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Umpqua Watersheds: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Published March 16th, 2020 in President's Corner, UW Blogs

By Ken Carloni, President

As the long winter ebbs and wildflowers begin to poke their heads up, I find myself thinking back to a beautiful spring day in 1996. It was the year of the infamous “salvage rider” that opened up thousands of acres of old growth forests to logging for one year. That was a frenetic year of protests, arrests, and blockades of logging shows in our desperate efforts to protect priceless ancient forests from the “lawless logging” that was mowing down our natural heritage at a terrifying rate.


In the spring of that year, Francis Eatherington, one of our founding members and a true hero of the movement, notified me that a stand of timber had just been put up for sale on Cobble Knob in the Rock Creek watershed. I had an afternoon off from my college classes, so I hopped into my car and drove up to take a look. What I saw there both awed and chilled me.


Spotting a remnant stand of tall trees in a sea of clear-cuts and plantations, I made my way up a rough trail into one of the most magnificent stands of cathedral old growth I’d ever seen. Five to seven feet in diameter, a magical stand of Douglas-fir stood like a council of elders at the top of the hill. Wildflowers of every description were blooming at their feet through a carpet of moss and ferns.

I  knew that stands like this were going down like matchsticks all over the Umpqua, and I knew that we all had to do everything in our power to save as much of our natural heritage as we could. There were dozens of other stands like Cobble Knob slated for destruction, but this was one of the few that became our “poster children” to show the world what we all were in danger of losing.


UW went full throttle all year trying to stop the carnage. We shot videos, made posters and wrote letters to share with our elected representatives and anyone else we thought might help. We brought major news media including CNN, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post out to see these stands and report on their imminent destruction to an American public that was unaware of what they were losing in the name of the almighty dollar. Best-selling author James Redfield stood in front of the biggest tree on Cobble knob, and with our cameras rolling said “Cutting trees like this will be the biggest crime that our children and their children will accuse us of.”


We suffered some agonizing losses that year – the stands that we couldn’t save still bring tears to my eyes as I write this. But Cobble Knob was not one of them. That council of elders still stands because Umpqua Watersheds and many friends and supporters from across the country stood up and put our bodies and our livelihoods on the line.


How did we manage to save Cobble Knob? That’s an inspiring story of technical expertise, tenacity, teamwork and a bit of luck – a story that we will tell when we revisit that forest later this summer as part of our Legacy Hike Series. We plan to revisit several of the iconic forests that still stand because of the dedication and determination of many hearts and minds on the Umpqua, in Cascadia, and across the nation. Stay tuned to Watershed Moments and the summer newsletter for dates and times, and help us celebrate the ones that didn’t get away.


But Umpqua Watersheds was not the first conservation organization to risk confronting unbridled power to give voice to the voiceless. The Umpqua Wilderness Defenders worked under even harsher political conditions to get the first three (and still only) Wilderness areas on the Umpqua designated by congress in 1984. I was relatively new to the area at the time and not directly involved in the movement, but I knew I wanted to help. So when the call went out to put together a pick-up band to play at a fundraiser dance at the Glide Community Center to fly folks back to D.C. to lobby our congressional delegation, I happily agreed to play.


While I was there, I met a young teacher who was also new to the area and was volunteering to serve food to the revelers. Her name was Jenny, and we, well… hit it off.


But I also met another guy there that night who was a leader in the movement. His name is Roy Keene, and we went on to become fast friends. Roy regaled me with stories from his logging days and chronicled his spiritual journey from “tree killer” to “tree hugger”. Over the years, I learned more about forestry from him than I did in all of the classes I subsequently took at OSU.


Roy was the keynote speaker at our very first UW Banquet, and I am thrilled to announce that he will reprise that role at our 25th Anniversary Banquet and Auction on April 4th. The title of his address will be “How the Wilderness Was Won” during which we will hear inspiring stories about people and events from the birth of the environmental movement on the Umpqua. We will also be talking about how you can support our campaign to add Crater Lake Wilderness to the list of protected wildlands.


Lastly, a heartfelt thanks for your decades of support, especially to you who supported us when we were truly a lonely voice in the Wilderness, and to you who are sustaining us as we continue to fight for the wild. See you at the Banquet!

 

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