Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Reinvesting in Oregon's Natural Infrastructure

By Andy Kerr

Column #21 - Go to next column

Length: 752 words

Published: 8 May 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

Weyerhaeuser sold off its Klamath Basin holdings, International Paper dumped 200,000 acres in the central Coast Range and Cavenham Forest Industries unloaded its lands in the north Coast Range.

Others huge corporations will cut and walk. With capitalism, making a killing always wins over making a living. In these days of global competition—and especially since trees grow slower than money—capital is moving to the greater returns on investment.

These industrial timberlands have been heavily logged off several times. Where huge trees once stood are now stunted monoculture plantations that are ecologically closer to a cornfield than a forest.

Chemical pulping and the chainsaw allowed efficient mining of forests. As mining ends, more of our fiber will come from farmlands that are inherently more productive than forestlands. We have a surplus of the former and a shortage of the latter. Technologies exist to make structural construction products, as well as paper from annual fibers or agricultural waste products. As fiber production returns to the farm, timberlands will decline in value for growing fiber. If these private timber holdings remain in corporate ownership, even greater economic pressures will result in even more ecological destruction.

About one-half of Oregon is (or was) forested. Governor John Kitzhaber's fantasy voluntary salmon recovery plan notwithstanding, history has shown we can't rely on the private sector to restore our forests and protect our drinking water supplies. If the public wants salmon and other forest species, it's proper that most conservation responsibilities fall on the public sector.

Oregon should acquire four million acres of private timberland and return it to public forestland (about the size of the Mount Hood, Willamette and Umpqua National Forests). We should do this because it is ecologically necessary, socially desirable and economically feasible. We must re-invest in natural infrastructure as surely renewing physical infrastructure.

Salmon are in trouble in the Coast Range because of destruction of habitat. Acquiring and restoring habitat for salmon also benefits marbled murrelets, spotted owls and the 1000 others species of wildlife that need real, old growth forests.

Floodwaters run higher and dirtier because of all the roads and clearcuts in our upper watersheds. Uncountable logging- and road-related landslides wiped out much salmon habitat and even some people.

Global warming is caused by spewing unnatural amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One of best ways to remove the carbon is to grow forests—not tree farms, but real old hulking forests.

We've driven nature out of forests in the name of greed. So future generations don't suffer, it's time to pay off this ecological debt.

If population grows, we'll need more real forests. Former State Parks Dave Talbot envisioned a Willamette Valley Greenbelt to complement the Willamette River Greenway; a belt of Silver Falls State Parks surrounding the Willamette Valley in the foothills of the Cascade and Coast ranges. A forest corridor from Portland's Forest Park to the Pacific, can also become a reality.

In 1977, I visited Klootchie Creek in Clatsop County near where the nation's largest known Sitka Spruce now stands and was where the largest known Douglas-fir once stood. The Crown Zellerbach (several owners before Cavenham) executive described the magnificent old growth Douglas-fir forest of 12-foot diameter trees that once stood where only clearcuts and plantations now lay. He said, "We knew in the 1950s we had to log it then, or it would be a national park by now."

Society blew that chance, but we don't have to blow the next one. In the 1920s the Commonwealth of Virginia acquired some cut-over, burned-off, mined-out, grazed-down, plowed-up mountains and gave them to the United States for in the words of the National Park Service to "invite nature back." It was a radical idea, but today Shenendoah National Park is a quite reasonable thing to have done. Since it takes several hundred years to grow 12-foot diameter Douglas-fir, we should start immediately.

The state could finance it. At $750 per acre of cutover timberland, the cost is $3 billion. Borrowing at 7% for 200 years—about the time we have been cutting down forests, and to minimally grow a decent old growth forest—it would cost $15 million per month.

A tax on carbon emissions is a fair way to pay for it.

With (at the moment) three million Oregonians, that's less $6/month (less than the price of a six-pack of decent Oregon microbrew).

Here's to restoring Oregon's forests!

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