To the Oregon Small Woodlands Association (OSWA) connection
WELCOME TO TREES
About the turn of the century there was a change in the life cycle of the forests of Oregon that may not be recognized by the environmental generation. Prior to that time Mother Nature was in charge of species selection and longevity. Trees in the forest were of an uneven age and there were no artificial property boundaries reflecting ownership. The Native Americans may have set some fires but they didn’t harvest trees in the manner of the white man. The natives walked around trees and had no need to clear right-of-ways. But with the coming of the pioneer the situation changed.
When the pioneers came to Oregon they were planning to make their their livelihood from farms and the forests were an obstacle to that dream. They burned what they didn’t immediately use for building… they burned to create fields for their crops and pastureland for their livestock. The importance of harvesting trees for lumber didn’t occur until almost 1900. The profit motive forever altered the face of the land. With the advent of steam logging the timber that was thought to last forever essentially disappeared in 50 years.
By 1940 the hills of Columbia county were mostly barren, having been logged by timber barons like Simon Benson, Clark and Wilson, and others. The timber barons cut and ran, taking their profits with them. They did not see replanting of trees as a profitable venture. Mother Nature was still in charge of reforestration. The land, abandoned by the timber barons, stripped of timber, came back to the county as virtually worthless ground. Much of it was sold for back taxes and less, not having much value as farmland.
Some new, farsighted landowners started planting trees – became silviculturists – thought of trees as a renewable resource… as a crop to be planted, even though it would take 50 years to mature – almost a lifetime for the farmer. So, in a sense, the land is farmland. In a twist of fate the grandchildren of the pioneer farmers were planting orchards of fir on the very ground where their grandfathers worked so hard to clear the trees.
Now enter the environmentalists. Apparently they would reset the clock and take us all back a hundred years. While that is impossible they do have some worthy goals and despite disagreements of policy both sides of the issues have some common aspirations.
We all know that forests are needed for the best fish and wildlife habitat. And that forests remove carbon dioxide from the air, provide oxygen and cleanse both the air and water in ways that humans would find impossible to duplicate. But the environmentalists seek to take forests out of lumber production… stop the logging, save the owl… stop the logging, save the fish… stop the logging, keep the water pure… let the trees grow forever… (perhaps disregarding the fact that trees and forests have a life cycle and need health management.) But here also is a dilemma and it centers around the people who would grow and harvest trees.
The silviculturists, the small woodland landowners, have invested their lives and their fortunes in their tree farms. They have taken the responsibility for replanting the forests depleted by the timber barons and have restored many abandoned acres to production. In many cases they have improved upon Nature’s methods of reforestration. But now it appears they are going to be severely penalized for their efforts.
Political action proposed by environmentalists would take forested lands out of production by preventing landowners from harvesting their trees. A crop grown to maturity on private land for over a half century is now to be set aside, impounded for a variety of benefits to the community at large. However, there is no provision to compensate the tree farmers for their losses even though harvest of their crops is denied. In contrast the agricultural landowners get government dollars for changing to responsible land management practices. The political establishment has learned how to spend money on farm programs.
There is an issue of fairness and reason involved here. Destroying the economic viability of commercial forest ownership for the public’s benefit should require adequate compensation by the public. Let public policy be evenhanded to agriculturists and silviculturists alike and encourage the concepts of sustained yield and upgrading agricultural/silvicultural practices. Let’s have moderation and compromise instead of extremism and polarization of viewpoints. Together we can provide stewardship of the soil, air, and water. We can maintain our forest aesthetics and retain habitat for endangered species.