Progressive Local News
By Natalie Shapiro
Six years of bitter struggle ended when Senator Ron Wyden announced the cancellation of the Eagle Creek timber sales on April 9. The Forest Service said they ended the sales because they wanted to modify them in accordance with recommendations from an independent scientific review. But local activists attributed the victory to public pressure and years of protests.
The history of Eagle is complex and contentious. The sales lie in the South Fork Eagle Creek, a tributary of the Clackamas River in the Mt Hood National Forest. While not technically "old growth, " many stands of trees are 150 years old. Naturally regenerated following wildfires in the late 1800's, these stands have never been logged. Because of the large trees, this area is dispersal habitat for the northern Spotted Owl as well as home to rare species of mushrooms and lichens.
The Eagle sales were some of the last "salvage rider" sales from the mid-1990s. The salvage rider, attached to an Appropriations Bill to assist victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, exempted timber sales classified as "salvage" from environmental laws and citizen appeals.
The Eagle Creek Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was signed in 1996. The four sales from the FEIS prescribed logging 28 million board feet (mmbf) from 1,032 acres. Some of the thinning units were in a roadless area contiguous to the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. The Forest Service said logging was needed to improve forest health and enhance wildlife habitat.
Eagle was sold to Vanport Manufacturing, Inc. of Boring in 1996 for $10 million and logging began a couple years later. However, the following year, Vanport closed its mill and wanted to sell the Eagle sales. Meanwhile, it was discovered that half the remaining trees in one of the logged units blew down along with several acres next to that unit. In a May, 2000 letter to the Forest Service, Vanport expressed concern over the inadequate analysis by the Forest Service of the potential for blowdown.
Vanport tried to cancel the timber sale contract but the Forest Service refused. "Contractually, there was no reason to cancel." said Glen Sachet, Public Affairs Officer for the Mt Hood National Forest, "it was environmentally sound."
Later that year, after lobbying from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and U.S. Representatives David Wu (D-Oregon First Dist.) and Ron Blumenauer (D-Oregon Third Dist.), then-Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman suspended the sales in order to review them. Glickman directed the Forest Service to appoint an independent scientific review team to see if the sales should be cancelled or modified.
Activists, local communities and members of Congress saw this as a chance to right the wrongs of the salvage rider. The communities of West Linn, Lake Oswego and four members of Congress gave the Review Team a list of concerns, asking the scientists to examine the Forest Service's claims that the only way to keep the area healthy is to log it. Because the salvage rider had exempted the need for a thorough environmental review of impacts from logging on water quality and wildlife habitat, they requested the Team to do it now as part of their review.
West Linn, Lake Oswego and Oregon City had reasons to be concerned; they depended on their drinking water from the Clackamas River. What happens upstream impacts water quality downstream, as the city of Salem found out in the late 1990s when their water filtration systems clogged following logging in their watershed.
With Eagle, community leaders noted the Forest Service's own scientists recommended that a maximum of 10.3 million board feet should be removed per decade in order to preserve the watershed. However, the Eagle FEIS allowed 26.4 million board feet to be cut in just four years.
In spite of vehement criticism, Forest Service stubbornly refused to cancel the sales or critically review the concerns. In fact, the agency all along touted the sales as state of the art in protecting and enhancing ecological values. "Eagle was held as a model timber sale in the Northwest," said Ivan Maluski, a local activist with Cascadia Forest Alliance, the group who has organized direct action against the sales. "If they can't do timber sales like this, they might as well stop logging on public lands and I actually heard the Forest Service say this."
In 2001, the Scientific Review Team examined the blowdown issues, concluding that some units should be modified or dropped in order to reduce the chance of future blowdown. They did not assess the impacts of logging on watersheds or wildlife habitat, a disappointment to activists such as Maluski.
Nevertheless, the end result was cancellation of the sales. "We wanted to incorporate this (the recommendations), so we proposed a new modification to Vanport," said Sachet. However, Vanport declined, saying it was too expensive. "So we were in the position where we wanted to modify the sale and we proposed canceling the contract instead. Vanport agreed." The agreement was finalized April 5 and the Forest Service refunded the company their deposits and payments.
Activists do not believe this was the real reason for the sales' cancellation, citing instead, massive public pressure. "Eagle was cancelled due to years of community resistance and non-violent direct action," asserted Sarah Wald, a volunteer with Cascadia Forest Alliance.
For six years citizens engaged in various forms of protest, from tree sits, to blocking logging roads, to rallies at Forest Service offices. Tree sitters continuously occupied threatened trees for three years. Activists feel that, as well as continuous pressure from members and local city governments, made the difference.
So is the Forest Service planning to offer new sales in the Eagle Creek sale area? "If we choose to-we haven't decided yet-to do a timber sale in the area we would offer a new timber sale using the recommendations of the Review Team. Nothing has changed and the need still exists to manage the area," said Sachet.
The fact that the Forest Service will probably plan new sales in the Eagle area isn't surprising to activists. That is why, they say, it is important to permanently protect Eagle and other areas by passing legislation ending commercial logging on public lands. "This is the bigger picture. Without this, they can always go in and plan new timber sales," said Maluski.
What's next for Cascadia Forest Alliance and other Eagle Creek veterans? "There are 101 up and coming timber sales on the Mt Hood and Gifford Pinchot National Forests," said Maluski. Many are in older forests in spotted owl habitat. Some are in the Eagle Creek watershed. Activists are already solidly involved in organizing against these sales, conducting surveys of rare species, protesting timber sale auctions and taking the public on hikes in the sales. The Eagle sales may be over but the timber sale program is not.
May 10 is a rally to End Commercial Logging on public lands and to celebrate the Eagle Creek victory and to draw attention to the 101 up and coming sales. The time will be 12-1:00 p.m. in Pioneer Square. For more information on the rally contact Cascadia Forest Alliance at 503-241-4879, or visit their website: www.cascadiaforestalliance.org
Natalie Shapiro works for justice.