If you love the forest, as I do, if you own a piece of forested property, perhaps you have had this nightmare: someone is cutting down your trees, and you cannot stop them. They will not listen, no matter what you say. I have woken up from this nightmare many times over the years.
About a month ago, this nightmare came true for me. There’s no shaking it off in the morning light. It is a sad tale, as my mother says, neither useful nor delicious.
My Own Private I Dunno
There is an area north of where I live, which is called the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. Some of it is owned by the county, some of it is owned by Olympic Resources, also called Pope Resources, also known as Pope & Talbot, a logging and pulp company. They’ve been in the Port Gamble area since the middle of the 19th century.
There is an odd square of 50 acres which hangs off the southernmost reach of this parkland. It is the deep valley which is across the road I live on. Everyone on this road believed this valley to be owned by the University of Washington, or that it was safe from logging because it was part of the forest heritage park. I had just heard this again from a neighbor not two months ago.
When I bought my land, I knew that there was a 50′ strip between the north side of my property and the road, which I did not own. The real estate agent or county clerk could not tell me who owned that strip, or why it was not included in my parcel. I vaguely understood it to be the county who owned it, in case they wanted to widen the road or something. For 21 years, I figured, cool, I get the advantages of 5 acres for the taxes of 3.82 acres. I thought they’ll never need to widen the road, and the valley is much too steep for anyone to build.
The County Caved
When Pope wanted to unload a bunch of their holdings back during the Great Recession, they offered to sell the land to the county. The county wanted to preserve the land from development, in part because new infrastructure is expensive. In order to get as much acreage as possible, the county bought the land, but not the timber. Pope sold with the proviso that they could harvest the trees one last time. They decided the time is now.
The county could have insisted on restrictions such as a setback or buffer from the road, which would have preserved the beautiful trees along the road and the windbreak it provides. Any kind of a setback would have saved my 50′ x 600′ strip. But ain’t no valley low enough to which greed will not lead logging companies. They are just scraping it all. Clearcutting it. A pox upon them!
I understand they are a for-profit company. I understand they have an investment in the trees. (Not that they have actually done anything since replanting or allowing it to regrow from the last harvest about 75 years ago…) We offered to trade some bigger trees from our forest if they would simply leave the small stuff so their side would fill in faster. No deal.
But since this land is to be part of the park system, why couldn’t they have just left the small stuff? The skinny little alders, maples and hemlocks, the baby Douglas firs and upstart red cedars? The undergrowth, that would grow up that much quicker to become the beautiful forest it had been? We wouldn’t have begrudged them the biggest trees. But it is too much trouble for them to log that way.
It’s Not Just Unsightly
People driving by around what had been our beautiful corner, now crawl by in stunned shock. I can hear what people say from our bedroom window now, since the sound insulation of the forest has been cut in half. I don’t hear, “What a lovely clearcut! Isn’t that wonderful!” Nobody says that. Not a one. Just now a classic Harley rider in a pseudo-German helmet roared by and I heard him exclaim, “WTF!” with no abbreviation. That is the general consensus.
- The habitat for all the wildlife that lived there is destroyed. Wildlife which inhabit this area include black bears, deer, cougars, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, rabbits, bald eagles, woodpeckers, owls, raptors and other birds of myriad types, squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, moles, voles, bats, salamanders, snakes, and then insects of a great variety. I have personally seen all of these creatures (except the cougar, fortunately.) All of which we need to maintain the ecosystem, but as their habitat is destroyed, they will go away or die out.
- The temperature-lowering and insulative ability of forested areas is lost and the environment gets warmer.
- The benefits of forested land are lost at a time when we can ill-afford to lose the CO2 absorbing qualities of trees.
- The pollution filtering provided by trees is gone.
- The land will erode, the topsoil will wash away and there are no tree roots to hold the water in the ground.
- The wind has no brake because the windbreak is gone, and so our remaining trees are at much higher risk to fall over in the next windstorm, and possibly hit our house or vehicles. (And in case you didn’t know, homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage to vehicles when trees fall on them.)
We feel much more exposed — to people’s view from the road and cars driving by, to winds, to theft. Whereas before we had complete privacy on all sides, now taking out the compost has become a public act.
Light comes into the house from the north now and from the west. Currently it is almost June, so the sun rises and sets in the northeast and northwest, respectively. Now that the forest is so thin, I find sunlight hitting interior walls that have never seen sunlight before. It is odd. I will no doubt get used to it.
The wind just rushes through our yard now. We were insulated from the wind before, but now there is almost nothing between our place and the Olympic peninsula.
I’m not saying that this extra light is completely unwelcome. And through the trees, I can see the sunset over the Olympic mountains from my bed. I am not oblivious to the gobsmacking view of the mountains from our driveway now. But I grieve for the trees, and the wildlife, and our privacy. I far prefer them to the “view”. A view can be found wherever people must live without the beauty of trees.
Once I met a real estate agent in Nevada. She said, “Oh, I lived in Seattle for a couple years. I kept thinking, if they’d just cut down the trees, there’d be a view…” I was so flabbergasted, I was struck dumb. Thank goodness there’s places like Nevada for such folk. For us, the trees are the view.
Now the View Is This:
This Is the Beast That Did It
This machine is huge. The tracks it rolls around on are at least 3 or 4 feet high.
It grabs onto a tree with those arms in the middle, and there is a sawblade in the lower casing which just slices off the trunk with a searing scream, leaving the stump. Then the operator maneuvers the victim and places it in a pile wherever he wants. Smaller trees just get plucked or wrestled out of the earth.
Even I must admit, that for the purpose of forest destruction, it is an ingenious machine.
We humans really don’t deserve this planet.
Pope is required by the terms of the contract to replant the 50 acres. They probably will. At their own convenience, no doubt.
Where’s the Lemonade?
Before this catastrophe, I had been thinking about all the things we choose or don’t choose to do to be kind to the environment, to do our bit to slow global warming, to live an ethical life. I had finally come to the conclusion that the best thing we could do was plant trees. Planting a tree is something each and every one of us can do.
Trees will outlive us puny, selfish humans, and clean the air and cool the atmosphere while they’re doing it. Hold the water in the soil and the soil to the land. Provide homes and food for whatever wildlife we don’t manage to kill off. It is the longest lasting, unequivocal good most of us will ever do with our very own hands.
Having concluded this, however, it was coals to Newcastle as far as planting trees goes around here. I thought I should look for a project in a place that sorely needs reforestation. Somewhere where desertification is encroaching or erosion is washing away the topsoil.
My project has come to me, it seems. More on that in my next post…