Andy Kerr

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

Reigniting the Pacific Northwest Timber Wars by Logging More Old Growth: Bring It On, President Trump!

A forty-year veteran of Big Timber says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the federal timber cut in Oregon will go up under a Donald Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. Such is Big Timber’s last best hope to ever return to the bad old days when three square miles of Oregon ancient forest were clear-cut weekly (ca. 1990). After forty years as a warrior for the wild, I’m optimistic that the Oregon federal timber cut won’t go up. Here’s why.

Big Timber in Oregon is so 20th Century. It used to be that timber jobs were above the state’s median wage; now they are below it. Today, only 1.3 percent of Oregon’s jobs arise from falling trees. That number will continue to decline in relative terms as Oregon’s economy continues to grow, and it will continue to decline in absolute terms as the timber industry continues to automate.

Trump said in Eugene in May 2016 that “timber jobs (in Oregon) have been cut in half since 1990” (actually, since 1995 when President Clinton implemented the Northwest Forest Plan). While half the mills have closed and half the jobs have been lost since then, the milling capacity of the remaining Oregon wood products mills is one-quarter larger than it was in 1995.

This presidential election was not about federal public lands. It was partly about trying to return to halcyon days gone by—mostly in the American Midwest manufacturing belt and in coal country, but also in Oregon. The only way to boost logging to levels that would satiate Big Timber would be to return to the days of clear-cutting older (mature and old-growth) forests. But the timber industry has lost its social license to log older forests, and Trump’s winning the Electoral College vote didn’t change that.

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the non-election of Al Gore in 2000 (like Hillary Clinton, he won the popular vote) ushered in bad environmental policies. The election of Donald Trump will undoubtedly do the same.

The stars may be aligning for Congress and the president to weaken—if not repeal—the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act (which allows presidential proclamation of national monuments), and several other environmental protection statutes, and for Trump to gut corresponding regulations. I fear for these laws because of what they have protected and what they can protect.

But while I’m very worried about nature in general (not to mention the world as a whole) under Trump, I’m not worried about Oregon’s remaining older forests falling to the chainsaw. This may have been a change election nationally, but not in Oregon. All members of the Oregon congressional delegation easily retained their seats.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley support legislation that would protect all moist forest stands more than 85 years old and all dry forest trees more than 150 years old. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, and even Greg Walden (the lone Republican) are on record wanting to protect from logging all stands of trees more than 120 years old. The remaining Democratic congresspeople, Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer, are not so clearly on record in regard to specific tree ages, but I would put them at least where Wyden and Merkley are.

Walden points to environmental protection requirements for water, soil, and wildlife as the reason the federal cut isn’t high enough for him. Only in my dreams. The actual factor limiting the federal forest agencies from getting more logs out the door is the lack of congressional funding.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown is on record saying she wants to increase the federal timber cut but hasn’t said by how much. If she wants to log older forests, I’m sure some Democrats who do not would dearly love to “primary” her in 2018.

Today in Oregon, atmospheric carbon pollution from logging is exceeded only by that from transportation. Logging these magnificent carbon-dense forests would not only decimate watersheds and wildlife but also result in massive releases of polluting carbon to the atmosphere.

At 61 and with acrophobia, I’m no use in climbing old trees to defend them from the chainsaw. But a younger generation of activists will sit, en masse, in those threatened old-growth trees, in front of bulldozers, and/or in appropriate offices. And if it comes to that, I’m happy to get arrested in offices of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Republican Party, the timber industry, or elected officials.

Bring it on, President Trump. Bring it on, Big Timber. Bring it on, Rep. Walden. Go ahead, make my day: reignite the Pacific Northwest timber wars.

Let the battle be joined, as nothing less is at stake than the lands and forests we leave to future generations.