the point where it has become environmentally wrong, wasteful or even criminal to use resources in our own backyard.

It is essential that we understand that when we buy any product from other countries, we are consuming that country's natural resources or even worse, natural resources they import to manufacture products. You can rest assured that their production standards and environmental concerns are a fraction of what ours would be. It is insane that we lock up our own wealth- and job-creating natural resources but turn around and transport products we import from other countries vast distances and at substantial expense.

The U.S. has been hugely dependent on foreign oil for decades. That dependence could quickly end because of vast, newly discovered domestic oil sources. By incorporating modern extraction techniques it is now possible for this country to no longer be dependent on foreign oil yet, unbelievably, our government has totally resisted new exploration and drilling on public lands. We have a known 100-plus-year supply of natural gas within our borders, yet meet resistance from the environmental industry and governmental agencies when planning pipelines and extraction projects.

Finally, closer to home, we have the timber industry. Timber is the one renewable, recyclable and biodegradable product that this country has as a natural resource. In Oregon we grow the finest quality timber that is produced, yet we are unable to access almost half the timberlands in the state. Our Oregon forests annually grow over 10 billion board feet (1 billion BF will build 85,000 homes), enough to build every home to be constructed this year in the U.S., yet total harvests amount to less than 30 percent of that figure. Over 75 percent of our harvest is from private lands. Our yearly mortality is over 2 billion BF, almost all on federal lands, yet we use almost none of that dead timber.

We have the knowledge and the abilities to use our timber in a productive, responsible and environmentally sound manner. By law, any mismanagement practices of the past century are a thing of the past.

We can create both wealth and jobs, but if this nation does not rediscover a national will to again use our myriad natural resources, our economy is doomed and we'll become a second-class economic power.

David Schott is executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

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