Oregon Department of Forestry – CONVERSATION

Conversation with Doug Thackery – ODF Stewardship Forester and Jo-el

(This conversation took place earlier in February. Jo-el talked with Doug Thackery of the ODF about the recent explosion of clearcutting in the Illinois Valley, by John Hancock.)

It took a long time for me to have my first phonecall with Doug mostly because I knew what he was going to say and it wasn’t going to be good news towards my goal of stopping the rampant clearcutting of John Hancock. The ODF is just there to make sure permits are applied for and issued and that the logging operators follow the FPA and fire responsibilities, the landowner takes care of slash piles, and the timber owner, usually the same as the landowner, pays the small taxes. Despite the obvious overcutting in the face of a state-recognized climate emergency, John Hancock and the other corporations would be allowed to cut as much as they wanted as long as they followed the FPA which allows for 120 acre clearcuts right next to other such clearcuts. I had hit rock bottom in despair, but when the phone rang for a second time just after the rest of the family had left me at home alone, I knew it was time to answer the call. The following is a summary of our phonecall as it went.

Although our concern is for the overall massive cutting in our valley and how it will effect our community and ecolology, a NOAP for a cut closer to our backyard was what I wanted to ask about. So, I began with a couple of questions about it. South Coast Lumber bought the Mountain Ranch property 2 or 3 years ago and finally got a road issue worked out from what I have heard rumored. They put in a NOAP on January 18th for cutting 109 plus 116 plus 105 acres, all pretty much connected within the Mountain Ranch parcel. That is a total of 330 acres basically contiguous. I failed to ask what is the point of the 120 acre limit because this cut is essentially almost 3 times that. My biggest conern and my first question was about the risks of a coastal logging company from an area known to be inundated with the Sudden Oak Death disease. He said the logging company would most assuredly be one from around our area eventhough it says the operator will be South Coast lumber. We have found that there are errors and inaccuracies in many of these NOAP’s but he assured me that once a logger was decided on, the NOAP would be updated. He also said that any logging operators working in the quaratined areas with Sudden Oak were carefully regulated by ODF. That would be a whole other topic to investigate as Sudden Oak is devestating on Tan Oaks and they are such an important tree to our woodland ecology. My next question was about the mention of an Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) sighting near one of the cuts and how cutting could continue if the NSO was sighted. Wow! I was blown away. He said very carefully that the FPA has a vetted way of managing timber around NSO’s. What the experts came up with is that it would not bother this endangered animal which requires big woods for its habitat to cut within 300ft of its nest tree as long as this is done between the months of october through february. That’s it. Just so everyone knows, we have woods around our community that supports NSO’s. That’s amazing to me, but in this particular owl families case, they have not been seen or heard since 2000 when a male and female were inventoried by some biologist. The orginal sighting was in 1991, since then the inventory has been conducted 8 times since with no findings. The last one being done in 2019. With such a policy for cutting so close to their nest, I am not suprised.

After this, I broadened the call up by asking his opinion about the intensity of clearcutting now overwhelming our valley and Oregon in general. Doug has only 5 years experience as a stewardship forester with ODF but has worked in the industry for over 30 years, previously managing over 100,000 acres for the private sector. He said yes the cutting is at a high rate right now for two reasons. First, the ownership change which includes John Hancock acquiring their 10,000 acres from Indian Hill and others in 2017 and the slightly less massive acquiring of ORM Timber Investment Fund. He explained that when these takeovers happen the new owners have a huge bubble of debt to pay off so the trees must be liquidated. I have heard this before. Back in the late 90’s, Julia Butterfly spent 738 days up in the now sacred redwood tree Luna protesting the newly acquired lands of I forget the name big company that liquidating there assests of ancient redwoods previously owned by a family logging company in Stafford, California. Please read the book The Legacy of Luna for a perspective of how hopeless it is to go up against these giant corporations and their hunger and thirst for money. Luna stands to tell a remarkable story of a true hero but the rest of the trees came down. His second reason for all the cutting is that the stands involved are all about the same age, with 10-15 years of each other. I am not sure about this reasoning because 10-15 years is a big difference, and some of these cuts that Hancock is doing is on curiously small trees. I think possibly the cutting is increasing because corporations know there time is limited as the growing collective conscious of the current and impending catastrophes associated with climate change is increasing towards a turning point. That is why I will not give up my dream to end clearcutting and logging as we know. I believe when we go after the truth and the best way for us to care and be cared for by these great beings, The Standing Ones, we will arrive at the conclusion that while individual members may at times of storm, drought, and associated bugs and diseases, offer their bodies for use, their overall community must remain standing if we are to survive, stay cool in their shade, and drink spring water, and keep all other plants and animals alive as we start working to reverse catasprophe and start thriving in small communities anchored by our distinct ecosystems.

I deepened the conversation, as I recognized the depth of this man’s experience managing timber here in our mutual home state of Oregon. I told him, I truly believe that as residents of this great state, not as extractors but as community members, we should arrive at the same conclusion for how to best care for our woods. I know full well that while managing woods with the narrow perspective of timber production is not going to hollistically care for our woods nor the communities that live amongst them. That is my point. While I can understand Doug’s perspective and respect all the work that this man has done and overseen, I know a different way must and will come. So my next question was to ask for his thoughts and recollections of what he has seen happen in our management of woods since he began his career, and once again, I must and did show appreciation for the sharing of such knowledge and hard-worked-for experience eventhough I know Doug was probably fairly compensated for this work and career. Many homes and businesses were built with the timber Doug managed. There will be much to uncover in studying the history of logging here in the Illinois Valley which can be greatly assisted by donations from the community as requesting paperwork from Salem as part of the Freedom of Information Act costs money. It would be greatly appreciated for old-timers to come forward and tell there stories and photographs maybe as well, much better than following paper trails. To get started though, Doug’s brief history jumps us forward from the creation of the ODF 110 years ago as primarily an effort to deal with forest fire prevention to the 80’s when Doug entered the field of timber management. Here in Southern Oregon, the climate was definitely wetter. The woods he was working in had naturally regenerated because tree planting didn’t become widespread and serious until the 70’s with the birth of tree planting cooperatives like the Hoedad’s in Eugene. Read the book “The Birth of a Cooperative” by Hal Hartzell. So in the 80’s, there was a big emphasis on thinning and getting a handle on the hardwoods. Getting a handle on the hardwoods meant eradication by poisoning these venerable beings by hacking and squirting into their trunks. A process that is still done today and could be sucked into the trees trunk and limbs as it succumbs to the poison in the spring. If this wood is sold as firewood, is the poison released in woodstove smoke or if it is wasted in the gigantic slashpiles, released in the smoke signals of the decimated hillsides. Slash piles and their waste is one more startingly reminder of the waste and disrespect for our woods that should be revealed and acted on. I will revisit this in another report, but one amazing fact that Doug mentioned, was that he used to sell his piles for a $1/ton to groups that would clean them up and sell as hog fuel and that this was enough to pay the timber taxes. Continuing with what was being done with the woods in the 80’s, remaining stumps trying to rise again to cover the bare ground as nature intended were poisoned by spraying with more poisons and this was called stump treatment. In other words, what Doug found was a woods densely stocked with a diversity of native trees, a timber problem but a testament to some of the most diverse wild woods left in the country. So the woods were poisoned, burned up in gigantic slash piles, and the slate cleaned for timber production. Douglas Firs on a grid with a Poderosa Pine thrown in here and there. This management was done by companies like Boise Cascade and Rough and Ready. The latter just recently closing there mills a couple of years ago ran as a family business that was part of the community. I would love to hear their perspective next. Their legacy is in the hills though, and we can observe this directly. However, Doug said he was just in our valley visiting the massive Kelly Creek cut and that he was impressed with the huge pile of hardwoods on the decks. I don’t know the history of the cutting in the Kelly Creek watershed but apparently the wild woods had survived there and have now been cut down and replaced with a monocultue tree plantation. So much for acorns and madrone berries along with all the brush food for the wildlife. This is a potential irreversible loss of our wild woods, which are the most resilient woods that once covered our entire hillsides.

After understanding each other’s perspective, his focused on timber production and mine focused on care of the woodlands and the rural communities that live among them, I asked the question which was the basis of my whole campaign to end clearcutting in Josephine county. If our community of the Illinois Valley decides that we would like to ban clearcutting and impose stricter regulations on private corporate timber land, can we do so under the existing FPA? Of course, I knew the answer because I had read the entire FPA and found the section towards the end, that the answer was indeed no. The creators of the FPA, the Board of Forestry, which by law must have 2/3 of its members be from the timber industry, had intentionally based the entire foundation of the FPA on a statewide swooping power. This ensured timber companies a transparent set of restrictions across the state rather than have to deal with individual county restrictions. With that being the intent of the agreement, I wondered to myself if our county’s restriction could be more foundational than just details of logging restrictions. What if we approached it on doing away with the assumption that private investment corporations could own so much of our wooded ecosystems including our vital watersheds. It has been proven over that last few years that making land use decisions based on paying off debt by liquidation of our ecosystem is resulting in an unsustainable and damaging rate of cutting. The corporations have essentially abused their private property rights by infringing on the community value of their own private properties and the ecosystem that those properites and the owners ability to sustain themselves on such properties. I see private property as privilege that should be taken away when abused, and I believe that a county vote, at a time of simultaneous destruction of our valley bottom ecosystem by abuses of the industrial marijuana growing, would favor such taking away of. I mentioned that a few counties in California had managed to ban clearcutting and if he had heard of this. We are currently reaching out to these counties for advice. He said he had not heard of that but he wasn’t suprised because California’s forestry laws are atrocious. He said he would never operate in California because it is so expensive to do anything. It made me wonder how California’s FPA has evolved and maybe we should include this in the study. When I had mentioned the inability to impose stricter regulations, he also gave an example of one such attempt that had failed. In 2017, in Lincoln county, they had successfully passed a law against aerial spraying which had been reversed. These are some serious things we should all be aware of. Currently, the way it stands in Salem is that a county does not have a right to take care of the health of their community and watersheds because private timber investment corporations have a blanket right to conduct business and cut down and poison our woods for the sake of maximizing timber production and efficiency. We are planning a community-wide showing of the film, the Rights of Nature, that elaborates more on one community in Pennsylvania winning a 6 year landmark case reversing this right of the corporations. As citizens of Oregon, I can’t believe we want this anymore especially when the state has shown a concern to build community resilience in the face of climate change emergency. Remarkably, even the ODF has a climate change plan that everyone should read that actually tries to say that increased timber production under the name “climate smart forestry achieves the goal of dealing with climate change.

In conclusion, this phonecall was a great start into the startling revealation of what is going on with the wild and mature woods in our state that are arguably one of the countries most powerful sources of climate change mitigation. Basically, the system has been set up for these corporate giants to cut down all our woods and despite all the harm it is doing to us, our health of our bodies, our communities, and our ecosystem, there is absolutely nothing, according to Doug, our state stewardship forester, that we can do about it. This is not what our state government is supposed to let happen. We put our liveliehood in thei hands, and in a decade when the planet is burning up and we are choking on smoke and depleted oxgen levels, and looking at our barren hillsides growing sticks of one type of tree on poisoned land, we will know that we did nothing about it. The time is now to change things one county at a time possibly, maybe an assurance from and endorsement of a candidate campaigning for goverenor since they have the power to appoint the State Forester and his Board of Forestry.

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