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June 20, 2013
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Guest column: Public forests' looting fattens private wallets

We are old family friends. We’re fourth- and fifth-generation Oregonians with deep roots in Oregon’s forests and its pioneer heritage. We come from families that are here for the long haul, not the short term. We rail at waste and corruption, especially in the name of jobs!

We read the guest viewpoint in the May 28 Register-Guard by the Jones sisters. Owners of the huge automated Seneca sawmill, they lament the passing of a smaller, less efficient, less competitive mill like Rough & Ready in Josephine County.

Their tears are as unconvincing as some of their claims, such as “The radical activists’ propaganda has finally taken the ultimate toll: Oregon is broke.”

We may have rural roots, but we are college-educated women who can sort drama from fact. Googling the 2012 Gross Domestic Product for Oregon shows us at $186 billion and with the second-highest growth in the nation, led by high-tech industries. Hardly broke!

Enough of the Jones’ story, it’s time for ours.

My ancestors blazed the famous Applegate Trail through Southern Oregon in the mid-1800s. They moved through and wrote of great oak savannahs and hills covered with diverse forests dominated by enormous trees. Oregon’s beautiful pre-industrial landscape remains printed deep in our memories and hearts.

Father began his logging career on spring boards using the misery whip, then graduated to the gas-powered chain saw after World War II. He never thought we’d see the end of the old growth forests on the private lands he worked in. But in just one human generation, we’ve witnessed unrestricted logging whittle the vast forest owned by industry down to chemically supported, highly flammable fiber farms. My industrial forest neighbors even poisoned great historic oaks because they interfered with their monocrop fetish.

Patty’s father, an early state fish biologist, worked out of Coos Bay in the 1950s where he raised his family. He heard the big corporations like Georgia Pacific, International Paper and Weyerhaeuser promise “sustained yield” while they liquidated Southern Oregon’s valuable old growth forests along with the mills and jobs that depended on them. Her family saw the forest fall and the salmon runs diminish to a trickle of their pre-industrial glory. This land swindle and logging travesty is well-recorded in such academically astute works as “Hard Times In Paradise.”

Having sold off the high-value, mature forest on their lands and replaced them with teenage tree farms, Oregon’s greedy timber barons now covet our mature, publicly owned forests. To justify this, they preach a tired sermon we longtime natives have heard many times. Big timber tells us how they love and care for Oregon’s forests and people; how important jobs, services and recreation are to them; how our dense and decadent old forest will burn or die if they don’t log it; and how Oregon’s forests will prosper under their “management.” History, hard data and a little travel expose their myths.

Patty and I remember driving by the Rough & Ready mill along Highway 199 in the 1970s and seeing huge decks of ancient pines from our forests in the mill’s yard. In the 1950s the slow-growing old pines were mined out of Josephine County’s private forests like the gold from the streams. Since then we’ve supplied industry with old trees from federal forests. Why must we sacrifice what mature trees remain in the public domain to mills that have already made their money in our woods?

More recently we’ve driven by the huge freighters leaving Coos Bay loaded with logs and chips going to China to feed their mills, be made into finished products and be shipped back again. Hundreds of millions of board feet of timber and tens of thousands of jobs are being exported so the real “fringe elitists” — private timber corporations — can prosper. Their prosperity comes at great expense to Oregon’s forests and people.

Public forests are being forced to subsidize these private timber corporations. This is wrong!

We’re working women, not “radical activists.” We own and live in wood houses, we burn wood for heat, and we use wood products. We aren’t against respectful, truly sustainable logging. We’re against entire watersheds being stripped and poisoned, salmon spawning gravels being choked with debris, logs that should be milled here being shipped out, and Oregon’s largest land owners paying a tiny fraction of the property tax we pay.

We, too, call on Oregonians to “Take a closer look at the timber industry and what it is doing.” Start with viewing our tattered watersheds and cut-over hills with the Google Maps satellite. This, we suggest, is the real “shameful waste of our state’s greatest bounty.”

Susan Applegate of Yoncalla is an artist and educator and can be reached at Patty Keene of Eugene works as a real estate broker.

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The News-Review Updated Jun 20, 2013 05:49PM Published Jun 20, 2013 05:37PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.