A LETTER TO THE PEOPLE WHO HOLD THE FATE OF A FOREST IN THEIR HANDS
to Dan Goody and Doug Decker, ODF Foresters, Clatsop County
[November 2, 2015]
I have been following with deep concern the proposed logging of the “Homesteader Tract” in the Buster Creek Basin of Clatsop County. I would like to believe that Oregon Department of Forestry has some sense of the value of these older forests whose fate they hold in their hands. Can you for a moment consider the “value” of the forest as a living ecosystem, not just “timber value”?
I live in a twenty acre fragment of such a forest (logged about 100 years ago) along West Coal Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Nehalem. Over the last thirty years, I have documented the plant and animal life of this forest as well as the logging that has occurred around me and its impact on the streams of this watershed.
This forest is habitat for 84 native plants, many of them medicinal, 6 salamander species including the rare current salamander, several species of frogs, birds beyond count including owl, eagle, raven, hawk, water oozle (why do we consider only those we have almost exterminated?); cedar, fir, hemlock, alder, spruce, cascara, and vine maple. The salmon still come up West Coal Creek, fewer each year. There used to be crawdads and schools of cut throat trout as well, but they have almost disappeared. I have not mentioned the many different species of moss, lichen, and fungi. I am sure if you did a “census of the living” in the Homesteader Tract, you would come up with a similar count. But all of this is not important—only the monetary value of the proposed cut?
As the first heavy rains of the season bring West Coal creek to almost overnight flooding, I am reminded once again of the role the forest ecosystem plays—like a giant sponge—soaking up water, slowing it down. Since I have lived here, there has been logging all around me. The water rises and moves very fast these days. Overnight it is a roaring, muddy brown, carrying rocks, trees, forest debris—and silt. Whole new sandbars of silt line the creek and its tributaries.
About 8 years ago, ODF logged the area behind me. At the time, the foresters talked about “Structure Based Management” and their concern for the preservation of older forests. The thinning they proposed seemed the best we could get for this fragile ecosystem, certainly better than clearcut. I followed their plans closely and was in close communication with ODF foresters. What they did not tell me was that once they sold the contract to a logging company, the loggers determined how to manage the cut. Without any notification at all, a 50 foot wide road for their equipment was built on a ridge 200 feet above my house. The first year, a pocket of 12 trees fell below the road; the second year another larger patch of trees including an old growth cedar; and the third year, during the 2007 storm, I was isolated for 36 hours watching trees, sometimes clumps of two or three at a time, falling down the slope toward me. No, they did not stop at the boundary line, but continued into “my forest.”
I recently heard a tidy explanation of the Oregon State Forest Practices Act, in which the speaker assured us that we could reasonably control our own back yard but not beyond that. The earth, it seems, has not been versed in this logic. It moves. It is a continuous, interwoven system. Our actions have immediate consequences. Meanwhile, the Nehalem River is being dredged because of heavy silt build up and research is being funded to study the cause of siltation!
I know that many people have spoken out for this forest you call the “Homesteader Tract,” including Trygve Steen, who teaches Forest Ecology at PSU and Chris Smith of North Coast State Forest Coalition. To many of us, it is as close to “old growth” as we can get, since there is almost no old growth left. But I want to say that there is so much more of value here than the trees. For Oregon Department of Forestry to log this forest is a failure of responsibility to the people of the Nehalem River Valley, and a shocking blindness to what we treasure.
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 11:13:40 AM
Subject: Your Note on the Homesteader Sale
Hello Ms. Endicott-
Thank you very much for your recent letter regarding the Homesteader timber sale on our State Forests Astoria district. Your letter was thoughtful and I appreciate the time you put into articulating your concerns over the sale. It is clear to me that you have a keen interest and understanding of forest ecosystems and that was reflected in your letter.
I think you are aware that we manage State Forests for multiple benefits. Our mandate is to achieve “greatest permanent value” by providing economic, environmental, and social benefits over time and across the landscape. Balancing these benefits is always a challenge and doing so in the context of a dynamic complex forest is no exception.
I appreciate that you have been following our forest management plan and how we implement it. Given your understanding of our plan, you realize that on the Astoria district, we have designated 30% of the forest to achieve older and layered forest conditions. In the case of the Homesteader Sale- this area has been designated for a young age class. We also have strategies to maintain wildlife habitat for species that rely on clumps of older trees within otherwise open or young seral stage forests. As such we retained some of the older trees in the Homesteader sale to provide this wildlife function. In addition we have several other environmental protection strategies such as substantial buffers along streams, protecting steep slopes, high standards for road maintenance, and fish passage. We have established high value conservation areas throughout our state forests. Finally, we also provide social benefits with our recreation, education, and interpretation programs and facilities. We have complex and detailed contracts with the timber purchasers that dictate our harvest designs and standards. We closely monitor the harvest and road construction activity throughout process to assure compliance with the contract.
I read and understand the passion you have for forests and the decisions we make around how to manage them. We base our management decisions on the best available science and at the end of the day, the management approach is a value-based policy decision made by our Board of Forestry. There is a broad spectrum of perspectives on those policies and how they should be achieved. We have a strong commitment to manage for conservation while balancing economic benefits.
I hope this has helped to give context for our decisions and our approach to provide economic, environmental, and social benefits. I am sensitive to your concerns and would be happy to talk with you at any time. We hope you will remain an active participant in the process, as your insights are valuable to our overall management process.
Please feel free to give me a call.
Dear Ms. Dent:
I appreciate the time and care you took in answering my letter about the fate of the Homesteader Tract of forest. I do understand the many interests and purposes that ODF strives to fulfill in managing our state forest—which are our treasure not only for immediate revenue but for the future as well.
There is, however, no way you can explain what ODF plans to do in the Homesteader sale that will make their actions sound reasonable or wise. I had to read your letter a few times before I understood that when you say the Homesteader tract has been “designated for a young age class,” you are not referring to the forest that exists now. You are not even acknowledging the forest that exists now—a forest over a hundred years old, a seedbed of plant and animal species. What ODF plans to do is remove that forest, one that has already achieved “older and layered forest conditions,” and plant new trees. Easier to manage? Easier to log? Easier to mill?
If ODF can justify logging an older forest like this by citing percentages, allocations, and classifications, then perhaps too much time has been spent looking at the map. Perhaps, it is time to actually take a look at the territory–at what is being sacrificed. I have to admit I am feeling both disillusioned and greatly discouraged. Fifteen years ago, I had the sense that ODF actually did value older forests as a state treasure, not just income. I believed that their strategies were designed to cultivate the growth of the older forests as well as to cultivate and harvest new ones. Where has that awareness gone?
I also had the sense that ODF was trying to stay tuned to what the inhabitants of a region desired—at one point, I had enough faith to participate in your “listening posts.” I do not see that receptivity in the way this sale is being handled. I know that close to 2,000 people who live in this region have expressed concern for the Homesteader Forest. I know that respected forest ecologists have spoken out about the specialness of the intricate ecosystem it fosters.
I do not know how to change what you plan to do. But I will continue to put out in any way I can that this is the intention of Oregon Department of Forestry, the “guardian” of our forests. And I will imagine the elder spirits of the Clatsop, the Nehalem, and the Tillamook, people who lived with this land, watching and listening—and asking “Is this what you do for our children’s children’s children? What will our land look like seven generations from now?”