Book Review: “Tree Thieves,” by Lyndsie Bourgon

This was the beginning of a decades-long process in which federal and state governments sought to protect forests from the communities that surround them. In O’Rourke, California, a focal point of Bourgogne, locals are prohibited from collecting the water-washed boughs of redwood on the nearby beach—depriving people of the firewood they have traditionally used to heat their homes (and causing piles of driftwood to obstruct groundwater drainage). Bourgogne epitomizes the population’s frustration with remote bureaucrats imposing something like unnecessary and destructive rules.

The result was a misleading and counterproductive feedback loop. The lumberjacks and their unions painted environmentalists as extremists bent on destroying decent jobs. The truth was that job losses in the logging industry had less to do with environmental scientists than with giants mechanizing what were manual jobs and outsourcing their timber processing business to Asia.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have demonized logging as obsessed with destroying trees and, at times, racists in animal husbandry. (I didn’t notice it at the time, but Powers, in “The Overstory,” is sometimes guilty of similar stereotypes.) This, Bourgogne believed, was a missed opportunity. Like environmental activists, logging communities worshiped their forests—after all, once the trees were gone, so did the jobs—and there were alliances to form.

This is the backdrop to Borkon’s portrayal of the “tree thieves” as misunderstood outcasts. “I began to see the act of logging as not just a tragic environmental crime, but something deeper—an act to restore one’s place in a rapidly changing world,” she wrote, tracing that desire back to 16th century England, where poaching was celebrated in the royal forests. as folk heroes.

Bourgogne indulged herself with a small handful of these men in the Northwest, and a picture emerged of a splinter group of bad luck crooks. The number of drug abuse. The fishermen admit that what they are doing is illegal, but they frame it as a principle, like stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families. A character scans the forest for valuable woodcuts, tracks locations, and when he needs money, he returns to collect his prizes. Another explains, “We have bills to pay.” “We are like everyone else except we live in an unknown place, there are no jobs, and they don’t want to hire us to prevent poaching.”

On the other side are National Park Service rangers who deploy the latest technology to go after poachers. There are hidden cameras hidden in the trees. There is a radar-like tool that allows the government to monitor trees in danger from above. There are magnetic sensor panels—$10,000 apiece—on the forest floor to detect the sound of chain saws.

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