Seeing the Forest


If you’re looking for something to watch on date night, you might enjoy “Seeing the Forest,” an FSEEE-produced 30-minute documentary released on-line today.

The movie chronicles the Siuslaw National Forest’s path to a fish and watershed restoration mission. It’s a sequel to “Torrents of Change,” which recounted how the 1996 flood helped galvanize and reinforce the Siuslaw’s on-going transformation. Now, 20 years later, “Seeing the Forest” picks up the story-line.

4 thoughts on “Seeing the Forest”

  1. I attended a viewing of Seeing the Forest a couple weeks ago and came away rather offended. The color and photography was superb. Since then, I’ve watched this film several times and the following points stand out.

    Minute 1:20 — Large trees are missing along stream channels because USFS focused on timber for 40 years – Is this saying the USFS was harvesting large trees alongside the streams? Since 1971, Oregon’s Forest Practices Act prohibited this for private and state-managed lands. For federal lands, the restrictions were even more stringent since the Forest Service said their restrictions would meet or exceed the state’s. Maybe this 40-year period was from 1930-1970. For the first half of that 40-period, the federal government did very little timber harvesting.

    1:45 – “All of the Siuslaw was spotted owl habitat” – Since the perception is that the owl needs old-growth, is this saying the Siuslaw was all old-growth? That is just plain baloney! Even going back several thousand years, that was never the case. Wind storms, Indian burning, and other disturbances made sure it was not all old-growth. Further, a good portion of the Siuslaw was part of the 1850’s Yaquina Burns.

    Since it is commonly accepted that old-growth is 200 years of age, even if those burns were immediately regenerated, that portion of the Siuslaw could not possibly be old-growth!

    Maybe what this is saying is, if the owl truly was everywhere on the Siuslaw, the owl doesn’t really have to have old-growth after all.

    2:20 — “The whole forest” — Excellent point! At one time, the forest was primarily a source of raw material. In time, we came to see the forest as more than just the trees and, today any responsible and enlightened forest land manager MUST manage the whole forest. Further, it is the law!

    8:00 – Landslides – The USFS said there was a lot of logging related landslides in 1996. My understanding was that was determined by an aerial survey. The Ore. Dep. of Forestry thought that a bit suspicious so they surveyed the same area by ground and they found slides that were not visible from the air in undisturbed stands. Yes, they found the incidence of slides was slightly higher in harvested units for the first 10 years or so but was actually less after that.

    10:00 — Roads and storms – Of course, well-maintained roads should better withstand major storm events. Road building and maintenance standards as well as technologies are much higher today than 20 years ago. This is evidenced by much-improved culvert designs. Further, the law is much more rigorous than it was 20 years ago.

    11:58 – “As long as your basic mission is wrong …” – Whether right or wrong can be seen only in hindsight. Further, whether right or wrong is a value judgement.

    12:15 – NW Forest Plan awarded “complete victory to one side” and “created space for a new conversation.” – Yep, the “victory” was one-sided and am not sure what the “new” conversation is.

    13:50 – “Conflicts are minimal …” – If virtually no timber is being sold, then of course there are no conflicts!

    18:00 – First major harvesting after WWII and plantations of monoculture D-f – This is true. The best thinking of the day was to convert old-growth forests to highly productive plantation forestry. After all, old-growth was deemed old, rotting, decadent, and not very productive. Whether that thinking was right or wrong can only be viewed in hindsight and, again, is a value judgement.

    25:29 – “What do we stand for … restoration, fish, wildlife, and recreation” – Apparently people, mills, jobs, taxes, and raw materials are not part of what the Siuslaw stands for.

    26:45 – ”We used to pull trees out of the stream” – That was the best thinking of the time. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake and, again, is a value judgement.

    28:30 – NW Forest Plan “was a gift” – Would the mills who were driven out of business and their displaced employees agree? The Canadians would agree because their forests are filling the wood void created by the Plan.

    29:30 – “We can’t thin these plantations forever” – In 20 years, what will happen? The older stands have already been put off limits and when the plantations have been “restored” and acquiring old-growth characteristics, what will happen next? About the only thing left is that the Siuslaw will stand for “fish, wildlife, and recreation.” People, jobs, taxes, raw materials …. not so much.

    At the beginning, I mentioned being offended with the panel discussion that followed that first film viewing. Someone said the need for the restoration of the Siuslaw was because of the “greed” of the timber industry. A history and an economics lesson are sorely needed!

    Prior to World War II, virtually all timber harvested in Oregon’s Coast Range came from private lands. When the war ended and all the GI’s came home and started families, these new families wanted a home. The baby boom followed and suburbia came into being. The problem was that the private forest lands had not yet regrown into an age/size that was harvestable. Public lands, on the other hand, had had very little harvesting at that point; they were the obvious source of logs.

    Economics 101 says this was a simple matter of supply and demand. The only reason private lands prior to WWII and public lands after WWII were harvested is that people wanted/demanded wood! To be sure, the timber industry had to make a profit and some companies were very profitable.

    That is no less true today. People want wood and someone will have to supply that wood. Right now, the American consumer is a net importer of nearly 40% of our softwood consumption. A question I often ask and no one (especially our elected officials) will answer; is it ethical to “save” our forests as we export the costs of our consumption? A good portion of our imported consumption comes from the boreal forests of Canada; forests that may take 20-30 acres to replace a single acre of the Siuslaw.

    During my 40+ years working in the Coast Range, I can count at least 15 mills in Benton County, Oregon, who have disappeared. All but one or two were small, local, and family-owned mills. Most had little or no timber land of their own and relied almost entirely on logs offered for sale. For a very long time, the 600-lb. gorilla in the Coast Range was (and still is) the Siuslaw.

    With the NW Forest Plan, the publicly produced logs suddenly dried up. The demand was there but the supply was not. In an effort to stay in business, these mills paid astronomically high prices for logs. In the short term, that was great for the private landowner. As a business model, that was not sustainable and most mills went broke or otherwise closed up shop. In the long term that was not so good for the private land owner because the competition for those logs declined as did the price. I think it fair to say these mills were driven out of business by the NW Forest Plan.

    Again, to lay the blame for all the ills on the Siuslaw on the “greed” of the timber industry hides the simple fact that the American consumer wanted and demanded wood. If the consumer did not want that wood, the timber industry would not have existed and the landowner would have had no reason to harvest a tree much less even bother to plant or grow a tree. In fact, the landowner probably should have sold their lands or converted the land to another use.

    Today, Benton County has but three mills left. One is a local, family-owned mill who uses only red cedar, much of it brought from Washington. The second is also a local, family-owned mill and uses mid to large-sized logs. The third is part of a much larger, nation-wide conglomerate and they use mid-sized logs. Small conifer logs, pulp, and hardwood logs once had a mill in the county but now have to be trucked elsewhere.

    • Indeed, the battle often seems to be against “widely-held eco-beliefs”, which they like to trot out when they cannot address the science and history. Stop punishing the dead foresters! We have what we have in our forests today, and we must proceed on from here, instead of “pining” for a humanless landscape. The forests have not been without human impacts for a very, VERY long time, and that will not be changing for a very, VERY long time, too. Let us pretend that will be true instead of the fantasy of a forest without humans.

  2. Very good response Dick. If I recall, the Elliot State Forest in Oregon, now sacred old growth home to the Murrelat and precedent setting litigation, was also burned off in late 1800’s. Why do you think the state got it? I would guess that the dirty little secret is very little of it qualifies as old growth as defined by “Green et. al. ” or whatever is the best available science definition on the coast. When I drove down the coast of Oregon last year, frankly it looked like “Appalachia with moss covered roofs.” I guess selling ice cream cones for 3 months a year to the eco-tourists in the promised “new economy” didn’t cut it.

    • Spot on! The Elliot State Forest is supposed to provide revenues to support the state’s schools; something it did very successfully for many years. Of late, however, it is so tied up in litigation that, instead of providing revenues, it is operating at a deficit, hardly a way to support schools. The state recently sold several small parcels in an attempt get a little revenue but that was protested, too. The fear was that the new owners, the greedy timber companies, would clear-cut the timber!

      I guess all publicly owned forest lands are supposed to become parks and serve only fish, wildlife, and recreation. Maybe three months a year selling ice cream cones and looking like Appalachia is our future.


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