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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.

If some members of Congress have their way, the outlook for forests and wildlife may get even more bleak. This fall, a coalition of 30 U.S. representatives are setting their sights on the Endangered Species Act, the landmark statute that helped save species such as the manatee, the bald eagle, and the Florida panther. Introduced by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), a replacement law would make it easier for developers to exempt property from critical habitat designation, and would add more weight to economic considerations.

To get a sense of what was to become of my old-growth campsite, I visited a recent regeneration harvest on BLM land with Lesley Adams of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, photographer Andrew Geiger, and photo assistant Jonah Sutherland. To get there, we drove along a logging road that tunneled through thick forest. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and the trees fell away, revealing a panorama of checkerboard mountainsides. As far as we could see, patches of dark-green forest alternated with parcels of stubbly brown mange.

Up close, the stubble was actually just stumps, some as big as 7 feet in diameter. Among the stumps in the intense sunlight, invasive plants had already taken root in the disturbed ground rutted by the steel tracks of bulldozers and skidders and the forces of erosion.

Birds and other noisemaking creatures were absent, leaving only the sound of the wind scratching at the remains of the fallen forest. We picked our way silently across the brown mountainside, stepping over the limbs of dead trees lying in the ashes of burned-off slash.

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