Forestry in the 1980s

Christopher Erickson chrerick at
Mon Jan 3 11:28:36 EST 2000

When Mount St. Helens blow its top I was laying in my bed at my parents
home, having just graduated from college. I heard the bang and thought it
was a car back firing. But when I got up there was a mushroom cloud in my
parents' backyard. (It looked just like the famous poster.)

At the time I was working for Multnomah Plywood, which owned a small part of
Mount St. Helens (they had bought a parsel from Burlington). I believe that
particular piece of the volcano is now in Yellow Stone:) The destruction of
that land was among the factors that led to the ultimate bankruptcy of
Multnoma a few years later.
<truffler1635 at> wrote in message
news:84ov9b$ail$1 at
> 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
> Sent via
> Before you buy.

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