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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.

©Andrew Geiger

Oregon is the only state in which the BLM manages forest lands, due to a complex history of unscrupulous 19th-century land deals involving railroads, timber companies, and an eventual seizure by the federal government.

“Despite all the complaining we do about the Forest Service,” said Vaile, “they look almost green compared to the BLM, which goes after old-growth and roadless areas as if their lives depended on it.” A serious 30-year-old, Vaile had worked as a wildlife surveyor at the BLM’s Medford office until 1998, when he became disillusioned. “There were so many times when I knew that I would be the last person to walk through an ancient grove.”

Flushing a grouse, we scrambled over a large hemlock trunk and reached the creek, then sat down on boulders strewn around a cool, misty clearing. Next to us, the stream tumbled down over mossy rocks, generating an air-conditioned microclimate of ferns and climbing vines. On the forest floor, the deep greens were speckled with Solomon’s seal, yellow iris, and bright red saprophytes, which sprouted from the ground as if Dr. Seuss himself had thought them up.

“The sound of this creek is like a shiatsu treatment,” Adams said. She leaned back against a mossy rock and closed her eyes. A few seconds later, she opened them. “I’d say we have a 50-50 chance to save it,” she said. A coalition of environmental groups is gearing up for a hard fight, but because of the government’s recent “settlement” of a timber-industry lawsuit that had had little chance of success, the environmental community has lost much of its legal footing.

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