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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

Math problem: A tree that took 500 years to grow can be brought down in 20 minutes.

Polls show that about 70 percent of Americans (even in timber-dependent areas) are against old-growth logging, and do-it-yourself retailers are phasing out old-growth wood due to public pressure. KB Home, one of the country’s largest homebuilding companies, sent a letter to the Forest Service saying that the homebuilding industry does not need lumber from roadless areas. Meanwhile, there is a tremendous backlog of existing second-growth stands on public lands that needs to be thinned to improve fire safety and forest health.

Considering the opposition to old-growth cutting and all the alternatives, why not focus on uncontroversial, environmentally sensitive logging and leave the old growth alone?

West, the timber industry advocate, dismisses the notion. “There’s always going to be controversy. For a portion of the environmental community, the only way they can justify their fundraising is to create a controversy.”

Many in that community believe the industry’s real agenda is to maximize the conversion of federal old-growth reserves into tree plantations. “That way,” maintains the Wilderness Society’s Bob Freimark, “the land can never be designated wilderness or roadless. When you convert an unmanaged forest into a managed forest, you can harvest it again and again.”

Freimark says he had been “doing penance for the last 19 years for my former job with the Forest Service, when I was basically paid to help the loggers chop down the forest as fast as they could.”

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