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Day 17

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“Thinning” Forests and Thickening Streams

Forest Defense Blues

by STEPHEN QUIRKE and ALEXANDER REID ROSS

The Forest Service won a lawsuit this week giving them the chance to sell off the Jazz timber sale—2,000 acres of temperate rainforest and pristine salmon habitat in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The suit was filed by Portland-based grassroots biodiversity group Bark, which argued that the Collowash Watershed, the most geologically unstable region in the National Forest, is too vulnerable for “thinning.”

The Collowash is filled with mostly late-successional conifers like hemlocks, douglas firs, and cedars, and contains the last remaining late run of wild coho salmon in the country. The Jazz timber sale was mapped out in 2011, scattering 30 square miles with around 100 units of “selective thins.” By December last year, the FS had checked a mere four units. Deciding that no “quantitative and substantive” evidence existed to compel further surveys, they proceeded with a sale featuring miles of reconstructed logging roads cutting through second growth forest. After scouting and recording ground-level data for the entire area, and logging 600 hours of volunteer hours doing so, Bark isolated several illegal activities and got the sale canceled.

This week’s ruling is a huge reversal—the project was first cancelled over a year ago, shortly after Bark filed an appeal in December of 2012. But as momentum was building against Jazz, the Forest Service announced it would log virtually the entire north slope of Mt. Hood, including what the Horseshoe of the Zig-zag ranger district—arguably the most well-loved place in the National Forest.

The newly incoming forest supervisor, Lisa Northrup, promptly put the Jazz timber sale back on the map. Once the Jazz was up for cutting again, a Resolution Hearing was called. In front of a packed audience, Northrup began the meeting with a harsh tone, declaring (to paraphrase), ”Before we start, you should know that we’ve read your appeal, and we’re going forward with the timber sale anyway. We disagree with your appeal, but if you want to address any of the points that you made, you’re welcome to do so. It won’t change our minds, but we will try to answer any questions you have… This is not a negotiation.”

She was right about one thing: climate change is non-negotiable. Mt. Hood is one of the top ten most important carbon banks in the country. It is also the source of fresh water for over a million people, and provides the habitat for endangered species that live in old growth forests. Logging in the Jazz sale means logging in an earth flow—a geologically unstable area that is already prone to landslides and erosion, even with a healthy forest helping to root the soil. Given that the secular trend of climate change is less temperate weather and more extremes—droughts, heavy rains, and floods—we are already guaranteed more landslides and erosion from past logging, even if we stop all harm now.

Muddy Waters

The public is becoming keenly aware of the failure of public forestry, as evidenced by the reaction to the massive mudslide in Snohomish County, Washington, where a slope holding the equivalent of three million dump trucks of earth recently collapsed, killing at least 39 people. According to the Seattle Times, logging above the slide area had gone beyond legal parameters after the state’s belated attempts to regulate logging following years of timber industry resistance. “Everything had to be argued to the nth degree if it involved leaving a stick of timber,” said geologist Paul Kennard, who worked on the slope’s 1997 watershed analysis. In effect, public lands management is “thinning” the forest and thickening the streams.

With the damages of climate change already coming home—summer dead zones on the Oregon coast, ocean acidification hurting local fisheries, shifting fire regimes, and increasingly rapid melt on Mt. Hood’s Sandy glacier—it is high time we start valuing Mt. Hood forests as a carbon sink, as a force that stabilizes our atmosphere as well as our slopes. a connection we break at our own peril. This means, at a minimum, that the Forest Service must immediately prohibit logging on steep slopes and earthflows, a policy Jazz has come to symbolize.

As Bark went forward with a lawsuit in December against the Forest Service to stop the cutting of the Jazz, the Forest Service granted a secret logging waiver to the Canadian timber giant Interfor. The news was shocking considering it was early Winter, well past logging season. Bark assembled a crew overnight to get eyes in the forest, and by 9am, a sizable area had already been logged. The ground was moist and muddy—the worst possible conditions for logging. Though a temporary injunction was granted that afternoon, the message was clear—for the Forest Service, the gloves were off. The Forest Service was playing dirty, and definitely breaking the rules.

A brazen campaign of stonewalling commenced from that point until today. The Forest Service planning process under Northrup has environmental groups completely closed out, with FOIAed e-mails revealing that, since being forced to halt logging on wet soils, the Forest Service now sees Bark as an antagonist not to be collaborated with. Since Bark concentrates on monitoring timber sales in accordance with the strictures of the National Environmental Protection Act and Northwest Forest Plan, its position as citizen watchdog group is a threat to the Forest Service only as long as that agency desires to log as much as possible with minimum legal or citizen oversight. The Forest Service, which calls the National Forest “plantation land” on a 40-year cycle, recognizes neither the emergency of retaining valuable bioregions, nor the integrity of a unique bioregion.

The Coin of the Predators

We see a pattern developing in forests across the region. In Eastern Oregon, activists are fighting an unprecedented 18,000-acre timber sale. In Northern California, complaints have percolated up about the Forest Service shutting the curtains and leaving ecologists in the lurch. Even politicians in bed with the timber industry have totally abandoned any attempts to appear logical or abide by juridicial norms.

As part of last year’s Farm Bill, Congress passed a new set of Categorical Exclusions to the National Environmental Policy Act, making it much easier for the Forest Service to push timber out of critical watersheds, even if that means sediment flowing in. On top of the Exclusion, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Rep Bill DeFazio launched a clear cutting bill against O&C lands last year that was so obscene that even the Bureau of Land Management denounced it in testimony to the House. To stop the devastation of a large tract of old growth in Southern Oregon, Cascadia Forest Defenders set up a tree sit that is still occupied today. In the west, the Elliott State Forest—the largest stretch of contiguous coastal old growth in the lower 48—is again being threatened by clear cuts with a new proposal from the state to sell the entire Elliott State Forest.

There is a line being drawn in the context of land management by the Forest Service and BLM. While the Radical Right is allowed to scare the Federal Government out of enforcing public lands regulations through armed vigilantism, those who stand in the way of illegal deforestation are denigrated as “eco-terrorists.” As the FBI and DHS levy counterinsurgency tactics against nonviolent groups like Earth First!, they compromise with paramilitaries. That the government is more equipped to negotiate with armed militias in the service of millionaires than with lawyers and field surveyors representing tens of thousands of peaceful citizens shows their calculated tolerance for the destruction of public land. Hence, the wealth of the commons is transferred to corporate earnings reports. As companies post millions, if not billions, of dollars in profits, the timber sale program hemorrhages millions of dollars nationally, and we lose our forests.

It is time to dig in. Last month, a wolf-track was found in Mt. Hood—the first confirmed wolf there since 1947. This wolf’s return, and the promise of biodiversity that it symbolizes, is threatened not only by the Jazz timber sale, but the proposed 6,000 acres of logging on the north slope of the mountain. The loss of the Jazz lawsuit is disheartening, but it is not the end. The howl of the wolf will not be silenced.

Stephen Quirke works with Bark and Portland Rising Tide.

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). This article is also being published at earthfirstjournal.org/newswire.