FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Clearcuts Kill

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Note: In the wake of the killer landslides, on steep, heavily logged over terrain, along the Stillaguamish River in western Washington, we are reprinting a story on logging and landslides that Alex and I reported in the print edition of CounterPunch in 1996.  I vividly remember writing it on the phone with him as the waters of the Mattole crested over Conklin Creek Road, approaching Alex’s porch and he was desperately trying get all of the animals to high ground and move all of his books, including the Brittanica (1911 ed.) and OED from the bottom two shelves, before the floodwaters breached the house…..It was grim and a little scary, but also very funny. I think Alex was also trying to juggle three different deadlines that day. Just another thrilling day in a remarkable life…–JSC

When the first big winter rains hit Humboldt County in 1996, the Mattole River, which runs past Cockburn’s door, rose like a rocket. Within a couple of days, his house was cut off. To the west, the river was two feet over the road; 200 yards to the east, a landslide poured 30-feet of dirt over the road.

It’s the landslide that concerns us here. The steep slope above the road was logged in 1993. Many of us had protested that taking the trees would cause slides.

The California Department of Forestry said there was nothing it could do because the owner, a man from Oregon, had invoked emergency salvage regulations after the 1992 Petrolia earthquake. The only recourse would be to sue the owner after he had logged. The logging went ahead. The owner picked up his money, sold the property and returned to Oregon. The hillside has been sliding ever since. Last week, most of the hill-face came down. The bill for the county will probably add up to several hundred thousand dollars.

There’s a wider moral here, about private gain and public commons, about the essence of corporatism: Privatize the profits and socialize the losses. In 1912, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the Forest Service, engaged in a ritual while lobbying Congress to extend his agency’s domain. He’d pour water down a plane of glass held at a 45-degree angle. The water would sluice right off. “That’s rain running off a clear-cut,” Pinchot said. Then he’d hold a sponge against the glass and pour. He was making a simple point. Prudent forest management was as much about flood control and landslide control as about trees.

In Oregon on Nov. 18, 1996, a landslide in the coast range crashed down onto the home of Rick and Susan Moon, killing them and two friends who were visiting. The Moons’ two children managed to get clear before the house was crushed.

A couple of days later, Delsa Hammer was driving west on Highway 38 toward Reedsport when a landslide swept her car off the road and into the raging Umpqua River. Hammer drowned inside her car.

In the week of those Oregon rains, landslides killed eight people. The common thread was not the intensity of the storms. In all but one case (and the circumstances of this exception are cloudy), the landslides occurred in sites that had been clear-cut. Fly down the coastal range of Oregon and you’ll see millions of acres of mountainside stripped by industrial clear-cuts.

The landslide that killed the Moons and their friends originated in a clear-cut logged by the Champion International Corp. in 1987. When Champion announced its plans to log this site, Rick Moon wrote of his concerns about the effects to the Oregon Department of Forestry and urged them to halt the clear-cut.

Moon had good reason to be worried. State foresters and geologists had visited the site Champion planned to log. They found that parts of the mountainside were near vertical and noted that it posed extremely high risks of landslides if logged. The forestry department’s assessment that the site might be subject to a “mass wasting” landslide was never passed on to the Moons or other homeowners.

The landslide that killed Hammer also began in a clear-cut that environmental officials knew might trigger a slide. In fact, the Oregon Department of Transportation had tried to keep the area from being logged. “This was one of those places we just didn’t want touched,” says Bill Otis, an engineer with the department. But the Department of Forestry had jurisdiction over the site and gave the green light. The Oregon Department of Forestry claims that it was merely excessive rain that brought about the landslide deaths of Hammer and the others.

Department documents, which we acquired through a FOIA request, analyze 150 landslides along this stretch of Highway 38 in the past 10 months alone, noting that this is one of the most heavily logged areas in western Oregon. Moreover, a 1995 department handbook says, “timber harvests in sensitive areas have also been associated with an increased incidence of mass [soil] movement. Clear-cut harvest and/or slash burning may increase [soil] failure rates by two to 40 times over rates at undisturbed sites.”

And what of Champion International? Three weeks after its clear-cut led to the deaths of the Moons and their friends, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt handed Champion CEO Dick Olson the Corporate Stewardship Award, saying: “Champion International was among the first to provide practical solutions that allow us to enjoy a healthy environment while promoting economic growth. Wherever Champion has a presence, it has shown that we can use our lands while protecting our natural heritage.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

 

 

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail