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Monday, April 6, 2015

Dear Lunz Group Members,

Consciousness raising can be a profoundly difficult task. The traditional Sierra Club method involves getting boots on the ground/paddles in the water. In this model, a club outing is not just a fun hike in a gorgeous place but a subtle bit of activist incitement that basically boils down to "familiarity breeds ownership and concern." When you join us on one of our outings, we'll take you to some mighty beautiful places, but we will be trying to point out the fragility, if you will, of the environment we visit. There were once 78-80 million acres of Longleaf pine that stretched from Virginia to Texas across the southern tier of states. Almost all of that is gone now due to ill-informed and non-sustainable harvest. In the early 2000s, I planted 7 or 8 Longleaf pine saplings in my yard. Most were just 12-18 inches tall. All are out of the "grass" stage and have entered into the rocket phase of growth; some are close to 30 feet tall now. One of my Longleaf pines has produced male pollen cones for the very first time. My trees are "on the way" but they won't be mature for the next 70 years or more. It takes a modern logging operation mere seconds to fell trees. I have seen--almost literally in my own back yard--such a modern clearing operation and acres of 25- to 40-year-old trees can be cut and stacked in hours.

The point I am making is that our actions do have consequences that will require decades if not centuries to resolve. We can walk in the few Longleaf pine forests that remain because 50-100 years ago those forested regions were not destroyed. You can walk beneath my longleaf pines now but they are a LONG ways from being a forest. We must as citizens have a view that reaches out many decades when we wish to take actions. Typically, our most far-reaching planning goes out the length of a 30-year mortgage (or a Municipal Bond). A Longleaf forest matures on a 100-150 year time frame, i.e., five times the length of a conventional mortgage. Harvesting a forest leaves a legacy many years longer than one of our mortgages.

The nature writer Wallace Stegner and his son Page planted a grove of pines when Page was a boy. When Page had grown to be a mature man, some of these same trees were cut to construct a log cabin. Sitting inside this newly constructed cabin, Wallace reportedly quipped to his son "we grew this house." I probably have some of the details wrong in that anecdote but it is an example of long-term planning. Here's another one: Lincoln Cathedral (northeast of London) was first begun in the medieval era (1100-1200) and oak beams for the building were cut at that time (and again for later construction epochs).

Fast forward to 2012. Many of the massive old beams had begun to show signs of failure. Where to find trees large enough to provide the replacement beams? As it turned out, the original builders has anticipated a need 1000 years later for replacement beams and had planted and continue to plant groves of oaks for that purpose. That's anticipation and planning. 

Now another class of our outings is the service outing where we participate in one form or another of beach/river sweep. We meet and physically pick up trash at a boat landing, along a trail, etc. These service outings are frankly very hard work. It would be FAR better for the refuse to have never been deposited in the first place. The planning horizon of the people who discarded the trash was on the order of a fifteen minute fast meal or a diaper change and nowhere near 1000 years. It would be quite useful if we could make some headway toward extending the per diem time frame into a per century time frame.

Join us as we ponder how to raise the consciousness of our politicians and citizens about the time frame of the consequences of our actions. Among other things, how long would it take to restore our coasts to the current state AFTER a major oil spill. Do we want to take the risk?

 --Starr Hazard

Chair, Robert Lunz Group

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