King Harvest Has Surely Come

We left Lincoln City Oregon on Wednesday…..a couple days earlier than planned. We had done an over night stay in Portland, enjoyed it, and wanted to spend another night there. Wednesday night and enjoyed some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

From there we went a little more “off plan”. After intending originally to go north on Interstate 5 to Seattle (boring) we grabbed the chance to see an area we had never experienced and plotted a course that would take us into western Washington State. After leaving Portland Thursday we headed back toward the coast. Lunch found us soaking up the panoramic view of Astoria from across the mouth of the Columbia River at the Dismal Nitch Rest Area over a sandwich.  From there it was a night in Hoquaim/Aberdeen, Washington, followed by the winding drive on Highway 101 around and through the pristine Olympic Penninsula to Friday night in Port Angeles and our arrival here in Seattle yesterday.

That drive was amazing and it surprised in so many ways. There was very little population density. We didn’t see a billboard from Portland to Port Townsend. The forests were dense and still, feeling at times like their only movement was an imperceptable encroachment that threatened to swallow the edges the two lane ribbon of road. Traffic of other travelers on the route was light and rare…….with one exception. Logging trucks. They were an ongoing reminder of the ragged scar that would intermittently interrupt the absolute beauty of the area……clear cutting.

I had noticed the evidence of clear cutting in Oregon with swaths of hillsides where tall mature trees were missing in strips. In their place were typically new and obviously smaller, younger growth. Mere midgets compared to the bordering giants that stood yet untouched. Some swaths were still bare where new seed was yet to produce. This pattern seemed to worsen and appear more often in Washington, and especially around Aberdeen.

Clear cutting at first glance (literally) seems like a horrible way to extract lumber. There has to be a better way…..right? Like anything in The Corporate States of America there are of course well funded groups  that will “invest” in presenting not only the “cons” but the “pros” to what is a visually ugly practice. But are they objective? Not every one agrees. The cons of clear cutting are pretty obvious aesthetically but the less obvious issues can  be even more devastating. Habitat disruption, watershed contamination, destruction of fishing industry, and landslides can all be exascerbated. But while the lumber industry is thirsting for more and more profit the Department of Natural Resources that is charged to regulate the long term balance is pressured to do little of that. The agency is  crippled by a lack of funding to execute any regulation at all. Within this environment in Washington State it costs only $150 to file for a permit to clear cut any land, and current law establishes that if the DNR doesn’t complete a review on that application in 30 days it is automatically approved. Obviously unregulated clear cutting is profitable and legislation has made it more attainable, but certainly not safe or sustainable. Does a time come when the resource and profits have been extracted and the balance is lost. If so where is the tipping point and when does it come?

As always there is another side to the coin. There is a need to harvest trees for a lumber industry that provides not only a product in demand but jobs and income for local economies and the people of the communities that industry built. The adjoined cities of Aberdeen and Hoquaim are a community in obvious hard times and an example of what happens when that industry fails and the jobs go away with no alternatives to replace them.

We saw abandoned buildings in Aberdeen, and Hoquaim, and many others in obvious decline. We also saw a number of road signs about dedication to reforestation. One gave these dates:

Last Harvest: 1985    Replanting: 1986   Next Harvest: 2046

It takes 3 generations for a clear cut area to recover. In 3 generations what will the status of Aberdeen and Hoquaim be and will it’s prosperity or population see any growth? I don’t know the answers. I do know that it was for the most part a beautiful and unexpected leg of the trip. it also gave a lot more to think about than I had planned.



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4 thoughts on “King Harvest Has Surely Come

  1. David Dowell

    Balancing short-term versus long term needs has always been tricky. Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, among others, paints a bleak picture of what happens when this balance is upset. It sounds as if they are at least making an effort by replanting. Is this too little too late? Let’s hope not.


  2. traci

    It seems too late to me–at least for this area. The hill sites are pretty to look at — the dark green old growth blended with the (much more present) bright new green of new growth. But when you consider that the trees take decades to be harvest-worthy– you can tell that the “taking” has way over-weighed the “giving” — the planting and growing. So it’s sad. We find ourselves never wanting to support buying unsustainable wood products again. Yet, we can see the desperation of these communities that live off harvesting timber. There is a big problem here. They are working on scaling it. But the scaling of it necessitates fewer jobs, and means more peeps are out there looking for livelihood. Lots of these peeps come from generations of livlihood from the lumber industry. I don’t have an answer, but would like to find a way to help. Not sure yet what that can be….


  3. rhummel1203 Post author

    Dave and Traci….that really is the question. Do the current reforestation plans chart a course to replenish? The next question is whether the DNR is sufficiently funded to enforce the rules on the clearcutting/reforestation balance. It seems that the devastating slide that cost multiple lives in Oso WA were in part due to “renegade” clear cuttimg in an area that officials knew for a couple decades was volatile……but it still happened. Was the all the cutting that happened legal? Seems like the answer is no. Did the DNR have the resources (or political will) to stop it? The obvious answer to that is no. Which was the bigger problem? I don’t know. Troubling questions…..but that whole issue was in the corporate “news” for about 48 hours, and now nobody seems to care.



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