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Backpacker Magazine – October 2005

Last Chance Adventure: Oregon's Umpqua National Forest

Can you see the forest through the trees? Join a bittersweet trek through an old-growth wilderness in its final days.

by: Tom Clynes

Rex Holloway is still on the federal payroll, as spokesperson for the Forest Service's Western Pacific Northwest region. During the course of a long conversation, Holloway defends the agency's logging policy with carefully worded precision. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy wasn't "dumped"; it was "amended." Watershed analyses are still being done, but on a "broader scale." The species formerly protected by Survey and Manage provisions have been "moved over to other programs." Cutting in old-growth forests actually "improves them," by reducing fuels and "providing diversity."

Adams and Vaile had told me that environmentalists often have some sympathy for Forest Service employees. "Usually," said Adams, "they're good people who are carrying out bad policy. If they had different bosses, they wouldn't be doing what they're doing."

Indeed, as I listen to Holloway, I sense a certain weary cynicism in his voice. A Forest Service veteran of 28 years, he has watched the political weathervane circle around several times. Does he ever find himself at odds with policies that come down from the top?

"I got over that a long time ago," he says. "We are directed by the executive branch, and funded by Congress. We have a whole lot of landowners out there, and they all have different ideas of how things should be managed. There are a lot of people who might be appalled by what's happening, but apparently it's not important enough that they go out and elect officials that have a certain bent. That's the way our form of government works. If this was a big enough and important enough issue, we would have elected officials that would change policy. But apparently, it's not."

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