Gazette photo by CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE
Bill Maxey, director of the state Division of Forestry, is a strong defender of the industry he used to work for.
By Ken Ward Jr.
Bill Maxey says letting environmentalists, newspaper reporters or common citizens decide how forests should be managed is like letting candy stripers perform brain surgery.
Maxey, director of the state Division of Forestry, says he believes firmly that "professional foresters" are the only ones to trust with the future of West Virginia's woodlands.
The amount of timber cut in West Virginia every year has doubled since 1987 and is still increasing. Environmentalists, landowners, hunters and others are concerned.
But Maxey and his staff at the Forestry Division - along with many at the West Virginia University College of Forestry - say there is no problem. They say state residents should trust them to handle the situation.
In an article published in the August edition of the Society of American Forestry's Journal of Forestry, Maxey outlined these views.
"Should hospital administrators or candy stripers diagnose serious medical problems and perform complicated operations?" Maxey asked. "The answer is obvious.
"However, a comparable scenario is occurring in our profession," Maxey wrote in the article, titled "Foresters: Another Endangered Species?"
"Forest managers have been forced out of leadership roles and replaced by other professionals," he wrote. "A doctor and forester certainly need to cooperate with those outside their fields to do their jobs however, each is best qualified to decide on an d deliver treatment to their 'patients.'"
Maxey has been state Forestry Division director since July 1993. By law, he is paid $65,000 a year.
Before that, he worked for 15 years as a forester for Westvaco Corp., the New York-based company that owns large tracts of land in West Virginia to feed its paper mills in Luke, Md., and Covington, Va.
Maxey received bachelor's and master's degrees in forestry from West Virginia University in 1959 and 1970, respectively. He worked for timber giant Georgia-Pacific Corp. for seven years and taught at WVU for 11.
Under state law, the Forestry Division director must have graduated from a forestry school which is accredited by the American Society of Foresters. The director must also have 10 years' experience in forest management.
Foresters spend much of their time in school studying silviculture, which is basically the science of growing trees as a crop to produce timber.
Others within the forestry profession study other aspects of forests, such as biodiversity, wildlife management, forest ecology or recreation management.
But in Maxey's views, it is the silviculture experts who know the most about forests and should make decisions about how they are managed.
In his journal article, Maxey criticized the U.S. Forest Service for replacing foresters in agency management positions with landscape architects, botanists, archaeologists and engineers.
"Preservationists have pressured the Forest Service leadership into becoming excessively 'green' and politically correct," Maxey wrote.
"In so doing, they have practically destroyed a once elite government agency," he wrote. "Granted, we needed to give more attention to forest amenities.
"However, most critics of public forest management ignore that a well-managed forest provides the best sustained yield of timber, endangered species, habitat and aesthetics," he wrote. "Forest management on public lands has already evolved to incorporate a reasonable level of stewardship when the preservationist movement hit its stride about 20 years ago. There was no rationale for a drastic shift in management tactics."
Maxey said he recognized the need to preserve unique forests, but that the need had already been met.
"Millions of acres of wilderness, old growth and wetlands have been designated for this purpose," Maxey wrote. "Ours is one of the few countries with such a wealth of national parks, wild and scenic rivers, and habitats for endangered species.
"This was desirable to a point, but reason has long since been abandoned," he wrote. "As more land is taken out of commercial forest production, fewer acres are left to provide our citizens with the basic wood products."
Maxey also criticized environmental activists who want more land set aside from timbering.
"Those obstructing timber harvest on public lands are successfully squelching professional forest management," Maxey wrote.
"Their weapons: emotionalism and pseudo-science," he wrote. "If not one 'endangered species,' any other furry or feathered critter would be the ploy to persuade the uninformed that trees should not be cut. The preservationist's mission has little to do w ith saving species and everything to do with stopping timber harvests."
Maxey emphasized over and over the importance of trusting "foresters" to protect the nation's - and presumably West Virginia's - woodlands.
"U.S. forest management must be given back to trained and experienced foresters. They are best qualified to scientifically manage our most important renewable resource," Maxey wrote.
"Foresters need advice and assistance from other natural resource managers," he wrote. "However, foresters should provide the leadership in this area, in consultation and collaboration with (not under the direction of) professionals from other disciplines.
"Foresters have a proven track record," he wrote. "They orchestrated the greatest conservation success the world has known. Our nation's forests were depleted by conversion to agriculture and nearly destroyed by indiscriminate cutting and wildfires from the late-1800s through the mid-1900s.
"Foresters are primarily responsible for the reforestation and protection of the resource since that time," he wrote. "For example, West Virginia's forests occupied only 30 percent of the state's land area in 1910. Today, West Virginia is 80 percent fore sted.
"I have no animosity toward other disciplines, but when I needed a major operation recently, I called on a medical professional. I certainly did not have a forester perform it!"
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