PRESIDENT’S REPORT: STATE OF THE UMPQUA
On a recent trip to Minnesota via Canada, we visited the west side of the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We had heard about forest harvest practices there and so we were not surprised that very little primary forest remains in this area. Of course, in the Olympic National Park, the forests are in their natural state, untouched by modern harvest methods. These higher elevation forests are composed of smaller trees that have adapted to harsh soil and moisture conditions. The lower elevation forests are where trees would normally thrive and grow very large.
Much of the Olympic National Forest has been harvested at least once, but a few stands remain in their natural state and are protected for tourists like us to visit. The same is true on Vancouver Island, although some of the provincial parks we visited were harvested sometime in the past and then presumably turned into parks. You can find tourists visiting places such as Cathedral Grove in the Port Alberni area. Flocks of tourists packing the sides of the road and jamming the highways, stop to take in the sights of a remnant stand of primary forest. Large cedar, hemlock, and Douglas-fir are protected from adoring fans by a boardwalk with rails, and signs ask that visitors remain on the trail so as not to compact the soil around the trees.
As we were walking this boardwalk, I could not help but think of the 1970 Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi.” The words in the song kept swirling in my head. “They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum and charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
We are fortunate to have big trees and primary forests in the Umpqua Basin that we can visit on our public lands – unless, of course, private landowners put up gates in the BLM checkerboard, which is happening more often. Umpqua Watersheds is dedicated to the protection of these forests and we fight for the retention of our older forests. Our successes are sometimes short-lived and we continue to have to monitor and challenge harvests that we successfully challenged in the past. A tree that is still standing is at risk, but one that is cut is lost forever. In the Umpqua Basin, older forests are being targeted by our own public land managers who ignore the science, the advice of experts, and calls by the global community to halt all logging of older forests. These forests are important for native flora and fauna, maintaining water quality and flow, and also mitigating climate change. We don’t have much time and we have the difficult task of convincing those in leadership positions to do the right thing.
Currently, the Roseburg BLM has timber sales in old forests despite the new executive order issued by the Biden administration. It can be a difficult task for land managers to navigate the rules, laws, and policies of the past that have put us on this trajectory. More recent laws and cooperative agreements reflect the need to address past mistakes. The Endangered Species Act and the Northwest Forest Plan are examples of public attempts to override bad policies of the past. Business as usual must not be the norm and we need courageous land managers to put a stop to destructive practices when they are able. Where there is room for interpretation in policies, laws, and agreements, we all have a reasonable expectation that public employees will make decisions in the public’s best interest, and that of future generations. We must keep challenging bad policies to stop them from being the status quo.
Our forests are the nations and the worlds. The hoards of people visiting the Cathedral Grove trees are from all over the world and they have an interest in them just as we do in the Umpqua. Stay strong, go see your forests, and be informed.