I am sitting on a slope deep inside the Rogue River National Forest - overlooking a valley thoroughly burned by the Quartz Fire of 2001. I decided to return here when a retired wood scientist and timber executive excoriated me in print the other day for a piece I wrote criticizing a plan to salvage logs from last year's Biscuit Fire.
Not all plans, mind. Just one plan, financed by Douglas County, which called for a staggering amount of logging and herbicide spraying of the Biscuit Fire at the expense of other forest values in this biologically rich area.
I noted that the professional experience of the report's authors is almost entirely in the commodity side of forestry and that not one expert in wildfire effects or wildlife co-authored the work. I quoted the study's principal author, John Sessions, admitting that his team had no time to evaluate the plan's effects on water quality, soil erosion, recreation and related issues.
His words, not mine.
The irate reader, Gordon Borchgrevink of Medford, responded in an op-ed piece in the Medford Mail-Tribune ( Aug. 17) that I had "trashed much-needed (salvage) projects and the professional people involved (in them)."
No, I simply questioned the validity of a report that excluded biological and geological professionals whose scientific expertise could have made the project respectable. Four Ph.D.s in forest ecology, fire science, fisheries, and wildlife biology did the same in The Oregonian, calling the report, "scientifically indefensible."
I'm sorry my reader thinks this reasoning is "tripe."
In his piece, he claimed that I "consort with people who bash anything that smells of industry or capitalism." Presumably these "people" are environmentalists. Although my Rolodex is a red herring, I'll admit to having environmentalist friends.
I also have friendly relationships with Jim Geisinger, executive director of the Association of Oregon Loggers, Jim Riley, director of the Intermountain Forestry Association, and others. We are good acquaintances though we disagree on many forest issues.
Anti-capitalist? As a stock market investor and a past or current director of three corporate boards - including the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle and a successful Rocky Mountain construction firm - capitalism is not something I bash. I bash misplaced values that exalt immediate commodity extraction to the exclusion of the long-term interests of the land and all people who depend on it.
What my editorial critic doesn't know, or won't acknowledge, is that as a congressman I won environmental awards while still working as hard as anyone on Capitol Hill to protect harvest levels in national forests consistent with the "multiple use" doctrine designed to protect wildlife and recreation.
(When first the spotted owl and then Northwest salmon crisis demonstrated that multiple use had failed to protect wildlife and other values on which a sustainable forest depends, I rethought and modified my position.)
The government land I am sitting on here in the old Quartz Fire has not been salvage logged. The soil is stable, the water is clear, wildflowers and natural vegetation are back, and pine and fir are returning naturally.
Across the hollow is timberland that also burned. It is private land. Logging roads lace the hillside, as do deep gouges in the earth where logs were pulled across the terrain. Over there exotic, noxious weeds, probably introduced by logging trucks, are crowding out native vegetation. Snowmelt and rainwater have carved deep ravines where silt has washed into the steam below - a tributary of the Applegate River that would otherwise provide spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead trout.
Mr. Borchgrevink doubts that I've ever seen a timber salvage sale. Yes, sir, I have. Good ones, and bad.
Look at alternatives
I am not opposed to salvaging burned timber provided it adheres to sound biological safeguards.
Which exposes Mr. Borchgrevink's "either-or" fallacy - you're either for Douglas County's flawed report or you're against all salvage logging. It's one of those "You're with me or against me" arguments that falsely exclude other realistic alternatives.
It's the kind of argument that plunged Northwest forests into this god-awful mess in the first place.
Les AuCoin is an Ashland writer, professor, and political commentator. He served for 18 years in the U.S. Congress and is a former Majority Leader of the Oregon House of Representatives.