THE FIGHT between those who would save and those who would cut California's coastal redwoods has been going on for more than a century. So the arrival in Washington last week of a caravan of trucks carrying loggers and a huge peanut-shaped redwood log was, in one sense, just one more skirmish in a drawn-out conflict. But it was also a rather special event. That is because the bitterness in this year's battle over a proposed expansion of Redwood National Park is symptomatic of a wider war that is developing over how all the nation's forests will be used.
The issue on which lines are being drawn more sharply than ever is: How much is enough? In connection with the redwoods, that means how many acres of trees should be preserved inside national and state parks? In connection with the rest of the forests, it means what proportion should be maintained as wilderness areas?
The answer to these questions are not easy. On one side, jobs - thousands of them - and the economic viability of dozens of communities are involved. On the other, there are considerations ranging from the aesthetic (trees are too beautiful to be cut) to the generational (trees and wilderness must be saved over for our children's children). The current dispute over the redwoods in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, Calif., puts the arguments into specific, not theoretical, terms.
Most of the citizens of those two Northern California counties see the proposed expansion of Redwood National Park as a federal land grab that will eliminate 2,000 jobs and strangle their towns. They argue that enough redwoods have already been preserved. Those who favor the expansion of the park contend, just as vehemently, that some of the protected redwoods are being threatened by logging pratices on areas surrounding the park and that you can never save too many of these beautiful old trees.
Where you come out after listening to these and other arguments depends, we suspect, on how you feel about redwood trees. To some people, they are among nature's greatest creations; to cut one is to diminish the world. To others, they are the stuff of homes and garden furniture - put on earth to be consumed, profitably. Not to cut them, this argument goes, would be to waste a remarkable resource that can replenish itself. We look upon the redwood trees both ways. As said a few weeks ago, they are part of this nation's heritage and we favor daving as many as possible.But they are also building material to be used - prudently.
The cost of saving these trees is enormous, both in the price of the land and in the lost jobs. The first cost can be paid for with money; the second requires more than that. Congress must be prepared to meet both if it approves an expansion of the park, which we think it should. But we do not think that the expansion should be anywhere near as large as the 74,000 acres proposed in one bill. There is a practical limit to the amount of money that can be devoted to preserving any kind of natural area, especially when there are other areas elsewhere in the West where the same sort of hard choices are going to have to be made.