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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.

Not included in these statistics are the costs of damage to fisheries, lost recreation opportunities, and the incalculable loss in value of fresh air, wildlife, and aesthetics. Annually, timber production adds roughly $4 billion per year to the U.S. economy, while recreation, fish and wildlife, and water catchment on federal lands provide a total of $224 billion. According to the Forest Service’s own data, recreation in national forests accounts for more than 30 times the amount of revenue and jobs created by timber sales.

About the best thing one can say about regeneration logging on federal land is that it’s not as bad as it would be if there were no rules at all. On nearby lands that are privately owned by logging companies, there are no legacy trees and no buffer zones; the entire biological community is bulldozed right down to the streams. The accelerated erosion in the aftermath of these logging projects feeds tons of fine sediment into rivers, smothering trout and salmon eggs.

Walking among the wreckage of the forest, I was hit with a gulping sense of frustration and impotence, as well as a curiously personal sense of failure. What happened here? Were the forces of greed that enabled this destruction so much more clever, so much more powerful, so much better connected than those who fought to stop it?

Conservationists like Adams and Eatherington are committed, hardworking, and earnest. But there is no denying that in the past 5 years they and the rest of the environmental community have been outgunned and outflanked by the extractive industries. In the absence of fresh strategies–and the right people in the right places–many conservationists are still playing the same cards in a game that has changed dramatically since the 1990s.

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