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The Eastern Woods

Kentucky and Tennessee are at the center of a nine state region, considered to be the best hardwood growing area in the northern hemisphere. Oak, beech, chestnut, maple, hickory, black cherry, black walnut and yellow poplar (tulip) trees make up more than eighty percent of the stand.

Like Tennessee, Kentucky still has about half her original forest area, but its productivity is low. Inceasingly, the pulp and paper sector is expanding and represents the biggest polluter among wood product industries, with its heavy use of energy, water and trees, and its contributions of toxic water pollutants such as dioxin. Paper production has increased twentyfold since 1913. In the United States alone, the spread of office printers, photocopiers and fax machines nearly doubled office paper consumption during the eighties. The regulations imposed on old growth forests and other public lands in the West have shifted pulp production from the northwest to the South, Maine and the upper Great Lakes. Throughout both Tennessee and Kentucky, logging interests exert increasing pressure to turn native and multi-species forests into monocultural stands of pine and other pulp products. Where this occurs, a wealth of biodiversity is lost. Tree farming with a single species has a detrimental effect on the health of the surrounding forest, and strong native forests do not automatically bounce back when such practices cease.

A new dark cloud on the horizon are the high-capacity chip mills which remove tree bark and grind the remaining wood into chips. The paper industry uses the chips for the production of pulp. Chips are also steam-pressed into lumber: I-beams, roof trusses, etc. A single mill may devour 600,000 tons or more of timber a year. One plant proposed for West Virginia would consume nearly 2,000,000 tons of high-quality hardwood a year. That quantity would require 25,000 acres of trees annually. If only ten such plants operate, it would be enough to remove the equivalent of over 25% of all the forested land remaining in both Tennessee and Kentucky within a decade.

To yield maximum fiber at minimum cost, mills frequently acquire trees by clearcutting, removing all the trees on a parcel whether they are mature or not. Over 80% of the forests here grow on land owned by private individuals. The owners, who are more often unaware of good forestry practices and a fair price for the timber, decides whether to clearcut and how many leafy tops to leave on the ground to feed regrowth, through breakdown into compost. Chip mills will use any size wood. A plant in Hazard, Kentucky consumes 520,000 tons of low-quality hardwoods each year using logs from immature trees as small as four inches in diameter. The substitution of non-forested cropland products such as hemp would immediately decrease pressure on forests.

Hemp Can Help Save Forests


Hemp goes way back in American history. From the early 1800's to World War I, Kentucky was the leader in hemp production in the United States, producing upwards of 10,000 tons annually to make rope products, paper, and textiles. The plant is of the same family as marijuana although some hemp species which are virtually devoid of THC can be selectively grown. The reason hemp was banned in America was Dupont's need to protect its budding synthetic fabrics industry in the mid-1930's. This was just after the Duponts had purchased Cumberland Falls and given it to the state of Kentucky. William Randolph Hearst, of newspaper fame, also owned vast tracts of timber. A series of secret meetings was held among DuPont, Hearst, and Secretary of the Treasury Mellon, of the Mellon Bank, resulting in a campaign of industrial sabotage instigated by the petrochemical pit bulls to suppress any competition from hemp. The new petroleum-based synthetics were assured a large market by new laws against marijuana.

If grass had not been made illegal, much of the world's forests might still be standing. Hemp prohibitions were temporarily removed when the Philippines fell to the Japanese in World War II. Many small farmers in Kentucky hope that the ban will again be lifted and that legal hemp will provide income to replace money lost from any scale back in tobacco crop markets in the coming years. Others aren't waiting; Kentucky has a large illegal marijuana industry.

As a seed oil, hemp is both edible and combustible. Seeds are second only to soybeans as a source of complete vegetable protein. It has been used for thousands of years as a staple food by people around the world. And as lamp oil, it has illuminated the homes of millions, from Jesus to Abraham Lincoln.

Kenaf is a variety of hibiscus - Hibiscus cannabinum - very similar to hemp: a very tough, fibrous plant which is perfectly legal. It grows like hemp as an annual. It is not psychoactive and it is an excellent fiber. It's easy to grow, it's easy to work with, it makes abundant crops, and it makes wonderful paper. Most hemp and kenaf paper is made exclusively from bast fiber - the outer part of the stem. However, the inner part of the stem, the woody pithy part called the hurd, is about 70 percent cellulose in hemp. The hurd from hemp - the discards, the poor stuff - is twice the quality of wood. Hemp bast is really strong, and very soft. It's got a feeling of quality; kenaf is chintz by comparison. Ultimately, a hemp/ kenaf blend is a better paper than pure hemp.

Utilizing Hemp and Kenaf, you can get four times as much fiber annualy as you could from growing trees on the same acreage.  It has unusual essential oils: you can make paints, nonpolluting inks, and all kinds of industrial products. Hemp could be grown as a seed crop, and after you'd taken the seed, the remainder could be used for papermaking.

Trees, especially big healthy ones, are already rare on this planet, and there is entirely too much paper in the world. Too much junk mail, too many newspapers, trashy magazine racks, too many file cabinets. Half of all landfills are composed of paper products.  If paper were more expensive, it would be more highly valued...



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