So what's the truth about the Biscuit? The short version: Fire is a natural and necessary occurence in forest ecosystems in this part of the world, and we should leave the area alone. However the Forest Service, under the direction of the Bush administration and at the behest of the timber industry, has released a plan -- currently underway -- to cut vast swaths of the forest down in the area they've defined as impacted by fire. The result will be grievious harm to an area of amazing biological diversity and beauty that has managed to survive mostly intact up until now. That is to say, a tragedy is unfolding in the State of Jefferson. |
The longer version reveals more layers of lies -- and of beauty.
First, the beauty:
The three places i visited in the Siskiyou National Forest were quite different from each other. The Western side of the forest is near the ocean, and the valleys there are moist and lush. The Eastern side features more geological and hence biological diversity: desert-like patches thrive right next to more rainforesty patches, sometimes divided along almost ruler-straight lines. You'd look up at a slope and see a bunch of tall trees and right below them a sparser patch with a few shorter, scrubbier ones, and think, "There's a clearcut", but you'd be wrong. It just grows that way, all on its own. Much of this biodiversity can be attributed to drastic differences in soil type -- the desert-like areas are growing in "serpentine" soil. Some of it is due to the West-East orientation of the Siskiyou range (rather than North-South, like most ranges in North America) and its steep slopes, which create areas that are radically different from each other in how much sunlight and precipitation they recieve, and when, seasonally.
The entire area -- of the Siskiyou National Forest, with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness nestled inside it -- is also mostly untouched by human settlement and industrial activity, and so is rare in a way that is difficult to find outside Alaska or the high Rockies. Many of the rivers and streams are undammed and undredged, so the native salmon running in them have been affected little or not at all by genetic pollution from farm-raised fish, as has occured in other watersheds. And of course the water is also more pure and clean than in most of the rest of the U.S., which is more than worth protecting.
For these and other reasons, plants, insects and animals live in the area that are found nowhere else or only in a few other places. The Port Orford cedar is one example. As climate has changed (over the long long term, not the more recent human-inducements), various species that have died out elsewhere have survived in the unique pockets created by the landscape and its weather patterns. One family of millipedes for example, is found only in one ~500 acre area. That's "family", not "species"; "primate" is a family, whereas "homo sapiens" is a species. So that's an impressively broad section of creatures to be unique to such a small space.
i learned all these things and more from the people i met on my trip, who live in the Illinois and Rogue River Valleys, from places like Applegate, Ashland, Cave Junction, Selma, and Takilma. They were highly hospitable people, and their dedication and hard-work was inspiring. They were also a diverse bunch (within the spectrum of mostly white that inhabits these areas): moms, old hippies (i mean that most affectionately), students, professionals and working class folks, scientists and artists. All shared in common a love for the land and a desire to halt its destruction. It was truly an honor for me to meet all the people that i did and i am grateful that life gave me this opportunity. i thank them all for everything they did to help, from rides to housing to food to sharing the stuff of their hearts and heads. i hope to chip away at returning the favor by producing some media that can help them.
And now, for the lies:
What's true is that in the Summer of 2002, fires burned some portions of the ecosystems that are found in and around the Siskiyou National Forest. The divergence from the real story starts with the subjects of the severity of the "damage" and what people should do about it.
First of all, tree-cores and other natural records show that wildfires have been a regular and natural occurence in the area for time out of mind. In fact, not only are many plants there fire-resistant (such as big old trees, which like sponges do not burn easily) but some are actually fire-dependent. The knob-cone pine is a dramatic example of the latter; its cones remain tightly sealed until a fire breaks out. Only then do they burst open and spill forth their seeds. Some people have found entire knob-cone pinecones still closed up inside wood that's been cut; in such an instance, enough time passed without fire for the tree to actually grow around its own cones. In units of the Fiddler timber sale, i saw knob-cone pines standing needle-less and black, full of burst-open cones, with baby trees popping up all around their feet. i would say that the healing process of the forest after fire was vividly illustrated in this way, but the word "healing" would be deceptive, as it suggests recovery from sickness or disaster, and the fire there was neither. It was simply one step in an age-old process of change, of regeneration. That humans are not able to recognize and accept this -- that death is part of life and is no tragedy when it touches us in its own proper time and way -- is yet another sad product of "civilized" society. Lives spent inside, with no sight of stars, no breaths full of fresh air, no contact between flesh and leaf or soil, and with senses instead wracked by pollution, noise, and media, are not lives that will lead easily to matter-of-fact understandings of the way the world really works or the sustainable ways of living in it.
And so it goes with the Biscuit. The fires of 2002 were misrepresented from the beginning to a public that has become largely unable to perceive the difference between truth and lies, or even suspect there might be one. By way of example, one activist i spoke with told me how the national corporate media got the story wrong in one specific but far-reaching way. By the time they arrived, she said, the smoke filling the sky above the Illinois Valley was primarily from the Forest Service set backburns, not the wildfires themselves. Their hysterical broadcasts of doom, globally-broadcast, left out this detail, however, and were instrumental in the miseducation of the public about the extent and nature of the fires. The foundation of fear, ignorance, and outright lies they built was a gift to the timber industry and the Bush administration, who were able to step in to offer their "recovery plan".
And what a plan it is. 370 million board feet on about 19,500 acres. The largest timber sale in modern history. With parts that are legally unappealable due to their unprecedented status of constituting an "emergency", as declared by the Bush administration.
Say what? It's an "emergency" to log these trees? That's right, after the vast majority of the 23,000 people who made comments to the government about the then-proposed Biscuit plan expressed their disdain, Bush granted the Forest Service new powers to suspend those people's right to appeal the ultimate decision. Activists struck back with a lawsuit contesting the legality of this move, but the first court date isn't until March 22. And unfortunately, a judge refused to grant an injunction preventing logging until the case is settled, though such injunctions have often been a matter of course. Even if the case is successful, it might very well be too late for several chunks of vital forest ecosystem.
It gets worse: the seven particular timber sales in question are "LSR" sales. "LSR" = "Late Successional Reserve". This designation came into being under Clinton's mid-90's Northwest Forest Plan. LSRs were to be set aside as wildlife habitat and protected as old growth for all time. Other designations included "The Matrix" -- which are National Forest lands that can be logged, barring those areas requiring protection for water or species protection -- and "Roadless Areas", which like LSRs, were to be left alone. The Biscuit plan targets forests in all three designations. They are often largely paper distinctions, however, as you're not aware on the ground that you've just hiked over an invisible line between, for example, Matrix and Roadless. In the Siskiyou National Forest, the interlocking ecosystems cross those artificial boundaries. A woodpecker doesn't fly over a snag in the Matrix to find a "safe" one in an LSR.
Regardless, these designations had been keeping the saws out of certain areas for about a decade, and that's obviously a good thing. This attack on previously set aside lands, with the chimeric excuse of fire, sets a frightening precedent, as many people in Southern Oregon told me. If, every time there's a fire, the Forest Service can declare an "emergency" and send the loggers in, then no place on the West Coast will be safe outside of designated Wilderness areas (such as the Kalmiopsis), at least for now.
So, it's not looking good. Activists have been rousing the citizenry in impressive campaigns that have pursued all the legal means, and now those legal means have been turned on their head and thrown out, just when they were looking to be effective. The only route to take at this point is Direct Action. People need to sit in roads, lock themselves down, etc. (etc. = be nonviolently creative) in order to stop the machines. People who make this choice will have a rare moment of moral defensibility: "Hey, we're trying to pursue the legal process, but it's been hijacked! Give us our day in court before you cut!" Common sense (which crosses party lines) can not help but be affected by this logic. "No judge can make fallen trees stand again," as Rold Skaar of the Siskiyou Project has put it.
The people i met in Southern Oregon hailed from different backgrounds and had varying levels of experience with forest activism/defense, but they all agreed on one message they'd like to send: "We need help!" It's a sparsely populated area, but -- as i've shown above -- what goes down there will affect all of us, so those of us in the big cities have a responsibility to lend a hand however we can. That assistance can take many forms: Writing a check to one of the organizations fighting the logging, sending donations of food or equipment, helping with carpooling to the area, or going down yourself for a weekend or a month to gift of yourself in person, perhaps with your body in front of a logging truck. The powers-that-be are pushing hard in the Biscuit, hoping we'll give. We can't let them. This is truly an historic moment that could turn in our favor. If we win out here, we will have them on the defensive. i spent a week down there, living and breathing the situation, and this is the message i am bringing back.
Please, do what you can.
To get involved, contact these organizations:
- Siskiyou Project - siskiyou.org
- Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center - kswild.org
- Oxygen Collective - o2collective.org
- In Portland: Cascadia Rising! - cascadiarising.org or call 503.493.7495 or email: action (at) cascadiarising (dot) org