Hard Choices for the Environmental Movement…

WWF and Species Extinction

In March, 1996, the International Panel on Forests of the United Nations held its first meeting in Geneva. The media paid little attention to what appeared to be one more ponderous assemblage of delegates speaking in unintelligible UNese. As it turned out, the big story to emerge from the meeting had nothing to do with the Panel on Forests itself. In what has become a common practice, The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) chose to use the occasion of the UN meeting as a platform for its own news release.
The WWF news release, which was widely picked up by the international media, made three basic points. They claimed that species were going extinct at a faster rate now than at any time since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. They said that 50,000 species were now becoming extinct each year due to human activity. But of most significance to the subject of forests, WWF claimed that the main cause of species extinction was “commercial logging”, that is, the forest industry. They provided absolutely no evidence for this so-called fact about logging and the media asked no hard questions. The next day newspapers around the world proclaimed the forest industry to be the main destroyer of species.

Since that announcement I have asked on numerous occasions for the name of a single species that has been rendered extinct due to forestry, particularly in my home country, Canada. Not one Latin name has been provided. It is widely known that human activity has been responsible for the extinction of many species down through history. These extinctions have been caused by hunting, the conversion of forest and grassland to farming and human settlement, and the introduction of exotic diseases and predators. Today, the main cause of species extinction is deforestation, over 90% of which is caused by agriculture and urban development. Why is WWF telling the public that logging is the main cause of species extinction?

While I do not wish to guess at the WWF’s motivation, it is instructional to consider the question from a different angle. That is, if forestry does not generally cause species extinction, what other compelling reason is there to be against it? Surely the fact that logging is unsightly for a few years after the trees are cut is not sufficient reason to curtail Canada’s most important industry.

Despite the WWF’s failure to support its accusations, the myth that forestry causes widespread species extinction lives on. How can a largely urban public be convinced that this is not the case? The challenge is a daunting one for an industry that has been cast in the role of Darth Vadar when it should be recognized for growing trees and providing wood, the most renewable material used in human civilization.

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