Impressions: on the Elliott
February 19, 2011
by Cristina Hubbard
If you’ve experienced the pleasure of walking through quiet groves of trees--your footsteps cushioned by soft moss, watching sunlight filter through the branches casting light and shadow, you know the peace and joy it brings. But, add the sound of chainsaws echoing through the hills, red spray paint on tree trunks marking timber sale boundaries, orange and black project notices listing names like Kelly Slim Cougar or Flying Fish, and the peace and joy slip away.
I’ve been pondering what to write about last week’s field trip to the Elliott State Forest. I could cite facts and data on upcoming timber sales or the value of the forest’s carbon sequestration capacity, but that information is available elsewhere. What I feel compelled to speak to, however, is the stark irony of hiking through 150-year-old stands of native forest untouched by logging while surrounded by these constant reminders that every one of them is threatened.
We were blessed with excellent weather, comfortable for hiking and wonderful for photos. And, we were equally blessed to have the expert guidance of Cascadia Wildlands’ Josh Laughlin and Francis Eatherington. Francis led us into the woods, sharing her expertise on every trail and timber stand. The lady has a fierce passion for the Elliott and displayed boundless energy as she introduced us to the grandeur and sorrow of this magnificent forest. Josh Laughlin gifted us with his vast knowledge on the surrounding timber sales and the ongoing struggle to end them.
When we entered the Elliott, panoramic vistas of tree-covered mountains stretched off into the distance, the splendor marred by patches of barren hillsides near the road. The first reminders of why we were there: to bear witness.
A few minutes later, we were brought up short by a barricade of signs, caution tape, and a large truck parked in the middle of the road. Luckily, our own Janine has no fear of falling timber, and “Road Closed” signs hold no meaning for her. She sauntered off down the road, asked the loggers to move their vehicle, and the way was cleared. Piles of trees covered the hillside next to the road, a tangled mass of limbs and branches (in the photos I took, they were unrecognizable as anything more than large piles of brush). We slowly drove past felled trees and listened to the sharp crack and thunder as more crashed to the ground.
We traveled a trail built by tree-sitters, to fulfill their community service sentence. While we hiked, we noted the trees and plants as we went: Doug fir and oak, huckleberry and fern. At one point, Francis greeted an old friend, a great fir tree with its grooved, rough bark--so tall its branches were lost in the canopy above and so wide it took five of us, arms outstretched, to encircle it. She shared her joy--this tree and the surrounding stand were part of a timber sale spared from logging thanks to a pair of Spotted owls who had taken up residence. We walked slowly and listened quietly as Francis shared the history of the remnants of trees long dead, while we stood in the shadows of their descendants--fire and rebirth.
But, no matter how sweet the air or glorious the sunshine, the awareness of purpose haunted every step. Stand by stand, this forest is being sold off. And, not thinned--clear-cut. Thousands of acres turned into wasteland. To stop the selling of our planet’s future, we must eliminate the antiquated concept that the value of a forest is measured in board feet. We must work together to educate, raise awareness, lobby, change laws, and change minds. Each of us can speak out, share what we learn, engage others in this effort. The Elliott State Forest needs every voice raised on its behalf. Add yours.