Kathy Jones is quickly rising to the top of my Favorite Oregon People list. I’ve met a lot of great people since I pulled into town almost two years ago, so my list is becoming kind of exclusive.
I wrote about Kathy Jones a few months ago, following a visit she made to discuss timber. She’s a self-described “timber woman” who speaks eloquently and firmly about the industry that she and so many Oregonians grew up in.
She and her sisters, Becky and Jody, own Seneca Jones Family of Companies, which has timberland in Douglas County.
Last time I spoke with Kathy she said she and her sisters planned to be a little more vocal about an industry that had been slapped around too long.
“The people of Oregon, multi-generational, are people of the land,” she told me last November. “They know how to live off the land and people who know how to live off the land revere it. They absolutely revere it, protect it and feel a spiritual bond with it. To be suddenly accused of destroying and killing the forests that sustains them steamrolled many and silenced them to shame.”
She vowed to end that silence and this week provided a little demonstration.
As you may have heard, the state has decided to sell a small slice of the Elliott State Forest in order to help boost the struggling Common School Fund that relies on timber receipts. It had hoped to harvest the timber itself, but got tired of fighting the tree sitters and lawyers and politicians who stand in the way of any public land harvesting.
In theory, it’s easier to harvest timber on private land because there are fewer hoops to jump through.
The roughly 3,000 acres of Elliott Forest up for sale (around 2 percent of the total Elliott forest) are split into three smaller parcels valued at around $3 million.
A group calling itself Cascadia Forest Defenders — known for its ability to occupy trees for weeks on end — warned anyone who buys that land to expect trouble, up to and including criminal activity.
“We will not respect new property lines, signs or gates,” read a press release from that group a couple of weeks ago. “Do not bid on these sales. If you become an owner of the Elliott, you will have activists up your trees and lawsuits on your desk. We will be at your office and in your mills.”
Kathy Jones’ reaction was exactly what I would have expected.
“On behalf of my sisters Becky and Jody, I am announcing that Seneca Jones has submitted a bid to the Oregon Department of State Lands on the East Hakki Ridge land sale from the Elliott State Forest,” her company press release stated.
Kathy Jones said her company hadn’t planned on bidding, but decided to after learning of the threats.
“We refuse to be bullied by eco-radical groups like Cascadia Forest Defenders, who have tried to intimidate everyone in our business,” Seneca’s press release continued. “Seneca will go to the mat on this one … standing up to bullies who would prevent responsible use of the Elliott. We are taking a stand for all Oregonians, our state and our children’s well-being. We take this action as three women and mothers who care deeply, and we will continue to advocate for more aggressive defense of lands and practices dedicated to enhancing the Common School Fund.”
Cascadia Forest Defenders would have us believe that the 3,000 or so acres up for sale represent some of the most pristine forest in the world, filled with endangered wildlife and trees that are hundreds of years old and that stand buffer between evil humans and the Pacific Ocean.
Then there is reality.
“What is the result of state forests being mismanaged through litigation?” the Seneca release asks. “Unhealthy forests that are prone to insect attacks, disease, blow-downs and massive forest fires.”
The endangered marbled murrelet — which joins the spotted owl as the Cascadia Forest Defenders’ poster child — apparently has been spotted nesting in old growth trees in the Pacific Northwest. When there are no old growth trees, the little seabirds will nest on the ground. They prefer to be within 2 miles of the ocean.
There is no evidence that the state is selling “old growth” timber where murrelets are nesting.
In discussing timber harvesting, it’s important to provide a little context. Oregon still has lots and lots of trees. In fact, about half of Oregon’s 61 million acre land base is forest and the government (in theory you and I) owns nearly 60 percent of that land.
The 3,000 acres being sold still leaves more than enough room for murrelets, owls and people who want to occupy trees.
Kathy Jones and people who make their living in the forest really don’t want to “rape the forest” as the Cascadia Forest Defenders suggest. In fact, they are more than a little offended that tree sitters from Portland have assigned themselves guardians of the forests, suggesting that they are more qualified and compassionate.
Citizens of Douglas and Coos counties should be just as offended, since the Cascadia Forest Defenders are using us as pawns. “It is clear that the State Land Board doesn’t care about Coos and Douglas county Oregonians who are sick of seeing the hills above their homes yarded away to timber mills while their counties grow poorer,” reads the Defenders’ press release.
The people I speak with are sick, all right. They’re sick of a handful of people with too much time on their hands determining public policy that has crippled this economy.
And they are happy to see someone with the guts to fight back.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.