Tag: forest

Chopping Down Trees Creates Legal Liability

Washington (GGM) Analysis | June 19, 2021 by Attorney Michael Wells, PodcastLegal Fact and Fiction

Trees provide everything from oxygen to habitats for animals, yet they are chopped down with impunity. The damage to the environment is incalculable. To put it into perspective, however, half the number of trees exist now than those in existence when humans first evolved; fifteen billion trees are cut down annually; and ten percent of climate change is attributable to chopping down trees. Environmental carnage aside, legal liability and criminal liability exist for cutting down trees that do not belong to the harvester.

The legal terms most closely associated with cutting down and removing trees that do not belong to the harvester are “timber trespass” (mistakenly harvesting trees from another’s property) and “timber theft” (stealing trees from someone’s property). Timber trespass deals more with the civil end whereas timber theft can involve civil and criminal penalties. It varies from state to state. Nevertheless, lawsuits are filed for large sums of money over taking timber that does not belong to the harvester. 

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In South Carolina, as of 2016 one-hundred cases per year are investigated and pursued with a value of between $500,000 and $600,000. A man in North Carolina illegally cut timber near Asheville, the value of the trees owned by a conservancy assessed at $1,000, but the mill rights to the timber of $25,000-$30,000. 

Illegal tree harvesting tends to be less of a problem in North Carolina, which has a larger population, than it is in Maine, which has a smaller population and vast swaths of uninhabited forests. Maine has over one-thousand complaints of timber theft each year.

The damage to the environment cannot be separated from the legal issues that arise from stealing trees, which are property, but they are far more than that to every living thing. In the most basic sense, illegal harvest of trees contributes to the problem of deforestation:

Over half the world’s land-based plants and animals live in forests, and three quarters of the world’s birds live in and around forests. It does not take a science PhD or intricate knowledge of environmental science or ecology to understand that the more trees that are cut, the more environmental problems that will follow.  

And it is a problem all over the world from the rainforests in South America to the United States to even Ireland:

All of it is interconnected, and every time a tree is cut down (regardless if it is replaced), the owner of the tree is impacted as is the rest of the planet. While planting new trees can certainly mitigate the problem, it cannot recapture what is lost every time a tree is cut down. Sadly, the only way to stop harvesting of trees may be filing lawsuits because people and corporations tend to respond the most when their money is on the line. 

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Biomass Industry Poses a Greater Threat Than the Coal Industry

Washington (GGM) Analysis | April 23, 2021 by Attorney Michael Wells, PodcastLegal Fact and Fiction

Biomass sounds like a living blob slithering its way towards New York City in a bad sci-fi movie. The reality may be worse. Proponents of the biomass industry will call this fearmongering and argue biomasses are carbon neutral and “green.” But the biomass industry involves chopping down vast swaths of trees, turning them into pellets, and shipping them to Europe where they are burned for energy. In other words, it is deforestation on a massive scale, and anyone who knows anything about climate change knows deforestation is one of the major causes of climate change. So how can a practice which is so harmful to the planet — more harmful than the coal industry which releases less carbon than burning trees — be at the same time beneficial? It cannot be whatever anyone claims to the contrary. 

Heart of the Matter 

If the U.S. Congress and other international lawmakers are to be believed, then it is through a metamodernist suspension of disbelief because the notion that deforestation and burning a source of energy more pollutive than coal is somehow “green”  is an absurd notion. 

The biomass industry is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it hails mainly from the American South where twenty-three wood mills devoted to biomass exist. Trees are grown, ground up, turned into wood pellets, and shipped to Europe to be burned for fuel under the auspices that this power is as clean as solar and wind power, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. While proponents of the biomass industry claim they plant trees to replace the felled trees, those trees cannot make up for the mature trees lost, trees that have absorbed carbon dioxide for decades. This is especially true considering the Paris Climate Accord cites deforestation as a major driver of climate change and a barrier to the ambitious emissions targets for 2050. 

Proponents of the biomass industry also ignore the desolate landscapes it leaves and tons of “waste wood” (wood that is left behind and cannot be used). While they claim to replant trees, this is often not done, and the saplings are not nearly as useful as trees that are decades old. 

How This Impacts You Personally

Whether the issue is nuclear waste, toxic water from chemical leaks, or  toxic algae from phosphate deposits, the way this impacts you personally is it is bad for the environment. And that is bad for you. In this instance, trees reduce carbon dioxide, which makes the air more breathable, the planet less hot, and the world cleaner. All of these things benefit everyone regardless of what people believe.

What You Can Do

It is important to learn as much as possible about this topic as it is not going anywhere. A multibillion dollar industry based in the United States, which supplies energy for Europe will not go away gently. Climate activist Greta Thunberg certainly sees the problem:

Think about what paper products you use and how to reduce that consumption. Recycling is not the answer as very little of what is recycled is reused. It is more important to not use paper or fuel sources that are derived from burning trees. 

Next Steps

  • Reduce your consumption for paper and paper products;
  • Stop using plastic bottles and other plastics; 
  • Do not burn wood; 
  • Learn about and try to use solar and wind power;
  • Find out what companies use wood as a source of energy and do not use them;
  • Contact your local, state, and federal representatives and tell them you oppose the biomass industry.

Energy is important for so many reasons, but there are better sources than the biomass industry. We need more —not less — trees in the world, and everything must be done to make sure the reckless and dangerous biomass industry does not continue. 

Adding composting worms to our home composting bins and/or directly to the soil in our yards will dramatically improve the amount of carbon we can store in the soil. Climate solutions are much easier than we realize. Act today! CLICK here.

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