“Don’t Leave It in the Ground” Series: Timber

This past year, the environmental movement has clearly stated its goal: “Leave it in the ground.” Its goal is not responsible activity on the land, but removing all human activity from the land.

When I moved here in 1980, New Mexico had thriving industries in coal, uranium, copper, molybdenum, timber, and semi-conductors. Surrounding these industries were thriving communities.

This past Saturday, I had coffee with several community leaders in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I mentioned that Las Vegas was one of the few towns in the state in which I had not constructed a building – not because I hadn’t tried.

Our first Las Vegas proposal was back in 1981, for the Ponderosa Products particleboard plant. That memory was a painful reminder of the timber jobs lost when Ponderosa’s plant closed. But the timber jobs lost weren’t limited to Las Vegas. When environmental groups decided that they no longer would tolerate the harvesting of our forests, we lost all the timber jobs in New Mexico.

“Save the spotted owl” was the publicity gimmick used to end New Mexico’s timber industry, and all the jobs that went with it.  When I travel through our forests today, and see miles and miles of burnt forest with charred standing trees, I wonder:

“Where is the spotted owl now?”

“Isn’t this worse than harvesting our forests?”

“How many greenhouse gasses are captured when our forests are harvested to build homes, and are burned away in forest fires?”

What of Ponderosa Product’s plant in Las Vegas? All that remains is an empty field with a huge concrete foundation. I helped build sections of Ponderosa Products Plant in Albuquerque’s Saw Mill District. The Saw Mill is now a nice residential neighborhood just north of Old Town. But the jobs that gave the area its name are gone, as are the families that were supported by those jobs.

That’s one of the reasons New Mexico is the only state in the Sunbelt to be losing more residents than it gains.

Many of New Mexico’s environmental lawsuits are funded by elite California environmentalists. Why don’t they focus on environmental issues in their own state? They have plenty. We have all seen photographs of the waterfalls and granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. But we do not see the waterfalls and granite cliffs of Hetch-Hetchy Valley. Why? The citizens of San Francisco dammed the Hetch-Hetchy Valley for cheap water. San Francisco refuses to remove the dam.

Let the elite West Coast environmentalists protest in their own back yard, not ours. New Mexico doesn’t have a Silicon Valley. We need every decent-paying job we can get – including those that rely on responsible use of our extensive federal lands.