Don’t Trust the Timber Industry

Clearcut, Oregon Coast Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I read several recent opinions by women employed in Oregon’s timber industry extolling the industry’s environmental, economic, and social contributions while justifying their forest practices. Both of these women appeared to be relative newcomers to Oregon.

As a fourth-generation Oregonian raised in Coos Bay, I see the timber industry’s contributions in a less flattering light. Receiving a forest and park management degree from U of O in 1975 and married 35 years to a widely traveled forest consultant and conservationist, my view of industrial “forestry” is based on personal experience and observation.

My dad worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Coos Bay in the 1950s and 1960s as a fish biologist. He bitterly recorded the degradation of highly productive salmon habitat from the massive clearcutting and log booming that scoured local streams and rivers. Coos Bay’s rich fisheries, mature forests and timber jobs were lost due to unchecked corporate forest exploitation.

Unsustainable forest liquidation is not “forestry.” In spite of the many claims made by industry regarding sustainable forestry, U.S. Forest Service records show that over the last 60 years Lane County — with the greatest timber reserve of any Oregon county — has lost over one-third of its standing timber volume. The much-touted Oregon Forest Practices Act does not require sustained yield. The OFPA allows huge clearcuts up to 240 acres and trees of any age to be cut. I routinely see truck loads of small poles going to the chipping mill in North Bend and to Seneca Sawmill’s biomass power plant. Replacing mature trees with seedlings has not and will not maintain saw timber volumes or timber jobs.

Hypocritically claiming that logging reduces fires and smoke, industry was responsible for most of last year’s forest fires and air fouling from burning logging slash. In spite of overwhelming science to the contrary, the timber industry further claims that increased logging will conserve more carbon and reduce climate warming.

The timber industry spends a lot of money spinning its image and making promises it can’t keep. Promised long term prosperity, many Oregon communities have, instead, been economically and environmentally bankrupted by out-of-state timber corporation’s greedy, shortsighted forest practices. It’s obvious to me that these Wall Street forest owners don’t care what kind of shape they leave my home state in!

Coos Bay is a classic example. When I was young, there were at least 20 local mills sawing lumber and peeling veneer from mature timber sustainably cut from private forests. Recently closing one of the last remaining mills in Coos Bay, Georgia-Pacific blamed the lack of logs on “environmental restrictions.” They also admitted their mill couldn’t compete with export log prices. A drive around Coos Bay confirms this export drain on the forest and community. Where there were once mills, there are now desolate mountains of chips ground from small trees and huge decks of larger logs waiting to be shipped overseas.

As an adult, I’ve seen corporations like Georgia Pacific and Weyerhaeuser continue to liquidate forests in the Siletz, Coquille, Smith, Mohawk, and McKenzie River headwaters, just like they did in the Coos and Millicoma Rivers when I was younger. Along with loss of prime salmon habitat, all of these rivers experienced historic flooding after their upstream forests were liquidated. In spite of industry’s constant rhetoric about “sustainable forestry,” they have yet to practice it in Oregon, especially on their own lands.

Eager to further exploit federal forests, industry has already logged most of our old growth. The industry and its “foresters” claim our forests are now in need of more logging to become healthier. This 19th-century myth is easily dispelled by viewing Google’s 21st century satellite photography. An intelligent view of the river headwaters I’ve mentioned displays the stark difference between federal forests and industry’s.

Given climate warming, we will increasingly depend on intact forests to provide undiminished flows of clean water. I caution my community to disregard industry’s claims that more logging will increase the quality of our forests and lives. The timber industry’s logging practices, recent and historic, have proven otherwise.

Water is life, not timber.

Patty Keene, a forester and real estate broker, has lived in Lane County, Oregon since 1973.