Fall Creek "Salvage" Sale Timber Auction--On the Inside Looking Out
A look at what goes on inside a timber auction.
On Tuesday, December 2, I attended a rally organized by the Cascadia Forest Defenders in front of the Middle Fork Ranger Station of the Willamette National Forest, in Westfir, OR, to protest the Fall Creek Fire "Salvage" Sale. This sale was to auction off 2.422 million board feet of fire-burned timber to the highest bidder. Although the amount of board feet was much lower than what was originally proposed by the Forest Service, many Oregonians and organizations such as the Cascadia Forest Defenders, Guardians of the McKenzie Watershed, and the Native Forest Council, believe it important to show opposition to any of the "salvage" sales held within the boundaries of our national forests, as post-fire "salvage" logging is the greatest current threat to Cascadia's old-growth.
The Forest Service's rationale for fire "salvage" is to "restore" the "devastated" forest from the 2003 Clark fire. What this really means is an aggressive onslaught of cutting the dying and dead standing trees that provide habitat for forest fauna; pulling out the downed logs that will, over time, create fresh fertile soil; crushing the new seedlings that are already repopulating the forest; and replanting the logged area with a Douglas-fir monocrop plantation, immeasurably more prone to fire than any old growth stand. The Forest Service's own scientists claim the best way for a forest to recover from fire is to leave it the hell alone, as Oregon's forests have rejuvenated themselves for millennia.
Fall Creek, of course, has a long and vibrant history of forest defense, hearkening back to 1998, when activists occupied the area in the longest running campaign in Cascadian forest defense history. Needless to say, many Oregonians have a soft spot in their heart for the lush, dripping, prehistoric-looking forests that hover over the turquoise waters of Fall Creek, like a dragon guarding a gemstone. It was foolhardy of the Forest Service to assume they could get away with butchering the already fragmented ecosystems of Fall Creek without encountering resistance. And the most recent wave of this dissent occurred at the Middle Fork Ranger Station on November 2, to protest this brazen whoring out of Oregon's wild lands to the most desperate "john."
When we arrived on the scene just before 10:00 am, Head Law Enforcement for the Willamette National Forest, Joe Fletcher, was there to greet us. He told us he knew why we were there, and would permit us to peacefully protest in a designated grassy area, with a warning that "appropriate measures" would be taken if we got unruly. We even had our own personal Freddy bodyguard, lurking at the edge of the woods that bordered the Ranger Station, assumedly to protect us from ourselves.
Our initial request to be let inside the building to witness the auction was declined. But after a few moments of consideration, Fletcher explained that if we "behaved ourselves" he would allow one of us inside to watch the proceedings. For whatever reason, I ended up being the emissary, and armed with a stack of forest fire ecology handouts (with only the woolen fabric of my long black cape between me and Forest Service personnel), I was led into the Ranger Station.
Upon entering the building, I was greeted by name, and asked to sign in. To my surprise, I was not frisked (I guess the reputation of "eco-terrorist" is not as solid as one would believe), but granted immediate access to the auction, with another reminder not to "disrupt." Pondering the exact definition of the word "disruption," I seated myself at a table at the edge of the room.
Spread out to my right were three other tables, each with two to three grey haired, washed out good old boys in suspenders and baseball caps. These eight faded husks of men were representing the three bidding timber companies: Bald Knob, Butte Timberland, and Silver Creek Lumber. After briefly acknowledging my presence with quizzical and annoyed glances, they continued muttering under their breaths (most likely discussing professional wrestling). Two Forest Service law enforcement officers kept a hawk's eye on me from the back.
Unceremoniously, the auction began with a Forest Service lackey writing the opening bids on a chalkboard. Bald Knob and Silver Creek Lumber traded bids back and forth (from an opening bid of $173.05 per thousand board feet), each raising their bid in increments of $.50. This emotionless bidding went on for about five minutes (Butte Timberland choosing to sit out entirely), until Silver Creek made an unchallenged bid of $191.00. At ths point, the Freddy told us that there would be one minute before the bidding ended.
As the clock ticked down the seconds, my personal angel and devil held a lively debate, each perched on a shoulder. "Here's your chance!" hissed my devil. "You're on the inside! This is it! Now or never!.... Go on, pussy, make a bid!" Before I could act, my angel chimed in:
"To what end, my friend, to what end? You've been given this rare opportunity to witness the inner workings of the machine, and you want to throw it all away for some silly prank? Witness and report, that is your role. Don't be foolish."
I hemmed and hawed between the diabolical cleverness of my devil and the cool rationality of my angel. With less than ten seconds remaining, my devil grew in size and power, barking and spitting curses, until my angel lashed out with a glowing backhand to his pointed chin, silencing him instantly.
"Why give yourself away so soon?" my angel cooed, a dark gleam in his eye. "For now, win their trust. There will always be later..." My devil said not a word, just stood there rubbing his injured chin with a mixed expression of shock and admiration on his face....
But in the end, the decision was made for me: In the one remotely dramatic moment of the auction, with time nearly expired, the previously silent Butte Timberland piped up to make a literally last-second bid of $191.50. With a seemingly unconcerned Bald Knob left by the wayside, Butte Timberland and Silver Creek resumed in bored, business-as-usual tones to make their successive bids to annihilate a thriving, intact ecosystem, to destroy the habitat of thousands of mammals, birds and amphibians, and to muddy the clear sparkling waters of Fall Creek.
The grand fanfare ended with Silver Creek Lumber as the apathetic high bidder, with $195.00 per thousand board feet. If you do the math, it comes out to around $480,000. My efforts to reward the winner with a free forest fire ecology handout were quickly rebuffed, while my attempts at educating the other timber companies were met with the cold shoulder and a single comment about not wanting to hear about my "hippie-isms."
The Freddy auctioneers were not able to answer my questions about how soon the logging was to begin, and I was soon ushered out of the room by Freddy law enforcement. On the way out the building, I was able to place a few forest fire ecology pamphlets and a handful of "See you in the woods!" flyers promising resistance, in a strategic location inside the station.
Outside, I lectured the Freddy about the slippery slope that is fire "salvage" logging, highlighting the Biscuit and B&B "salvage" sales. I also attempted to explain to him the outrage Oregonians feel when the Forest Service tries to dupe the public into believing fire "salvage" is "restoration." I told him people would have more respect for the Forest Service if the agency were simply up-front about the reasons for "salvage" logging, ie: economic opportunism. The minute the Forest Service starts shoveling out that "logging for the health of the forest" shit, they lose all credibility. After a few minutes of feigned interest, the Freddy looked down at his watch, thanked me, and told me he had to go back inside.
Contact John West, the CEO of Silver Creek Lumber (a front for Columbia Helicopters) in Merlin, OR, and let him know your thoughts on his desire to pillage Fall Creek: 541-396-4433.
Oregon Rep. Walden has just introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would allow "emergency" logging almost immediately following a "disaster" such as a forest fire or drought, entirely bypassing any public comment and most environmental restrictions. Let Sen. Wyden know you demand that he oppose any such legislation, that fires are good for the forest and that logging is the greatest obstacle to forest health.
Senator Ron Wyden
700 NE Multnomah St.
Portland, OR 97232
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