Filed under: Action, Environment, Northwest
Report on mass community action in Oregon in defense of post-fire clear-cutting in the Breitenbush watershed.
Detroit, OR – This morning, community organizers defied a closure order and are occupying a road leading to public forest slated for clearcutting in the Willamette National Forest. The organizers are holding a concert and teach-in, discussing the ecology and rich history of the area, and preparing for further actions if logging continues to move forward.
The protest comes as hundreds of acres of lightly burned mature and old growth forest are under imminent threat for clearcut logging in the even while a federal judge has yet to rule on a strong legal challenge filed by environmental organizations. The logging is planned on public forestland impacted by the 2020 wildfires directly across Highway 46 from the Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat Center and along the salmon-bearing Breitenbush river, proposed as a Wild & Scenic River. Since the 2020 fires, the watershed has already been significantly impacted by unprecedented public and private lands logging.
“I was evacuated from my cabin in the Breitenbush summer homes community when the Lionshead and Beachie Creek fires merged over the watershed,” said Graham Clumpner, a summer-cabin owner who attended the protest. “Upon returning to the area, the Forest Service had already clearcut the old growth forest surrounding the cabins, without notifying cabin owners before changing the landscape place forever. All told, the post-fire clearcuts were far more traumatic to behold than the 2020 fires themselves.”
“Today’s event is about reconnecting our community with this beloved and now threatened watershed, exposing the post-fire destruction that’s already occurred, and making sure that there isn’t any more to come,” said Sarah Kramer, an organizer at the event. “We want people to know that after fires, the forest can heal.”
The Highway 46 project was originally proposed as a green tree timber sale focused on logging young plantation forest with light thinning in mature and old growth stands. A decision was released in 2019 allowing for logging to move forward, after environmental groups had bargained with the National Forest to drop some of the oldest and most ecologically diverse units. Logging had not been completed at the time of the Labor Day windstorm and the rapid spread of the Beachie Creek Fire, which burned through the remaining unlogged units.
This year, organizers discovered that the Forest Service had changed the contracts on the remaining units from thinning to clearcutting, allowing post-fire logging to move forward without an additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and the environmental impact analysis necessary to gauge the increased environmental degradation associated with post-fire logging. The agency advanced these plans with no public announcement in direct violation of federal law.
Ecologically devastating post-fire logging has long been opposed by prominent forest ecologists Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson, often hailed as the primary architects of the Northwest Forest Plan. In a recent opinion piece in the Statesman Journal, Franklin and Johnson wrote “in the wake of the 2020 wildfires, the best approach to ecological recovery is, literally, to let nature take its course.”
“This watershed is treasured for its old growth forests, wild rivers, and rich history,” said Daniel Johnson, an organizer with Cascadia Forest Defenders. “The forests of Breitenbush are worth so much more than board feet.”
Activists say that they are occupying the sale in order to protest not only the illegal logging happening in the Highway 46 sale, but the ongoing wide-spread post-fire logging on public lands and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial timber harvest broadly.
“As the climate crisis progresses, it’s completely indefensible for the Biden Administration to continue to sanction the logging of these critical post-fire ecosystems,” said Sequoia, one of the organizers of the action. “While our politicians decry deforestation on the global stage at events like COP 26, they are conspicuously silent as our own rainforests are lost to industrial logging.”
The timber sale is in the Breitenbush River drinking watershed, and would have significant impacts to drinking water quality in the Detroit Reservoir. Hundreds of thousands of Willamette Valley residents rely on the Detroit reservoir for their drinking water.
“Forest defense is community defense,” said Joseph Kehrer. “We are inextricably linked to these forests, and we must do everything in our power to maintain these invaluable ecosystems if we hope to continue drinking clean water and breathing fresh air.”
Cascadia Forest Defenders, one of the organizations fighting the sale, have promised to continue to use direct action to stop post-fire logging in the Breitenbush watershed, and in forests across the region.