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Oregon Forests -
a Welshman's Concern
by Iliff Simey

Sir - A walk in a thin sliver of Douglas fir old growth in the Willamette National Forest of central Oregon in the great Pacific north-west of America set me to enquire about its protection.  As the owner of a small piece of our own heritage - 8 ha (20 acres) of rather special ancient semi-natural woodland in north Wales - I well know the value which we have only recently come to attach to such treasures.

I, therefore, set out, during a prolonged visit to the northwest coast this summer, to find out what is happening.  This, I found was no simple task.  Forestry and money are so tightly intertwined in America that the true situation is, to us, very complex.

Native old growth forest, that is to say forest which existed when the first European arrived in the sixteenth century, is hard to find as a newcomer like myself.  Much of it has been logged, often long ago, significantly disrupting the forest ecosystem (for example, the great and justly revered redwoods of northern California.)  Therefore, to find a small piece with an apparently intact forest ecosystem came as a pleasant surprise.

A visit to the office of the government forestry Service was pleasantly reassuring.  Great colored forest plan maps, along the lines of our own, are available for inspection.  A beleaguered forester explained to me that the status of this plan rested within his own organization; beleaguered because, like our farmers, they do not enjoy public support.  The survival of my small piece of old growth forest, therefore, rested on good intentions rather than government commitment.

            Nearby is a great area of burnt forest, rumored to have been torched by a lumber company eager for the timber salvage which this would present.  The complexities of this provide many ways around obstacles to felling.

            Another large area in the same forest, containing old growth habitat for the protected spotted owl, is classified for 'Intensive Timber Management' (i.e. clearfell.)  Although there are some areas designated for alternative silvicultural systems, clearcut timber sales abound and are certain to further divide public and forester confidence.

            The stunning thing is that it costs the American taxpayer dearly to continue the logging of government forests; the network of roads built at the taxpayer' expense far exceeds the income from timber sales.  The public perceives this forest as belonging to the people of America, not the giant corporate logging operations, and is demanding an end to all logging on public land. Add to this complexity the large areas of forest held by the corporate lumber concerns and the small-scale private owners, all of whom operate outside the government forestry structure, and a picture emerges which is deeply troubling for the future of the great native forests of the Pacific northwest.

            A five-month stay visiting these forests convinces me that future generations will condemn the throwing away of family silver as gross irresponsible negligence in caring for the forest.

Iliff Simey, iliffsimey@netscopeonline.co.uk

This is the text of a letter that appeared in the January 2000 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Forestry, the Official publication of the Royal Forestry Society of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Reprinted here with permission of the author.

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