When all the trees were taken

In The Girl in the Mountain, an old settler complains that creation is being destroyed to make toothpicks and clothespins. Another character says of the pollution from the local tannery, “we all need shoe leather, don’t we?” Meanwhile the manager of the story’s lumber company takes pride in the jobs created and families supported by his industry.

Some of the world’s greatest dilemmas are created by people’s need to survive versus the corruption of natural resources. These problems are not always appreciated by those who have never worried about basic needs. It’s also true that industries prefer to conduct their business without government regulation.

In the linked video, you see the deforestation of West Virginia in the early 19th century, setting of The Girl on the Mountain. At the time of the story, there was little protection for workers or the environment. There was no compensation for injured workers, and only charity for the families of those who were killed.

Unlike some natural resources, the forest is renewable, though for years the effects of over-logging were devastating.

A hundred years later, West Virginia is green and its forest a well-managed resource. I read and hear complaints about too much government, too many regulations. Individuals as well as corporations talk like they should not be hindered in any way.

I want protection for workers in dangerous occupations. I want food safety, air quality standards, water protection. I don’t want the land to be destroyed. I also want sustainable employment for people all over the world. All these wants aren’t always compatible. If air quality standards destroy the coal industry, the damage to coal states could last as long as the effects of deforestation.

The news media is quick to report mistakes of government agencies, but seldom the everyday good things they do to protect our safety and our environment. Our state and federal governments aren’t perfect, but I’m glad we have them. I suspect our congressional representatives have good intentions, though sometimes I wonder how smart they are. But they’re only human. They’re all much wealthier than most of us, so don’t expect them to understand the problems of the average guy. I’ll bet even they wonder at times if they work in the “Office of Circumlocution” (that wonderful invention of Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit).

The logging industry is not a villain in The Girl on the Mountain. Its practices must have seemed acceptable or unavoidable at the time.

If you have a gut feeling that a generally-accepted practice is wrong, it well may be.

Do click the link above and look at the video from the WV Department of Culture and History. (I’m not referring to the ad below. :))

6 thoughts on “When all the trees were taken”

  1. Thank you Carol, for your insightful words. There is a tightrope walked by those who are in the business of regulating industries which destroy our natural resources. You’re so right about that ‘gut feeling’. The bounty of WV has been raped and pillaged for two-and-a-half centuries. When you ride the train at Cass Scenic Railroad to Bald Knob, it’s not difficult to figure out how the peak got its name.

    On a positive note…there remains in WV one small stand of virgin timber. It survives as a result of an error on the part of a surveyor and has provided foresters, botanists and naturalists with invaluable data. I am so very thankful for the rugged beauty of our state. I encourage everyone who hasn’t done so to make it a point to see the beautiful wilderness of places like Dolly Sods, Cranberry Glades, and Blackwater Canyon. These places remain as a result of efforts on the part of The Department of Environmental Protection and The Division of Natural Resources, as well as many other agencies and organizations in both the public and private sectors. I consider myself very fortunate to be married to one of those persons who walks the tightrope on a daily basis.

    1. Thanks, Michele, for reminding readers about West Virginia’s beautiful protected places. And thanks to that guy of yours and all who work to manage both resources and livelihoods.

  2. Yes, the forests are renewable. However, the mountains upon which they grow are not. I want to point out that the environmental disaster of mountaintop removal reveals the need for a full look at how financial interests controls our beliefs. We can provide jobs and protect our mountains. It requires first that we understand the fuller picture of whose interests are really being served.

    Dreama Frisk

    1. Thanks for your additions, Dreama. I’m grateful for protectionist activity, and I doubt that mountaintop removal creates many jobs, though tax revenues must help the state. My greater concern has always been with workers without resources to create their own jobs, who have to take whatever the economy provides. Hopefully the future will be better balanced for all.

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