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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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