Use It or Lose It


Use It or Lose It


I never received a degree from the "Old School" even though I am accused of attending it. But I did witness the transformation of an industry. I watched as the last wooden spar pole was raised in Quartzville Creek. I pounded wedges to fall 6-foot old growth trees on Snow Peak. And I saw an owl decreed to be more sacred than a man's livelihood.


I witnessed logging's last great hurrah three decades ago in the Pacific Northwest. I roamed through stands of trees only land surveyors had visited. I followed faint trails once trod upon by people in moccasins. And I was taught by woodsmen who had spent their lives working in the forest.


While I worked and roamed, I learned. Sweat was not a bad thing. Rain and snow only made the sunshine more appreciated. Integrity and precision were qualities never to be given short shrift, however.


I do not see that proud work ethic in the novice government foresters of today. The new breed seems content to formulate mathematical models on computers rather than discover the next blazed tree along a section line on a steep mountainside. Field work is delegated to unfortunate subordinates sent out to gather data on the slimy shenanigans of the Malone jumping slug.


Regulation has replaced forest management. All who venture near the trees are controlled by hundreds of officials enforcing thousands of regulations. Whether it is to harvest a tree, camp in a meadow, or hike in a wilderness, you will need a forest pass, and a snow park permit, and a reservation.


No longer does a parade of crummies and pickups depart from small towns in the predawn darkness. There is no daily convoy of log trucks hauling logs from stump to dump. Mill whistles that once marked the passage of time have been silenced. Saw shops and rigging shops are now boutiques selling antiques. Logging equipment dealers have retreated to a few enclaves in Centralia and Eugene, and unashamedly display farm tractors alongside log loaders.


Mill towns like Valsetz have disappeared, erased from the face of the earth. Gardiner, Detroit, and Amboy wait for the promised hordes of environmental tourists to arrive, only to concoct concerts, mud-o-ramas, and DB Cooper events to lure anyone into the city limits. Meanwhile, the rusting, red skeletons of old mills and wigwam burners offer silent witness to other times.


I have seen this environmental deluge engulf the rural communities. The metamorphosis has been demanded by an ever-increasing urban population. Like the proverbial snowball rolling down the hill, each year has bought more demands and new regulations to control the forest and those who would work there.


Change is inevitable. Some change is good, but the balance of the urban-rural teeter-totter has been lost. Popular sentiment is skewed heavily against the timber industry and reasonable forest management. Society has deluded itself to believe a forest ecosystem can be preserved with mere regulation. Banning the logger will not protect trees from fire, insects and the ravages of old age. Collecting data will never produce a single two-by-four for the homebuilder. We live in a fool's paradise, daring to believe we can control and protect the forest with only decrees.


Use it or lose it.