Forest Wars, Part 2

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Forest Wars, Part 2


Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

GARY BROWNSON steadied himself in the soft soil and stared downhill as his faller's saw screamed through a Douglas fir older than the nation itself.

In mere minutes the tree swayed, tipped and came crashing to earth in a splash of shattered limbs and dust.

"It's a tree. It will grow back," the Myrtle Creek logging contractor said.

The big fir and scores like it were pulled down the hillside, loaded - some trucks held just three mammoth logs - and hauled to the D.R. Johnson Lumber Co. sawmill in Riddle, south of Roseburg.

It's rare anymore to see mills offered such large trees on public lands, said Brownson, who started his logging outfit with his father and brother in 1975. "But wherever there's old growth, they take it," he said.

And wherever there's old growth, there's controversy.

Just up the ridge, Erin Mannix, a 20-year-old environmental activist, clung to a wooden platform suspended halfway up another tree marked to be cut in the Berry Patch timber sale in the Willamette National Forest east of Lowell.

"It's a really valuable experience to see all this life being decimated," said Mannix, an upbeat student who chose the name "Basil" for her 2 1/2 -week summer protest. "There are a lot of people who see money as more important than life."

Big trees are still coming down across the Northwest. Activists are still going up into the treetops. Lawsuits are still flying left and right. New reports of tree-spiking aimed at stopping the chain saws recall a more combative time in the woods, but by all accounts the forest wars are far from over.

Old growth still an issue

Nearly a decade after the Clinton administration tried to reconcile timber industry and conservation group desires with a plan to protect the old-growth habitat of the northern spotted owl, the legal brawls and demonstrations haven't vanished. Indeed, a fresh round of sparring has begun.

President Bush's proposed forest management reforms, applauded by the timber industry and rural community leaders, have stirred environmentalists to redouble their efforts to protect mature and old-growth trees and halt logging they believe harms the environment.

"I think there's broad recognition, more so now than any other time in the debate, that old-growth forests are a resource that's too precious to be squandered," said James Johnston, executive director of the Cascadia Wildlands Project, a Eugene-based group that champions protection of native Northwest forests.

The organization, which monitors timber sales on the Eugene-based Willamette forest, has teamed up with a dozen other conservation groups in a new campaign calling for an end to logging old forests on public lands.

This past summer's Berry Patch sale, planned and sold in the mid-1990s, was a virtual clear-cut of trees ranging up to 500 years old. Although old growth is prized for its clear, straight grain and the sheer quantity of wood it provides, many of the trees had begun to decay, lowering their commercial value.

Forest officials said the sale was a holdover from the past and not representative of the kind of projects they emphasize now.

"Because we have been unable to accomplish certain types of projects on the ground, we did make a deliberate shift about a year and a half ago," said Rob Iwamoto, deputy supervisor for the Willamette. "Our focus has been more in terms of commercial thinning, in trying to work with managed stands. We're focusing on less-controversial timber sales."

The Willamette also has much less land open to logging as a result of the Northwest Forest Plan. Once among the top timber producers in the region, the forest saw half the land available for commercial harvests withdrawn under the plan.

In 1990, 46 percent of the 1. …

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