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The Destruction of the Oak Grove watershed in the Mt. Hood Nat'l Forest

photo essay report from the timber sale front-lines

I camped in the Mt. Hood National Forest in mid September, in the valley of the Oak Grove fork of the Clackamas River. I visited three timber sales and Buck Lake. Everywhere I went I was vividly reminded of the horrendous destruction wrought upon the ecosystem by the Forest Service. Where once there were thriving temperate rain forests, now there are clearcuts and monoculture plantations. Tiny islands of old growth ecosystem remain, but for the most part they are set to be on the chopping block sooner or later due to their designation as part of "the matrix", a creation of the Clinton administration's Northwest Forest Plan. Clinton's plan has been characterized as "merely paint[ing] a thin veneer of conservation on the continued destruction" of Cascadia's precious ecosystems. In reference to the Northwest Forest Plan and other decisions, noted environmentalist David Brower went so far as to say: "Clinton and Gore have done more harm to the environment in 8 years than Bush and Reagan did in 12." Writer Jeffrey St. Clair maintains that this poor record is not due to Clinton and Gore's political beliefs, but can be blamed on the mainstream environmental organizations, which rolled over and played dead during the 1992-2000 Democratic administration, because they had friends in high places they didn't want to offend. The cost of their misplaced civility is clear to see in the Oak Grove valley, which activists currently describe as "hammered". Then and now, the lesson is the same: Don't trust the liberal establishment; it is a hollow farce that lacks both political spine and moral conviction, and it will sell out any attempt at meaningful change in a heartbeat.

Here in the Cascadia, we cannot count on the possibility of a President Howard Dean to do what needs to be done to save the forests: that is, to end to all commercial logging on public lands. We must take matters into our own hands. Currently, the Oregon Natural Resource Council, Bark, and the Cascadia Forest Alliance are among the groups trying to stop the destruction. This weekend, the 25th-29th, you could go to CFA's action camp near the Solo tiber sale to learn more.

In many ways, however, it too late to save the ecosystems around us; they are already destroyed. That's what I saw in the Oak Grove watershed.

Near the solo timber sale at sunset

We arrived at the Solo timber sale late in the day. Looking out over the matrix adjacent to the sale units, we saw what the Forest Service had done in the past. Trees left from previous cuts were dying or dead; their corpses standing sadly in the setting sun, victims of wind, heat, and loneliness. The Forest Service will tell you these weren't clear-cuts because some trees were left, but those "survivors" are rarely that; the days are usually numbered for a tree that has its ecosystem destroyed around it.

I slept the night under a giant Doug-fir, curled up on the duff around its trunk. Stars twinkled in the sky like thousands of other campfires. It was silent. I had a friend who once surmised that part of the reason so many people feel so isolated in modern society is because when you look up at the sky at night in most cities or settled areas you see only a few stars, or even none. The universe seems dark and empty. Out in the forest, though, you can see kerjillions of stars, and the universe seems full of life and possibility. Where there's life, there's hope, of course, and even though I was alone looking up at the stars, miles from any settlement, I didn't feel lonely at all. Less so than usual, actually.

Big ole Doug-firs at Solo

The uncut forest around Solo is beautiful. Douglas-firs and Hemlocks tower over Pacific yews, maples, and Oregon Grape. Different birds are flying around, and in some areas you can hear the sound of the Oak Grove fork in the valley below. Unfortunately, most of the intact ecosystem is in timber sales and small areas next to the sale units.

the oak grove valley

Looking out over the valley (in this photo, from logging road 5730), the various cuts and plantations are easy to see. A natural forest is not made up of sections of trees of identical age and height divided by straight lines and right angles. After looking out at this vista for a few minutes, you begin to wonder if there is a single original patch of forest left. Mt. Hood gazes down over all this landscape in silent witness, apparently untouched. Up closer, though, "development" mars its slopes, and its glaciers shrink in a drought that is in all likelihood caused by human-induced global climate change.

Dead tree branches turned red from hot sun

A close-up of one of the slopes in the valley shows the ground littered with dead tree branches turned bright red as they dry in the sun. This is a firetrap. The thick old trees that once grew here were not.

Mess on the slopes

This slope is littered with logs. Whether they're blow-downs from a previous cut, or unyarded timber was not clear to me. Anyone reading this know what could have caused this?

Sign for Unit 11 of Solo sale

I took a hike through unit 11 of the Solo sale. It's a fairly dense section, full of big trees, fallen logs, and lush undergrowth of all kinds.

Lichen in unit 11

I found this lichen on the ground under a big huge old Hemlock. I don't know much about lichen and don't know what it's called, but I hadn't seen this particular one before, at least not at this stage with all the little cups growing on it. I wondered if it might be a Survey and Manage species. Can anyone reading this identify it?

victim of road

This young possum (shown here about life-size) was a victim of one of the many many roads that slice through the Mt. Hood National Forest. There are 440,000 miles of roads, both inventoried and unclassified, on National Forest lands (enough to circle the earth over 18 times). These roads are long narrow clear-cuts that disrupt habitat and water-flow, interrupt the protective canopy, and are dangerous to cross. Many of them were built for logging and are no longer useful but have not been dismantled. If we stopped commercial logging on public lands right now and invested national money differently, all the people currently employed in logging could have jobs in forest restoration engaged in activities like ripping out these roads. The Gifford-Pinchot Task Force is working on economic issues like this across the Columbia in Washington.

The Batwings Sale

Batwings is a small sale at only 109 acres, but is worth saving nonetheless. Before going out, I wnt to the Bark website and referenced their timber sale database. The Batwings entry gave detailed directions for how to get there, and described the sale in depth. Bark tracks all the timber sales in the Mt. Hood National Forest and the work they do is invaluable.

Batwings sale, from West, in profile

Here is a view of one edge of the sale. It's easy to spot sale units in the Oak Grove valley because they are often the only place where you see old tall trees.

Batwings in profile

Note the dramatic line between clear-cut on the left and sale on the right. If the Forest Service has it's way, the right side will look like the left side soon. Fuckers.

Inside the Batwings sale -- click for larger version

We went up into the sale from 5730 and walked around a little bit. The trees with orange spray paint on them are the "leave trees" -- that is, the ones to be left standing. Notice how only two trees in this view, on the left side, are marked orange to leave. (Click here, or on the photo, for a larger -- 4 MB -- version of this photo.)

The Slinky sale

Slinky sale in profile

The Slinky sale is right next to Batwings, and is a little bigger at 184 acres. This is a view of one of its edges.

Big tree at Slinky

Here's one of the nice old trees in Slinky. At this elevation (~3000 feet), a tree this wide is between 200 and 400 years old. Old enough to remember what it was like when the whole valley was naturally forested (and naturally burned) before Europeans came to destroy it all.

Gutted backdrop of Slinky sale

Looking out over the vally from next to Slinky, one can once again see the checkerboard of obscene destruction. What's left? Not much.

Buck Lake

Beautiful little Buck Lake

Buck Lake is a somewhat well known camping/hiking spot near Timothy Lake. As you can see from this photo, the lake and the area around it are beautiful.

Timothy Lake, surrounded by clearcuts

However, it is only the area right around the lake that is so nice. All around it are clearcuts and plantations. Timothy Lake, visible here on the left (in a photo taken from the trail to Buck Lake) has been treated the same way: the Forest Service has left a thin buffer of trees around these recreation destinations, hoping that people won't notice what's happening everywhere else in the forest. This policy is fundamentally dishonest, and is a reminder of the fact that the Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture. The government considers old growth ecosystems to be a crop to be harvested, not a precious form of life to be protected. Now, less than 5% of the original old growth in this country is left.

The time for compromise -- whether brokered by a Democrat or a Republican -- is over. There's nothing left to compromise. What's left must be saved, it's as simple as that. Don't believe the lies and don't trust politicians. The stakes are too high. Support efforts by our local forest defenders with your time, money, or donations if you can't join them in the trees.

And if you possibly can, visit these trees yourself, and see them before they're gone. They deserve to feel a little love from us before they die. The gift will change you.

I Think.... 26.Sep.2003 05:10


That the one critter is actually a shrew.

A few factual clarifications ... 26.Sep.2003 10:34


Modified clearcuts suck, but they do suck less than traditional clearcuts. Your description of dead trees left behind is poignant, but your sadness is misplaced. Snags (dead trees) are *intentionally* created in modified clearcuts because DEAD TREES PROVIDE IMPORTANT HABITAT for a variety of species. Likewise some logs are typically left behind to rot and add their nutrients to the soil, and in the process of decay providing habitat for a variety of things.

If you want your forests to preserve our biological heritage, rather than trees alone, you must recognize the important role snags play in forest ecosystems. Forest ecosystems aren't just about live trees.

As far as your attack on the accomplishments of conservation organizations in the late 1980s and early 1990s ... as one who served 15 years on the board of Portland Audubon, much of it during the Old Growth Wars of those days, I have to say there was absolutely no hope of getting anything better at the time. The cut today in PNW forests is about 25% the level of the Reagan/Bush Sr. era. That's 3/4 of the way to no harvest at all. If we can get no harvest, great; but don't knock the fact that we old farts got 3/4 of the way there until you can prove that you can do better. So far you haven't accomplished squat.

As it was, the Clinton Forest Plan barely survived Congress. When "Option 9" was laid out (the political solution imposed because the 8 options laid out by the scientists called to put together a plan were felt by the administration to be DOA in Congress) I, like most activists, was dismayed and felt betrayed. However in retrospect it became clear that the administration was right about what they could get Congress to agree to. Option 9 only survived Congress because the administration exaggerated the amount of timber that would be harvested under the plan. Remember the context, that among other things Congress had convened the "God Squad" which allowed for various old-growth sales to go forward regardless of the various legal barriers which had until then stopped them.

And why sow seeds of division between conservationists in the first place? We are all working for the same goal - preservation of our biological heritage, in this case our beautiful and biologically significant temperate rain forests. Do you really want to alienate and make enemies of people like myself who were working for forest conservation before you were born? Is that fruitful?

"the matrix" was not created by the Ciinton Forest Plan - this bit of Forest Service planning jargon's been around for decades.

It ain't a 'possum, which is a non-native pest anyway.

While I admire David Brower, he's sadly mistaken in regard to Reagan/Bush Sr. vs. Clinton/Gore. In the Reagan era you couldn't drive a forest service road without having to dodge trucks hauling out old growth sticks anywhere in our Cascade range.

The snags in your photo of the modified clearcut... 26.Sep.2003 11:15


look like pre-existing snags left behind intentionally. They used to remove them, now they leave them because, as I mentioned above, they provide habitat for a variety of species.

And just in case it isn't clear ... I'm deeply opposed to the harvest of any old-growth whatsoever. But if some remaining old-growth is to be cut - and at the moment that's the sad reality - modified clearcuts are marginally better than traditional ones. Surely there's no reason to remove snags, for instance ...

responses 26.Sep.2003 16:14

Mother Nature's Son

Thanks for the correction re. the possum that's not a possum. I admit to not knowing my wildlife too well! So is it a shrew?

I do, however, know very well about the importance of snags as habitat and places where insects live. I love woodpeckers and have seen how much they love the snags. However, having walked the Solo sale and others, I've seen that the "leave trees" are rarely snags. They are usually living when the rest of the forest is cut around them. How it is that you, as someone who is looking at a silhouette photo, is able to decide that all those trees were already snags is beyond me, by the way. I also have it on the authority of people who know the area that many of the standing now-dead trees were not dead when the cuts around them happened. Ever heard of blow-downs? Timber companies count on that happening so they can go in and salvage what's left.

Also, and most importantly, snags *alone* don't make a healthy ecosystem! Live trees around them is how it happens in nature. Even a forest fire gives a far different result than a so-called "partial cut". A few snags standing alone in a barren wasteland is not good habitat.

As for "sowing the seeds of division", I am sick and tired of hearing how Democrats (the party leadership and officials) are "environmentalists". They're not. They're corporatists, and Clinton/Gore's record was abyssmal. It is not sowing division to point out historical fact. I know it's not nice to hear because it means you have to approach problems a different way, outside of safely subsidized sanitized corporate politics, without boards and endowments, but it's the truth. The big enviro organizations are more often than not traitorous and exist so liberals can feel like they're doing something while the timber companies get what they want. Bait and switch politics. It's disgusting.

All that being said, I recognize that lawsuits by grassroots groups are often what saves trees more often than anything else. The record of the Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project is remarkable, for example. That's a very grassroots grassroots group though, not a big endowed organization with slick flyers and big mailing lists.

Yes, of course lawsuits by grass-roots organizations are important 26.Sep.2003 18:13


After all I was on the board of Portland Audubon when we, along with Seattle Audubon, were co-lead plaintiff in the northern spotted owl suit that won the injunction against logging of old-growth that led to the Northwest Forest Plan (eventually)

If you really feel like cutting at 1980s levels is not more evil than the roughly 25% of that level we see today, then I see no basis for dialogue. Like I said, we won roughly 3/4 of your goal of zero cut. You only have 1/4 of that cut to win yourself and then we'll be there.

Like I say, come back when you've accomplished something. Something other than alienating those who've spent much of their adult life fighting to conserve our National Forests, that is. Words are cheap. Results on the ground are much harder to achieve.

New meaning to "underground" forest defender 27.Sep.2003 22:15


It's not a possum OR a shrew, actually... it's a mole. You can tell because the forelimbs are distinctly suited for digging. It's not rare to find dead moles above ground.

Some comments 28.Sep.2003 11:43

Greybearded fool

First off, great job on the layout and photos in this article. Nice work.

Second, I too feel alienating people by knocking past efforts of forest protection groups is counterproductive. It's obvious you do not know the history of environmental groups in the NW. Many of us have worked long and hard. Read your history. The book "Tree Huggers" has some great documentation of the roots and efforts of the movement in Oregon.

By the way, I was the first person to identify units in some of the sales pictured in your essay. Keep working to save these areas, they are the islands remaining on that side of the watershed.

My suggestion is to address the issue in a way in which you will draw as many people in as possible and be as factual as you can. Calling past efforts misguided efforts does not give those who worked on the issues credit they deserve. Or at least be more specific about who and why.

Keep up the good work.

Thanks to "grey bearded fool" 28.Sep.2003 21:53


I promise younger activists that I won't accuse them of "selling out" or being "traitors" or attaching other such labels if they can achieve a further 3/4 reduction of the cut on our PNW forests. Becuase 3/4 of 1/4 means the cut would be only 1/16th, rather than 1/4th of the Reagan-era cuts. My era accomplished quite a bit ... if the next generation builds on it, hoo-ray!

And that would be an accomplishment. You're not going to get it this administration. Rather, I expect the cut to rise to 1/3-1/2 of the Reagan era cut, and the only reason it won't exceed the Reagan era cut is that there are too many Republican Senator and Reps afraid of backlash if they bent over entirely.

So kiddo - you have your work cut out for you. If you can achieve the impossible then I'll agree you're a lot smarter than me.

But you have to achieve it first ...

And if a zero commercial cut can be attained - woo-hoo! I'd vote for that.

So I don't disagree with the goals. But have your bookie call me so I can lay a bet against you, because you're hopelessly naive and there is really no chance of you achieving waht you want if you are so ignorant of politics and the law.

I just disagree with the characterization that folks like me "sold out" or "were traitors" or otherwise not what we thought we were just because we failed to win everything we sought out to win.

The reality is that current activists have a much stronger foundation upon which to build because of past efforts. Among other things, there was plenty of direct action efforts in the so-called "sell-out" days when supposedly we all kissed timber industry ass. That was held in the environment of many more sales being offered than activists could protest.

The very fact that today's younger tree-sitters, gate-blockers, road-sitters etc can hit damn near every old-growth sale offered is testiment to the fact that there aren't a whole lot of them by the standards of the so-called benign Reagan era that I'm told was so much better than the Clinton era (so why did I fight tooth-and-nail against the Reagan administration)

OK - for the non-realists who care more about being "against" something rather than actual progress on the ground .. "there is no difference between Gore and Bush ..." repeat until you're hoarse because you're not going to convince anyone with a brain.

talk to jeffrey st. clair 29.Sep.2003 09:45

Mother Nature's Son

before you call me "kiddo" one more time, or make some other age-ist remark about how old you think i am, i invite you to take your complaints to jeffrey st. clair. my article above said: "Writer Jeffrey St. Clair maintains that this poor record is not due to Clinton and Gore's political beliefs, but can be blamed on the mainstream environmental organizations, which rolled over and played dead during the 1992-2000 Democratic administration, because they had friends in high places they didn't want to offend." He was there, he's not a "kid", and those are his observations of the time. I referenced them because they seemed like yet another example of an age old problem: liberals sell out radical ideals (and then, as we've seen hear, scream "stop being divisive!" at the radicals who point this betrayal out).

certainly, i among other people appreciate that logging slowed down under clinton, after reagan. however, as another presidential election comes up, it's important to be reminded of the reality and myths of previous democratic administrations so we don't expect too much.

i also think that critics of this post need to revisit that time and remind themselves that the compromise that was brokered under clinton was not the best that could be done -- it was just the best that could be done in a certain way, using certain methods, in a certain arena.

I haven't read St. Clair but ... 30.Sep.2003 11:49


he's is a lefty journalist and political commentator,
he wasn't "there" in the sense of being a participant in the
negotiations over the Northwest Forest Plan, and most assuredly wasn't
part of the committee of scientists that helped draft it. I was "there" in the sense that I had
friends in both roles and know quite a bit about how things went down, and was on the board
of one of the major organizations involved so was part of the decision making process on the
conservationist's side (we filed the first lawsuit - alone - in 1987).

It would be interesting to read St. Clair, I suppose, to see what kind of spin he puts on our actions,
but I doubt he understands them better than the participants themselves, folks like me.

When the Clinton administration announced that Option 9 - a political
compromise - would form the basis of the Northwest Forest Plan rather than
any of the eight options proposed by the scientific community, we didn't
roll over, play dead, and sell out.

We *sued*, for Christ's sake!

Here is a list of the plaintiffs that sued when Option 9 was announced:

Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council, Seattle Audubon Society,
Headwaters, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, Pilchuck Audubon Society,
Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Washington Environmental Council, Klamath Forest Alliance,
Northcoast Environmental Center, Portland Audubon Society and Lane County Audubon Society

If we were afraid to offend friends in high places, do you think we would've sued
Clinton's ass over Option 9? The administration was not pleased, trust me.

As an aside, Audubon chapters are fully autonomous and locally controlled, and were
involved long before the National organization got involved, this really was a
bottom-up effort put on by local conservation groups.

The only other national group on that list is The Wilderness Society. The Sierra Club
at that time wasn't interested in old-growth protection and did not participate.

I suspect that St. Clair is referring to the fact that those who'd won the injunction
in Judge Dwyer's District Court agreed to the lifting of the injunction on some sales
while simultaneously fighting against Option 9 in court. That was a hard decision,
made because of pressure from Congress. Keep in mind that Hatfield had already used
the "God Squad" provisions of the Endangered Species Act once to circumvent the injunction.
By agreeing in court to release some timber plaintiffs had a say in the process, while a
repeat of Hatfield's "God Squad" performance would've led to our having no say in how much,
or where, sales would be released. No one was happy about that decision, but Hatfield
had a lot of clout being one of the most senior Senators of the day. Some of the smaller
groups claimed we'd "sold out" but only one of them was a party to the suit. If they wanted
a voice they should've joined us in the beginning rather than snipe at us as johnny-come-latelies in the

Whether you agree with the decision or not, it wasn't made to avoid pissing off friends in the White
House. Rather it was to avoid giving our major enemy in the Senate the ammunition needed to step
in and void the injunction politically.

Direct action is important and I'm fully supportive of such efforts. However, by itself
direction action will win no permanent protection. The only way we'll end
commercial logging operations on our National Forests is to get the
law changed. Laws get passed by Congress. This is an unavoidable fact.

It is important to keep in mind the realities and myths of previous Democratic administrations,
as you point out.
That requires weeding out myths such as that which you've apparently bought into wholesale. Having
said that, though, I don't expect too much from a new Democratic administration. I'm not as naive as
you might think. But I'll take what we can get.

Because it is also important to keep in mind the realities of the current Republican administration,
the great harm being done today and the far greater harm that will come to pass if they're
re-elected and continue to control Congress. The world will not be a better place if laws like
the ESA, NEPA and NFMA are re-written by timber, mining and grazing lobbyists (if not repealed

I do want to say that I enjoyed your article and photographs, and admire your
love for our forests and your desire to protect them, even though I disagree with some of your
views. It would be a kindness if you could learn to understand that you and those who've chosen
your approach to conservation are not alone in that love and desire.