1. God through the Scriptures calls us to be stewards of creation

The Bible commands us to creation care and forest protection. The Book of Genesis opens the Bible with the story of creation. The first thing which the first people meet in the Garden are two trees. Trees are the most prominent non-human feature in Scripture. In the end, "the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations." In between we are called to a dominion over creation (i.e., to act toward the land as the Lord would act) and to steward it in place of the Lord. This means the attitudes of the Lord become our responsibility; this means a nurturing and benevolent caring for people and the land are our human responsibility. What we are now doing to the forests however is demonic; it is a devaluation of forests to mere commodities. This is a sin. The Holy Bible in the Book of Revelation (Christian) is strong in its language on the forests. It asks us to "Hurt not the earth, neither the seas nor the trees" (Rev. 7:3) and informs us that in the Judgement, "God will destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev. 11:18). Throughout the Torah (as Jews call the five Books of Moses) God gives 613 laws of which 200 deal with water, food, land and other natural concerns,including a right relationship to trees. The Jewish priestly commentaries say, "If not for the trees, human life could not exist" (Midrash Sifre to Deut. 20:19) The essence of the biblical message is that we are called to care for creation, to be co-creators with the Spirit. A primary biblical principle for Jews, Christians and all religious people is that creation's fruitfulness (i.e., its ability to fulfill its purpose) may not be diminished. Our national behavior in the forests is currently at odds with this.

2. The forests belong first to God; we are its stewards

Just as the Earth is the Lord's, so are all the creatures and systems in it. The forests belong first to God. We are to steward the earth and the forests. The quality of our stewardship affects the quality of our lives. The creatures of the forest speak to us of God (Job 12:7-10) and they are given to us by God to direct our attention toward our God. A despeciated forest cannot fulfill God's intent for it, and our degradation of it insults God.

3. We are responsible to save what's left!

We are all called to care for creation. Yet only 3% of America's original forests are still standing. What remains is almost all on public land. Yet taxpayers are subsidizing the logging and destruction of national forests with $1.2 billion per year (1997). Future generations (i.e., perhaps your own great grandchildren) will never know the great beauty of the ancient forests unless we do all that is in our power NOW to save what is left. On a typical day, around the world we lose 116 square miles of rainforest. We have to save the little of what is left. Old growth especially has a different character than a second growth forests. It is immoral to cut the small remnants which remain. To understand the predicament from industry's perspective, one great old growth redwood tree may be worth over $100,000 as timber. It is the push to turn these heritage trees into dollars which drives the contention over the future of the forests.

4. The voice of the people calls for forest protection

National opinion polls regularly show a high percentage of Americans want forest protection for the national forests. Between 69% and 75% of those polled report that they want an end to the commercial logging of our national forests. It hasn't happened because campaign contributions influence legislators more than voter opinion. At issue therefore are not only the forests, but campaign finance reform and the ability of democracy to survive in the multinational corporate era.

5. Religion worldwide is unanimous about forest preservation

All the major religions of the world advocate forest conservation. This is because any search for the root nature of created life perceives a vitalizing Light, which is of Divinity. For all people of faith, this leads to a sense of the sacred quality to life and creation. Only those without sensitivity to life and justice can avoid the growing message about the need to preserve our world and protect the trees. Healthy human society requires trees and the other forms of life which they nurture. Therefore Judaism and Christianity are united with Native American religions, with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and all the other major religions of the world in declaring that the nation's forests should be protected, especially those which belong to all the people as do our national forests. In economic terms this means the non-economic values of the forest soar above the dollar values of the forests.

6. Christian leaders urge forest protection

Pope John Paul II tells us that we are developing a culture of death in the way we promote consumerism and destroy the earth. The Rev. Billy Graham says Christians should take the lead in environmental protection. Patriarch Bartholomew II of the Eastern Orthodox Church says it is a sin to clearcut the forests. A 1999 United Methodist resolution in California calls on the faithful to end commer-cial logging on the national forests. The Episcopalian Church also calls on all citizens nationally to protect the forests. A Christian Environmental Council (evangelical) resolution asks Christians to work to stop clearcutting of all ancient forests and to "encourage, support, and advocate the end of all commercial logging on U.S. National Forests, as carried out under the U.S. Forest Service's timber commodity program" The United Church of Christ in Wisconsin advocates forest protection. The National Council of Churches in a May, 1999 resolution declares on behalf of 104 Christian denominations that we ought to phase out commercial logging on national forest lands. Many other churches currently have discussions on this issue and other groups will be issuing statements in the next year.

The Mexican Catholic Bishops have issued a Pastoral Letter on forest protection which relates to our perspective. They write: "As servants of the Church we are deeply concerned and angered at the way the forests of the Sierra Madre have been destroyed throughout the Twentieth Century, and especially following the ratification of NAFTA. This exploitation has brought virtually no benefits for the majority of mestizo and indigenous inhabitants.... "The protection of forest resources requires urgent measures. It is vital to reconsider and revise forestry management plans, visualize their environmental impacts, restore the areas of forest that have been lost, and seek out advice in an ethical way. In this fragile ecosystem, we must understand the value of the forest. It is not mere food for industry that chops it down and gobbles it up; it is the giver of life for its legitimate owners and inhabitants... and extensive neighboring territories. ... "32. We believe that the God of life has given us this world to be shared by all peoples, all world-views, and all cultures. Nobody owns nature, and nobody has more rights than anybody else to her fruits. We believe that God acknowledges all the efforts a person makes to preserve the life of our Mother Earth. We believe that we will come to understand everything we have done or have failed to do to care for this world of his. "33. All of this makes it our obligation to express these reflections publicly, to denounce the ecological devastation we are witnessing, and to demand honesty, justice and the life we all deserve, from the word of God, and from the people of God."

Against all of these supporters of forest conservation there is not one voice of religion for cutting the forests. Could we ask for a stronger endorsement for forest conservation than this?

7. Jewish leaders urge forest protection

The Central Conference of American Rabbis in a March, 2000 Declaration issued a landmark statement calling for forest conservation. They tell us that over the last 300 years, the majestic ancient forests that once covered our continent have been reduced to a small remnant. "The United States has already lost a stunning 96% of its old growth forests. Worldwide, 80% of old growth forests have been destroyed, and every year another 16 million hectares fall to the ax, torch, bulldozer, or chain saw." "As a result, thousands of creatures are at risk of extinction. Worldwide, 25% of mammals, 20% of reptiles, 25% of amphibians, and 34% of fish are in danger of extinction. Destruction of forests is a leading cause. Water around the world is polluted with the soil that washes off bare mountains. The biological inheritance of human-kind is being forever diminished, reducing potential sources of medicines, foods, and fibers. The remaining wild forests are refuges for thousands of threatened creatures and plants, and are vital to the protection of clean water sources for tens of millions of North Americans. Wild forests also serve as refuges for the human spirit, places where we can witness the Creator's majesty, reflect upon the mystery of life, and hear the small, still voice within. Tragically, few alive today have ever stood in an ancient forest. Judaism teaches that we have a sacred obligation to the Creator, to Creation, and to future generations to safeguard and protect Earth's ecosystems. Before the Flood, Noah and his family protected at least two of every animal species, enabling all creatures to make safe passage from one era of human history to the next. After the Flood, God said to Noah: "Behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the birds, of the cattle, and of every wild animal of the earth with you" (Genesis 9:9). Our heritage calls on us to serve as protectors and defenders of God's magnificent creations, ensuring safe passage of all creatures from one era to the next by protecting their habitats. It is our duty-as people of faith, and citizens of our nation, our world, and our biosphere-to safeguard and weave together the patchwork of remnant forests as best we can. Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis calls upon all Reform house-holds, schools, synagogues, and camps to:

  • recycle waste paper and buy only those paper products that are made with a high percentage of post-consumer content recycled paper;
  • use only wood certified as sustainably harvested by the Certified Forest Products Council for all construction purposes;
  • divest from corporations whose activities contribute to the destruction of forests in the U.S. and abroad; and,
  • dedicate one Shabbat or holiday (such as Tu B'Shevat or Sukkot) to learning about environmental issues and Jewish environmental ethics.

"Furthermore, the CCAR calls upon the federal government to:

  • move forward with President Clinton's initiative to protect roadless areas in National Forests in a manner that protects all roadless areas over 1,000 acres, including those in Alaska, from all logging, mining, and other commercial use;
  • manage all public lands in a such manner that preserves and restores biological diversity; and,
  • end all subsidies for logging and mining on public lands and immediately suspend all such activities in all old-growth forests and other threatened habitats on public lands."

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, CA Judaism demands respect for the environment. Such eco-reverence is best characterized by the Levitical author's comment: "The land is Mine, you are My tenants" (Lev. 25:23). As such, we have a responsibility to protect rather than exploit the earth's riches. The words "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth, master it; and rule... the earth" (Gen. 1:28) sting when they are misinterpreted to justify plundering the environment without regard for the consequences. Judaism's opposition to the wanton destruction of the environment holds that creation is an on-going process in which God and humans are co-partners in safe-guarding the earth's riches. That is why rabbinic tradition depicts God warning Adam: "See My world, how beautiful it is. Do not corrupt or destroy it, for if you do, there will be no one to set it right after you." Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA

In Jewish tradition, one of the metaphors for God is the Tree of Life. We celebrate a midwinter festival that is the "new year for trees," when their life-juices stir once more and they begin to renew themselves from wintry near-death. That festival is also understood as the "New Year of The Tree" the time when God's abundance reawakens in the world. Since the forests are a direct expression of God's bounty, we must stir ourselves to save these forests now when they are dying in what could become a universal winter.

8. Public forests are for the use of all the people, including future generations

The Book of Exodus says that God's mercy extends for a thousand generations (Exodus 20:5-6). Because we are created in the image of God and given responsibility to act toward creation as He commands, we must take a lesson and also plan for future generations. Therefore, it is unjust to deprive future generations of the experience and benefits of healthy forest ecosystems for current short-sighted exploitive practices. Legislators who take what belongs to all the people and give it to industry because its agents make campaign contributions are guilty of stealing the people's wealth and the inheritance of future generations. We may need wood products, but there is more than enough on private lands owned by the timber companies to sustain the needs of consumption. Public lands by right should be preserved for all the people and not be blithly handed over to industrial despoliation. As the wealthiest nation in the world, we have an obligation to set an example of restraint for others to see and imitate.

9. Love of money drives the push to cut the forests

"The love of money is the root of all evil," writes the Apostle Paul.Imagine the insult if someone asked you the value of your mother as hamburger. It is obvious that human worth soars beyond what a strictly utilitarian perspective can provide. Yet this utilitarian perspective is precisely what is driving forest destruction. The commodification of the features of creation is precisely what we are facing when we consider forests as merely timber. From the standpoint of religion an exclusively utilitarian vision of creation is a sin. It is a sin because it demeans life and trades what is vitalized by God for money. A religious view sees intrinsic value in all things. We may always use the things of creation, but we are called to do so with reverence and respect, because all of our interactions are in the presence of divinity. Therefore, like Jacob, we must awake and realize what we did not before appreciate, "This is holy ground and I knew it not" (Genesis 28:16-17).

10. There is a natural integrity to creation

God, in his wisdom, fashioned the earth as a series of inter-related systems. These biological, geological and climatoligical systems allow life to flourish. They are part of what might be termed "the natural services" of creation to creation. In economic terms, they be characterized as "natural capital." Conventional economic suppositions have never placed "natural capital" on the balance sheet.

They disregard the natural services of creation because quality cannot be quantified. These services of our natural capital include the metabolizing of carbon dioxide into oxygen and the retaining of carbon in the photosynthetic building-block process of forest growth; it includes cleaning the air, filtering water, providing habitat for fish and animal species, regulating climate and stabilizing hillsides. These natural systems provide trillions of dollars in services that have no man-made substitutes (as Biosphere II's failure shows). The fruit of these natural systems are often understood in terms of renewable resources such as wood, but their greatest value lies in the services which they provide. They are not merely timber or pulpwood, but forest cover and forest systems.

Living systems feed us, protect us, heal us, clean the nest and let us breathe. They are the many non-monetary services, or non-capital income, which we derive from a healthy enviornment. Current forest practices shred these systems, even though all life, including human life, depends on the benefits these systems provide for survival. This shredding happens because current government policy on public lands favor private greed over public good.

This is wrong. Public forests belong to everyone, and so must be managed for the common good. f we had valued the non-economic values to creation, we would not be facing the serious issues of global climate change or planetary warming. If we had respect for the natural world, we would not be dealing with toxics in the food chain, ozone holes in the stratosphere, depletion of the ocean's fisheries, or the epidemic of extinctions we now face. The integrity of creation, as the life support system for human life, must be respected and valued above petty economic gain. 11. The forests anchor creation

Forests are more than trees. Forests are complex biological systems that provide far more to human society than mere timber for building or pulp for paper. Trees are also the biblical emblem of creation. Former U.S. Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas says "Not only are forest ecosystems more complex than we think; they are more complex than we can think."

This remarkable perception shows that a complexity exists in the composition of forests that is always greater than conventional understanding. In the 1940s government tried fire suppression only to learn that we caused more harm than help. In the 1980s government proposed cutting for what was called "forest health." Both of these determinations were driven by logging interests, which are driven by a motive for private gain (at public expense). It is time that policy be driven by sound science, by forest ethics, by common sense morality, and by a concern for the common good. "Forests for all the people" might be our slogan.

12. Conclusion: Cutting the national forests is wrong

The broad assessment from the many faces of organized religion on the forests is that commercial logging of the public's forests is wrong. It is a sin. When we talk to legislators, this means that industrial logging of the public forests is simply wrong. It is morally wrong because it reduces forests to commodities; it is socially wrong because it degrades the rural communities where industry extracts and degrades the forest; it is ecologically wrong because it destroys the integrity of the forest system which has implications to all other life on the planet.

The further implications are that we need to reach out and help our brothers and sisters who perpetuate this wrong and help them understand why forests have to be preserved. This is the larger task before us.

Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation
409 Mendocino Avenue, Suite A, Santa Rosa, CA 95401 (707) 573-3162

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