How often do we circle back to the places we tried to save and could not? What is it to bear witness? What is it to know the meaning of a “shifting baseline?” What can we learn and apply to future efforts to save intact forests– storing massive amounts of carbon; acting like cooling towers in the heat of accelerating climate change; harboring biodiversity; and serving as critical wildlife corridors?

For those who were told that logging the lush, verdant corridor of the Wild & Scenic Lostine River surrounded on three sides by the Eagle Cap Wilderness was imperative for wildfire safety, what is this logging achieving?

“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” “Senseless destruction.” “A weakened ecosystem with far less resiliency to wildfire than before.” “Where are the standing wildlife snags? “Why did they cut the biggest trees?”

These were some of the comments from a recent August field trip to see the logging–so far. The “project” is far from over, with logging only completed to the Williamson Campground and then will continue up the corridor to the Two Pan Trailhead. What you can see now is the way it’s playing out–without much rhyme or reason if the goal was wildfire safety. It looks more like cherry-picking as many commercially valuable trees as possible, and leaving a more vulnerable corridor to wildfire than before.

Thanks to the efforts of Greater Hells Canyon Council (proud to be a board member), Oregon Wild, and many individuals who spoke up, the U.S. Forest Service did reduce the scope of the logging. I wrote about the Lostine in two different blogs, the first in 2017 called “Not Lost Yet: Saving the Lostine Corridor” and in 2018, “If Otters Could Vote– Yes on Saving the Lostine!

Last winter, the logging started on snow, which is a better time to log if you are going to do that for preventing soil damage, but it’s still pretty awful to see. We scratched our heads in puzzlement and dismay. Why did this go forward?

March 2021 Lostine logging. Courtesy Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild

In fact, when the Forest Service first put the logging project out for sale, they got only one bid. In a strong negotiating position, the contractor withdrew the bid. The agency then sweetened the pot so the winning bidder (the same one) could prioritize cutting commercially valuable trees and skip many of the “stewardship” aspects of the project. Those aspects usually include things like fire safety, small tree thinning, prescribed fire, and ecological mitigation.

I’ve assembled a selection of before and after photos to get a sense of the loss. Driving by doesn’t do it. You have to get out and wade through the slash and downed trees to experience the change. You have to feel the difference between the cool forests adjacent to the logging and the now exposed, dried out remnants.

Thinning? I think most people consider this means a light touch. But “thinning” can mean taking out many trees and most of the big ones if a commercial sale. Treating all forests as one-size-fits-all fails to respect the highly evolved ecosystems, where dynamic fire systems have long played critical roles. I won’t get into it here, except to say, we must change the paradigm and focus wildfire safety measures where they matter–closest to where people live. Tearing up the fabric of mature and ancient forests and the elegant underground “wood-wide-web” is an act of hubris.

Our magnificent forests are not rows of corn. Let’s start to honor them. At the end of the blog, I’ll list some further reading on the subject, and an action you to take to support The River Democracy Act.

We lament the loss. We promise to never give up on saving our precious remaining wildlands.

Ready for the photos? I’ll let you judge for yourself.

First–for those who don’t know the beauty of the Lostine River of Northeast Oregon, here is an aerial photo and a map with the corridor outlined, where the logging is happening. Note that the wilderness boundary could have come up to the cherry-stem road, but when the lines were drawn, someone decided to make them a quarter mile from the road( with a handshake promise to manage that corridor as de facto wilderness). The promise was broken with the Lostine logging.

Now for the before & after

This is what a lush forest of larch and fir should look like–cool, verdant, layered, with downed logs that are not fire hazards, but are rejuvenating the soils, offering pathways for pine martens, and sheltering delicate flowers and plants, including orchids. This photo is one I took during a field trip with the Forest Service back in 2016. They flagged a sample unit to show us the trees that would be left–with everything else cut down.
Afterwards (may not be the exact location, but close).
Before–in 2018, a grand fir far from the road marked as a “hazard” tree, meaning in the way of the logging.

This is the same tree–cut down last winter, and more than 230 years old.

Lostine understory summer 2018
Understory? Post-logging August 2021 Lostine.
Tall trees in a planned logging unit–2018
“Thinning?” Post-logging August 2021
Above: GHCC field trip August 2018 near Williamson Campground on the Lostine within a proposed logging unit

Above: GHCC field trip in 2021 near Williamson Campground (see road in distance)–not exactly a picnic spot.

GHCC field trip 2018–wondering why this orange-marked tree is marked to be saved (note most everything else to be logged in this picture, except the orange-marked trees–thinning?).
One more after the logging shot–GHCC field trip 2021.
Pine marten bears witness–Lostine River Corridor Art as part of a Refugia series by Robin Coen.

I am also adding a few more of the March 2021 active logging on the Lostine photos, courtesy of Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild:

Courtesy Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild
Courtesy Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild
Courtesy Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild
Courtesy Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild

Further Reading:

Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save our Forests and our Climate, by Chad Hanson, 2021.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard, 2021.

To read a relevant article by Chad Hanson now, see: Logging in disguise: How forest thinning is making wildfires worse


Become a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the River Democracy Act.