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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.

But wait a minute: Aren’t old-growth logging and clearcuts on federal land a thing of the past? Didn’t conservationists camp in trees and lock arms in front of bulldozers in a successful campaign that pressured lawmakers to protect ancient forests? And don’t polls show that the majority of Americans–even those in timber-rich states such as Oregon–consider old-growth logging to be socially unacceptable?

In conservation, it is said, there are no permanent victories. The case of the Northwest’s old-growth forests is a model of just how tenuous environmental protections can be, and how the changing winds of politics can fetch seeds of destruction to America’s remaining wild places.

The source of these particular winds can be found by following the money, back to the presidential campaign of 2000. In that election, the timber industry handed over at least $3.4 million in direct contributions (which excludes things like issue advertisements) to the Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Environmentalists say that the payback began shortly after incoming president George W. Bush stepped off the inaugural podium on January 20, 2001. On his first day in office, Bush suspended the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a Clinton initiative that had placed about one-third of the national forest system off-limits to virtually all roadbuilding and logging.

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