Forestry in the 1980s

truffler1635 at truffler1635 at
Sun Jan 2 20:50:39 EST 2000

The following exerpts of a larger article ran in the Portland (OR) The
Oregonian, Thurs., Dec. 30, 1999, p A1


By JAMES LONG, The Oregonian

A mountain of a deal
	Mount St. Helens was a perfect symbol for the change that the '80s
brought. Portlanders had pointed to the ice-cream peak with pride of
ownership although it, a) stood in Washington and, b) belonged to a
private company, the Burlington Northern Railroad. How a railroad got
title to the top of a volcano was the story of a land deal that the '80s
could appreciate.
	Congress had deeded the summit to a Burlington predecessor, the
Northern Pacific Railraod Co., as part of a 19th-century scheme to get a
track built to the Pacific Ocean. The grant - containing enough land to
form a state as big as Nebraska - was laid out like a 2,000-mile-long
checkerboard along the right of way, with the railroad getting every
other checker to sell to settlers to pay for construction. But the
Northern Pacific was not so much a railroad as a club of cronies who
proved more adept at claiming federal real estate than laying track.
When the rail line finally was completed, the taxpayers had been
hornswoggled by the land grab. The checkerboard pattern of land
ownership cut ecosystems into arbitrary parcels that gave rise to
environmental problems that persist today.
	That was now the Burlington Northern came to own the mile-square
checker atop Mount St. Helens, which was the one that fled in several
directions in May of 1980.
	The blast was heard as far away as Redding, Calif. An ash cloud rose
80,000 feet in 15 minutes, and ash came down as far away as Kansas.
Another 2.5 cubic kilometers ran away from the mountain in the form of a
landsclide. It was the biggest in recorded history, tumbling 17 miles
along the north form of the Toutle River.
	Fifty-seven people died, including at least seven loggers on
timberlands carved partly from railroad grants. The Washington
Department of Natural Resources, which earned $175 million a year
cutting timber, and the Weyerhaeuser Co., which owned a 473,000-acre
tree farm around the west side of the mountain, had to choose between
risking profits and risking loggers. They risked the loggers.


	On Dec. 2, 1982, L. James Brady, vice president of timber and land
for Burlington Northern, deeded Mount St. Helens' summit back to the
United States, minus the 1,314 feet that had blown away, for inclusion
in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.


Running out of old growth
	One other myth that fell hard in the 1980s was Oregon's self-image
as a paradise of trees. In the '80s, it became more of a paradise of
stumps. Through decades of overcutting, sawmills had largely run out of
big, old-growth trees on their own property and had to cut younger trees
at a rapid pace to stay in business.
	A review of Oregon harvest volumes on private lands in the 1970s and
1980s shows more acres being cut but less wood produced. "What that
indicates," says conservation forester Roy Keene of Eugene, "is they got
out of the big timber and started cutting the smaller second-growth;
they had to cut a lot more acres to even keep up."
	Many old-growth logs from private lands had gone overseas, not into
U.S. housing. The reason was money. At the beginning of the '80s, a
single, 400-year-old fine-grained Douglas fir log might bring $10,000 in
Japan, but only $3,000 at a local mill. Domestic log prices were
depressed because double-digit mortgage rates had driven home
construction into the deepest decline since the Depression.
	When the housing industry revived in the mid-1980s, mills that had
overcut their own lands were lobbying to get hold of more logs from the
national forests. With jobs at stake, as well as profits, Sen. Mark
Hatfield, R-Ore., and Rep. Les AuCoin, D-Ore., used their powerful
committee positions to force the U.S. Forest Service to sell record
numbers of trees. The Forest Service, critics charged, knowingly
exceeded sustained-yield harvests for the first time.
	"The forests really were raped in the 1980s like they never were
before," said Bill Lang, a Portland State University history professor.
"I would argue that the spotted owl crisis wouldn't have happened
without this."
	One of the casualties of the '80s was the company town of Valsetz, a
sleepy possession of the Boise Cascade Corp. in the Coast Range west of
Salem. Valsetz had its own school ("the Cougars") and a library, and
everybody knew everybody else.
	In February 1984, 96 people worked in the company veneer mill in
Valsetz and lived, with their families, in company houses that rented
for about $175 a month. The mill sat in the middle of company lands that
once yielded big trees for saw-timber. Then the mill made plywood. Then
it made just veneer sheets which it sent someplace else to make plywood.
	Then, that February, Boise Cascade called a meeting and said it was
sorry but the mill was losing money, according to the accountants, and
everybody would have to leave. Veneers could be made cheaper in Georgia,
a company official explained.
	As each family left, over the next weeks, a company bulldozer would
knock down the vacated house and push the rubble into a pile with the
remains of other houss. On March 26, the company burned the rubble.
	And it was about money.
	That's what the '80s were about.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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