Monday, September 15, 2008

The Business of Trees

I noticed it first from the air, as we landed in Seattle—
Washington is a state of trees.
Towering evergreens densely packed into the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula, such a spectacular greeting for one from the land of cornfields and soybeans. Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. Covering every slope, extending to the ocean shore, dressed in the richness of thickly needled dark branches and wearing the aroma of the north woods.

And immediately I saw what I had known would be a part of it, though bigger and bolder than I had imagined.

Logging on Hwy 113 near Pysht River

A hillside, no more than sun-bleached stumps. While heavily laden trucks carrying loads of logs barreled past, one after another.

The logging operations here are quite apparent.

Broad signs note the dates of cut, replanting and harvest. And family plantations which have evolved since the 1880s carefully and proudly manage the forest.

Plantation on Hwy 101, east of Bear Creek

The cycle of growth and succession is easily seen, too.
From the abrupt emptiness at harvest, wildflowers fill the open spaces, the pinkish-red fireweed moving in to fill the first sunny spots.

field pink with Fireweed

Epilobium angustifolium

Within a year or 2, the huge piles of brush are removed and small seedlings planted near the fading stumps of the last felled trees.

seedling at base of stump

replanted with Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock (bending leaders)

Soon their growth takes the forest back, to darkness and woods and waiting.
In 60 years, the loggers will return--for this next generation of timber.

The largest old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest is protected within Olympic National Park. It was set aside in 1938 as the declining numbers of the 200-1000 year old trees concerned the local citizens and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.
Here, the logging trucks are absent and the ancient trees stand over 200 feet tall. The woods are quiet and dark. And small black Douglas squirrels chatter overhead while scattering the remnants of nibbled cones onto the mossy carpet.

My brain understands the logging operations on the slopes of the mountains in the forest.
How a harvest of trees is not unlike a harvest of corn, in the field behind my home.
So, why do I gasp as I look upon the expanse, long rods stacked neatly for loading?

Logs stacked at port near Aberdeen, Washington

Is it that I come from the land of cornfields?
Or that I have walked beneath massive branches upon a mossy carpet.

Logging trucks of the Pacific Northwest

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Gail said...

I believe that when we see forests removed it calls to something deep within that feels that cover and safety has been taken from us. The biophilia hypothesis is what some scientists call it! It just feels wrong is how how define it!

A great get me thinking post! Thank you,
clay and limestone

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Nina I will never forget the first time I saw one of those raped mountains. I about got sick. I wasn't mentally prepared to see a mountain side in such a naked state. They do try to make us think they are doing what is right by replanting. I just can't believe that it only takes 30years to get those trees back. Sigh~~ I am glad I don't see it every day.

bobbie said...

It always hurts to see trees felled. I've never seen what you describe - I never want to.

I remember attending a Planning Board meeting at which the board required a developer to plant trees of a certain size along a road on which he was doing a major subdivision. Very shortly after the lots were sold and houses built, a couple of the new owners chopped down those trees. (They were from the city, and felt evil people might hide behind those trees) I could not believe my eyes when they did it.
And I felt sick.

Anonymous said...

I will never forget my first trip to the Olympic Peninsula in 1988. The logging trucks were rolling down the highway with logs so big that some trucks only carried one log. It didn't occur to me at the time that I would never see a tree that big again, dead or alive. If I am ever on the west coast again, I will have to search out those few remaining virgin forests. I hope that I can take my kids there to show them how it once was before we got so greedy.

KGMom said...

On our western trip to Oregon, a year ago, I marveled at the beauty of the huge trees, the ever-present moss, the ethereal mists. Somehow the magnficent trees should stand tall forever, and not be harvested. But I do understand timber is big business.
I hope you see enough unspoiled natural beauty to make up for the man-made despoiling.

Seabrooke said...

I used to be horrified by clearcuts, by logging, by the destruction of forests. The scene after a clearcut operation is pretty dramatic, and does really tug at the heartstrings of someone who loves nature and natural beauty.

However, I spent a summer a few years ago working on a PhD project in the mountains of Ohio that changed my opinion. The student was looking at how birds use regenerating clearcuts, particularly those 4-8 years post-cut, and was catching birds using mistnets and banding them so she could keep track. I was astounded at the number of birds we encountered in these clearcuts - our capture rate was, many days, just as high as at the migration monitoring station set up in a migrant trap back home. Birds everywhere, and not just scrub birds, but also forest birds like Cerulean and Worm-eating Warblers.

When I was in Washington and BC and got to see the logging operations, I also had a chance to see the regenerating clearcuts. They were growing in just as dense as the Ohio ones, and the fireweed made the newly-created meadows look so beautiful. I didn't get a chance to bird any of these clearcuts out west, but imagine the situation there to be similar.

The scarred landscape of a recently-harvested clearcut does still hurt my heart a little, but I also know what opportunities it opens up for other organisms, so it helps to ease the pain. These cuts are better managed these days, too, to be more sustainable than they used to be.

zhakee said...

Very nice commentary on logging. Once upon a time a huge amount of logging took place in the mountains near where I live, but nowadays, just the old dirt roads remain, along with all the cut forests, and plantations they started. But wood is certainly being cut elsewhere, as your photos show.

NW Nature Nut said...

I live in Oregon and grew up in a "timber town", just 10 miles from Mill City, OR. Even growing up here, it is surprising to fly out of the airport, and fly over the Cascades and see the patchwork of clearcuts. The strip closest to the road is often left un-cut to hide the devestation beyond. There is a lot of marketing from the timber industry in this region, to convince the liberal valley cities to accept this as what "is best for the forest". In the late 80's, there was a lot of fighting to close old growth forests to logging and it was a very tense time in those small towns.
Your post captures the NW very well.

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nina said...

I was amazed, as you, by the life that flourishes in a clear cut area as it regrows from what had been dense dark woods. The flowers of open land are such a pretty contrast to the mosses and lichens that fill the dark spaces. And, to many, bright, colorful life may seem more plentiful than what appears to be missing in the deep woods, where we walked many days and saw very little of life, beyond the trees--certainly no birds!
But the lives of the dark woods cannot choose the open land.

The Olympic National Park has just released information on a program of which they are very proud--the reintroduction of the Fisher, absent from Olympic peninsula because of habitat destruction.

Into the old, deep woods of the park, they have released 17 Fishers from British Columbia, with plans for more over the next years--in an attempt to restore and reestablish what has been lost.

It is the creatures of the old woods that I wonder about. Those who may be unseen, yet just as vital as the obvious.
And, though the trees grow back in a sixty year cycle, once a virgin forest is cut, it can never be that again.

Your observation about forest management is very true.
The logging plantations know their futures depend on keeping the forest healthy--and do a nice job in planning cuts to allow adjacent land to collect displaced anaimals.
Riparian corridors are set aside for habitat and wetlands offlimits.

Still, I mourn the loss of character of the old. said...

I loved this post because I could relate so fully. While living in the Northwest, I witnessed countless logging trucks carrying loads of freshly cut trees to and from various ports and mills. It always filled me with a great deal of sadness. There seemed a sense of deep loss all about the barren strips where huge trees once stood.

Raw... that is the only word that comes to mind that can begin to express the feeling.

Excellent post!


MojoMan said...

We all need and use wood products. Do you live in a house made with lumber? Do you reads books printed on paper? Be honest, who can live without plentiful and affordable forest products? The problem is, all the money is in the extraction. Who wants to invest in something that won't pay off for 60 or 100 years? That's the difference between loggers and foresters. Loggers are all about today, foresters are about the future. We need more foresters to protect our lands and to ensure that the forest will grow again.

nina said...

I was hoping you'd ring in on this, knowing your background and interest.
Yes, where would we be without wood--a renewable resource that can be essentially "farmed."
This was a real eye-opener for me. So easy to never give much thought to the massive operation that must take place "somewhere" in order to satisfy our paper and building needs. Walking thru Lowe's, it all seems so simple--just pick up a 2x4 and not bat an eye.
But the McMansions of the world are demanding. And the stack of paper I stumble through each day from our mailbox, makes me wish we could be more moderate in our needs.
The family plantation we visited (Merrill & Ring) seemed to be a responsible steward, as they call themselves. Providing feeding stations within their stands to satisfy the animals' nutritional needs (instead of shooting them because they eat the trees) and having long-range plans that consider a healthy ecosystem, not only for the product (trees), but for all.

The scale of our demand is shocking, though!

Lela Blonde said...

Looking at your whole site I was quite amazed because I had not been travelling north for decades and alot is still there. Somehow over the years I thought I was going to be one of the last to see full nature in all of God's Creation and Glory while it still stood. That has been the case in many places I have travelled. Esp. through coal states and logging and have seen entire hiking and caves removed for development of mere nothings but strip malls and lower class housing mostly 200K and less. Nothing makes sense does it. Thank You for the pics. Your work is truly art representing the creative Artist. You are very good at what you do. The contrasts and perspectives are excellent for what the eye can see. Crisp. I like it.