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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.

The conifer that was eventually named after Douglas is the continent’s second largest tree, and its primary source of raw lumber. The specimen under which I pitched my tent would have stood in this spot when the explorer arrived. In fact, it was probably a seedling when Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to reach India. It might have been a juvenile when Cortés defeated the Aztecs; entered middle age when Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. It had become a parent and a grandparent many times over by the time settlers arrived at this forest’s threshold and began cutting down the easy-to-reach trees near the coast.

Given more time in its mountain stronghold, this tree would get even taller and fatter. But that is not going to happen. What took 500 years to grow will take about 20 minutes to bring down. Then, its limbs will be cut off, and its trunk will be sawed into transportable pieces and trucked away. The animals who made their home in and near it will scatter, some in time to escape the fires that loggers will set once the green chlorophyll has drained from the slash. And when the last of the logging trucks has pulled away, what we Americans will be left with is a vastly depreciated asset.

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