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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

Within weeks or even days (perhaps even as I write these words), the ground will shake as one of the richest–and rarest–forests on Earth falls in an operation foresters call a “regeneration harvest.” Realistically, it is a clearcut, with only eight to 12 so-called “legacy trees” left per acre. These survivors will stand alone on a barren, eroding mountainside that will eventually be replanted as a tree farm.

To loggers, the forests of southwest Oregon and northern California are the most productive on the continent, a treasure chest of board-feet, jobs, and building materials for America’s ongoing housing boom. To biologists, these forests are among the most biodiverse and wildlife-rich temperate woodlands on Earth. To backpackers, paddlers, hunters, and anglers, this area is a wilderness paradise, a rough landscape of serrated mountains, darkly wooded ridges, and the highest concentration of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the country.

Although the citizens of the United States ostensibly own the federal forests, the USDA Forest Service sold the right to log this mountainside to a company called Roseburg Forest Products. To the buyer and seller, this particular grove is identified as Unit 5 of the Jigsaw Timber Sale. It appears on my Forest Service map along with nearby sales labeled Peanuts, Whitebird, and Pigout, all of which contain precious old growth. Closer to the California border, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed old-growth logging in the 46,000-acre Zane Grey Roadless Area. In the Siskiyou National Forest, where protests halted ancient-forest logging in the early 1980s, crews are now moving into a fragile, formerly roadless swath of forest affected by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, in a “salvage” operation that has become one of the largest logging projects in the history of the Forest Service. In fact, there are now at least 188 pending sales of mature and old-growth trees on federal land in the Pacific Northwest.

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