The Oregon Logging Conference has been a major pain in the neck for Eugene’s environmentalist community for many years. Nothing stinks worse for us green-minded folk than to see a bunch of timber industry buffs haul felled trees into the parking lot of the Fairgrounds to showcase how effective their bulldozing equipment is. But, you know, free speech and right to assemble and whatnot ─ people have the right to do their things, even if it sucks. However, this year’s OLC theme was too odious to ignore: “Working Forests: Carbon Keepers.”
What exactly is a ‘working forest’? This is a euphemism for clear-cutting existing forest stands for timber products and replanting a single species of tree in the cleared land to grow back for harvesting in 40-50 years. Let’s be clear: a monocrop tree plantation is nothing like a real forest. Real forests have species diversity, open space, trees in a variety of different age stages, plenty of diverse habitat for animals, a multi-layered tree canopy, developed mycelial networks, and much more. Plantation stands are dense, dark thickets of young trees planted very close together and pretty much have none of the aforementioned characteristics.
There’re many reasons why plantations suck, but what sucks worse is the brainwashing that went down at the OLC this year. “Our theme this year…was selected specifically to highlight that our industry, the products we produce, and the forests that we manage are some of the best carbon keepers (sequesters) in the world,” says Greg Stratton, president of the OLC, on page 6 of the glossy Timber West zine found on every table in the conference room. “Working forests provide diverse habitats through our varied management practices and provide the raw materials to supply an industry that provides jobs for working families.”
Before digging into that spicy bit from Greg’s piece, the zine itself is organized quite cleverly– the first page after the directory shows a summarized report titled ‘Researchers Find Some Forests Crucial for Climate Change Mitigation, Biodiversity’. Now wait a minute, why would they highlight that OSU study, which identified forests in the Cascade Range and Pacific Coast that should be preserved because of their carbon sequestration potential?
Because it’s a propaganda primer. The snippet in the zine accurately reported the results of the study, but didn’t once mention that those special, high-carbon-sequestering forests are old growth forests.
Ol’ Greg would have timber industry workers believe the exact opposite, in fact. During his president’s address on Thursday, he started off by stating some real forest facts ─ that trees sequester more and more carbon as they grow ─ to seem like he knew what he was talking about. But according to Greg, once trees hit a certain age…’round 40 or 50 years old… their carbon sequestration activity plateaus, and then they somehow reverse their efforts and start spitting carbon back out into the atmosphere. So ‘working the forest’ means cutting down those trees before they spit their carbon back out, and turning that wood into timber products like planks that will keep that carbon nice and locked in (for, like, maybe 50 years, until the plank or whatever it is rots. Untouched trees can live hundreds of years).
Not only is that 40-50 year carbon sequestration plateau age convenient for “regeneration harvest” (A.K.A. clear-cutting) forest management, it’s also…not true. Studies (that aren’t performed by scientists funded by fossil fuel industries) show that the older a tree gets, the mass growth rate ─ the amount of tree in the tree ─ keeps increasing as the tree gets older and taller, absorbing an increasing amount of carbon. The word rate is crucial: the rate at which trees absorb carbon increases as the tree gets older; it doesn’t slow down at all, much less plateau. So a single old tree can take up an amount of carbon in 1 year that an entire mid-size tree contains total.
But! That’s not so good to hear if you happen to make a bunch of money off of cutting trees down & replanting them to cut down again later (Greg & friends) or if your family’s livelihood and perhaps the economic engine of your entire hometown relies on cutting trees down (rural Oregonians). So Greg lays the sugar on instead, touting working forests as not only great for the environment, but also great for your families.
And let’s get serious for a second ─ this is a huge concern for many rural Oregonians. The changing climate can’t sustain logging as it’s currently practiced, but there’s a bunch of towns out in the country that would have their sole income source wiped out if their mill closed… but the answer to this is not climate change denialism or wack propaganda and brainwashing. OLC could easily reach out to sustainable foresters in the community to come talk to folks about how to adapt the industry, because forest management is needed in stands that have been abused by poor forest management practices in the past, and to educate folks on what the Green New Deal is really all about: striking a balance between a happy earth and happy, economically stable communities. Instead, alongside the political action committee Timber Unity, the industry heads are fighting to keep folks in the dark about the long-term effects of climate change, lobbying lawmakers to prevent climate change mitigation laws from passing and spinning the narrative as if the majority of scientists are crazy and city-dwelling activists have rural-job-killing special interests.
And let me just say, the miscommunication between our activism and their realities as rural industry workers is a problem. We sometimes come off just as deaf to their concerns as they do to ours; that’s why PACs like Timber Unity have gained such traction. At the end of the day, it’s corporate propaganda and corporate interests that we are fighting, and for as insidious and scarily convincing as that propaganda can be, there are objective truths about what’s going on in the woods and what the future of our communities can look like if we stand in solidarity and redirect. Nobody wants to be an earth-killer, and everyone wants to support their families; we just have different ideas on what that looks like, and communication helps bridge that gap. So let’s get out there and canvas, listen to and perhaps make friends with our rural neighbors and build an inclusive coalition movement as best as we can.