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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The sound of chain saws in the woods awakens a kind of horror in me. I know what chain saws do to trees. I’ve wielded them enough to understand how quickly a tree can fall. I’ve seen the blood of a tree flow from a severed trunk. I’ve heard the hiss of capillary action as water gushes from a freshly cut stump.

When I heard chain saws screaming in the woods behind my house on Friday, I laced up boots and went for a look. As I walked I heard the crash of a tree. I hurried my pace, breathing hard to see what my ears already knew.

There were half a dozen sawyers slicing and dicing pinon and juniper trees. When they saw me, they turned off their saws. I asked them what they were doing. “We’re clearing for the power line,” said one. I asked if they had a permit. “Yeah, sure.”

The crew leader said the government makes them do it to protect the grid. “Well, there’s no questioning the government,” I replied, struggling to hold down the quaver in my voice. Seeing those downed trees stirred something inside that I can only describe as revulsion.

I know these trees. I’ve communed with practically every one of them on my many hikes in the Seven Castles. I have touched their bark and felt their cool shade. I have seen them flocked with snow and alive with birds. Many of these venerable beings have stood for centuries. I know how long it takes for a tree to grow here.

This makes me a NIMBY, someone who cares about trees destroyed and left for waste in my beautiful back yard. I’m a NIMBY because I believe that my back yard is the first line of defense. I believe that if everyone viewed their back yards as a place to steward the natural world we would have a healthier planet.

The crew leader wrote down the phone number for his boss at Asplundh Tree Experts. “Do you know what you’re doing?!” I demanded. The loss of healthy, living trees was overwhelming me. “These trees in no way threaten the power line. They couldn’t grow that high or burn that high in a thousand years!”

These men stood looking at me, chain saws in their hands. “So, you’re just doing a job. This is what you’re paid for – no questions asked.” I gestured at the wide swath where a forest ecosystem once stood. “Do you know what it takes to grow a tree here?” Wind sighed through the trees that still stood, trees destined to die within moments.

I told them that I had been a sawyer 35 years ago, cutting diseased elm trees in the suburbs of Chicago. That’s when I first saw blood flowing from the trunks of huge elms. “Those were diseased trees, but these are healthy and alive.” The sawyers looked at me blankly. I might have been speaking a foreign language.

I walked back down the hill. The chain saws revved. The cutting continued. I called Asplundh and left a message on a machine. I called the Forest Service and left a message on another machine. I called another number and was told that someone would get back me back on Monday. “It will be over by then,” I said.

I called Xcel Energy and was routed to Holy Cross Energy, where a man told me that the feds fine energy companies a million dollars a day if trees interfere with electrical service. “What they’re doing is called ‘clearing to excess,'” he explained. “Indeed,” I said, “clearing to excess is exactly what they’re doing.”

I told him I am a Holy Cross customer. I buy wind power to offset my carbon footprint. I plant trees and conserve land and walk lightly on the earth. And now my utility company has done this, without hearings or public process or accountability for their footprint.

The energy efficiency I have devoutly practiced suddenly came into sharp and brutal focus. The wide swath of destruction under the power line will negate any of the carbon savings I can achieve in my lifetime. And it took six men only an hour. Considering that this kind of thing is ongoing among the world’s rain forests condemns me to a crippling sense of futility. Trees for energy. Trees for furniture. Trees for newspapers. And so it goes …


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