A group of protesters and college students has spent the past six months living in the woods on a ridge near Roseburg, Oregon. They’re using civil disobedience to try to prevent logging on the site. It sounds like an old story in the Northwest. But there’s a new twist. A forestry professor says the logging was designed to mimic nature.
Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sold the rights to log a small grove of Douglas firs to a private company called Roseburg Forest Products.
Roseburg bid more than a million dollars for the trees, and planned to start logging this fall. But then the tree sitters showed up.
“When I first got here, I was so excited that I spent a good week or two, just in the tree. It’s wonderful.”
That’s Josh Eng. But nobody here calls him that. His nickname is Turtle.
Shout: “Hey Turtle”
He’s from Pennsylvania, 29 years old, with a pointy, black beard. Eng has spent much of the last 9 weeks living in a tree.
“This particular plot of land has never been logged before. It just makes sense to keep what little there is left. ”
The forest here started growing 120 years ago after a fire burned through this area, west of Crater Lake.
Eng and other protesters with the group Cascadia Forest Defenders have set up camp in the firs and hemlocks.
Their ground operations are a tent, a kerosene lamp, and a milk crate full of science fiction novels from the Eugene Public library, says Brian Garcia.
“The books are extremely important because we have minimal entertainment out here except for ourselves.”
But the heart of camp is the wooden platforms in the treetops.
Eng drops a rope to me and i put on a climbing harness. I wiggle my way up 100 feet.
Templeton “So I think the first thing that really surpised me when I got up here is, your platform is really rocky. It’s like a boat!”
The platform is just big enough to sleep on. Buckets of food and water hang from the branches nearby.
This high up, Eng figures he’ll be very difficult to arrest. So far, he says, nobody’s tried to remove him from the tree. Or, rather, no people have tried to remove him.
“I do have a squirrel that kind of comes around at night, and yells at me and throws things.”
“Do you stay anchored all the time while you’re up here?”
“Yes, always keep connected. Two points of safety.”
Eng’s arch nemesis in this conflict, apart from the squirrel, isn’t necessarily the logging company. It’s a forestry professor at Oregon State University named Norm Johnson. He’s the guy who designed this timber sale. But here’s the thing. He has a long track record in conservation. And Johnson says he’s taking this protest to heart.
“I could see how disappointed they were in me. Yeah, that’s hard.”
Johnson says this timber sale isn’t your grandfather’s clear-cut.
It’s a pilot project, a demonstration of something called a “variable retention harvest.”
“The approach we’re taking is trying as best we can to emulate the development of a wild forest. We’re not trying to replace it with a tree farm. ”
Johnson says the feds asked him to figure out how to harvest trees in a way that’s profitable and environmentally friendly at the same time.
So he thought, let’s mimic the effect of a wildfire or a big windstorm. He and a colleague at the University of Washington looked at what happened in the years after the Mount St. Helens eruption.
In the variable retention harvest they came up with, the largest, oldest trees on the site don’t get cut down.
About a third of the standing and fallen wood is left untouched, while the rest gets logged.
Johnson says after a few years, a meadow of grasses and bushes and berries will start to grow in place of the forest.
Johnson “There are many creatures that like to live in openings. Say mountain bluebirds, or salamanders.
This moment just after the destruction of a forest, when young trees compete with bushes and grasses for sun is called an early seral ecosystem. It lasts until the firs grow tall enough to block the light. It used to be common in the Western cascades from Roseburg to Canadian border, says Johnson.
“The diverse early seral stage is actually rarer than old growth right now. We are very short of it.”
This idea: mimic nature, and create a few more rural jobs in the process, has proved popular with politicians.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has introduced a bill that would use Johnson’s technique to significantly increase the amount of timber cut on public lands in Western Oregon.
Wyden “We worked with the best scientists in the Northwest to make these harvests as ecologically friendly as we possibly could.”
But many environmentalists have criticized Johnson’s ideas. Back on the ridge east of Roseburg, tree sitter Josh Eng says the fact that logging here could become a blueprint for other harvests on public lands makes him all the more determined to stop it.
“This is a very beautiful place. And it would be a real heartbreaking thing to see it go the way of a variable retention harvest.”
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says moving forward with the logging pilot project is critical. And it is in the process of closing road access to the ridgeline to try to force the tree sitters to move on.
Copyright 2013 Earthfix.