Logging: Questions

Being new to the Pacific Northwest (a term I really do not understand, as the northwest of the Pacific would be Russia) – I want to explore its lands and its history. Miscellaneous wanderings are interesting, but I find myself more and more a context person, and decided to explore the Northwest by topic. Several of the topics I was considering seemed quite large, so I decided to start with logging because I thought it was a more manageable topic. But as I seek more about logging, I end up with more questions, and it seems quite a bit larger than I initially thought.

When one drives (or ideally, for myself, rides) through the forests of western Washington, one sees forests like this, in various states of removal and regrowth.


Perhaps because I am focusing on forests, when I take in forested landscapes here, I rarely see a 360 degree view with trees of all the same age and height (though again, I am just starting my explorations and have many roads yet to travel). Are there any “original” forests left? (And what does “original” actually mean?)


One of the first places I decided to examine was the Olympic National Forest, where heavy logging occurred in the past. There is still logging at the boundary of the Olympic National Forest; at one road point, it looks like this:


And just beyond the sign, the boundary between the National Forest and not, is clear:


Being National Forest does not preclude logging. On the Olympic National Forest website, there are announcements of open bidding for specific land allotments to log.[1] National Parks have higher protections on what is or is not allowed on the land, whereas National Forests have fewer.[2]

Historically, National Forests were originally called National Reserves, meaning “reserving” these public lands to manage and utilize the resources as common goods.[2] Eventually, the National Reserves were shifted over to become National Forests, the National Forest Service (NFS) eventually chose the motto, “Caring for the Land and Serving People”, which reflected “‘…the Forest Service mission. As set forth in law, the mission is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people.’”[3]

At every sight|site that I gaze upon, what I frame in my photos and in my mind – I recognize a very strong bias. That this stripping of the land is horrible. That it is devastating the environment. That the swaths of deadness though showing obvious regrowth is ugly. Those signs about replanting – it must be mandated or else a marketing ploy. However, I am viewing these landscapes through the eyes of aesthetics and recreation. Recreation was not something people had time for and participated in as frequently and dedicatedly until more recently; it’s a luxury.[2]  And so it was not until more recently that environmentalism, this urge to protect land – for aesthetics, preservation, and recreation – began to be voiced.[2] And that is the context I grew up in, and the lens through which I look.

When one catches oneself thinking or speaking in superlatives – it’s an indicator that one is probably seeing things narrowly. I am always suspicious of superlatives – superlative positives of gushing praise, and superlative negativity of aggression. Because often both are hollow, are not often given objective support by the speaker.

So when I noticed this in myself, and thought if I want to truly learn more about this aspect of the biography of the Northwest, I really need to be open – I recognized that I need to consider alternate stories. I have a very limited understanding, for example, of the history and context and science used to determine logging and replant processes, and these are part of the larger story. And I need to acknowledge that even in places that have been logged before, there is regrowth. When one is under the canopy and does not see the landscape, one almost forgets about the logging.


And when I go through these places and their small towns, I wonder: what do these people do for work?


This is an income. This is how some people survive.

And this conscientious consideration to other potential stories is now coming more naturally. Now as I ride through the land, my mind frames its questions more thoughtfully. I am in amazement the amount of timber in Washington, not being utilized. Should not the state and its people benefit economically from it? How can the forest be both used and protected? And as I write this in a house, whose frame is wood, with two doors facing me that are wood, on a wood desk, sitting on a wood chair – I am reminded that I rely on wood every day. If trees were not being cut down, what kind of an office building would I go to? What kind of a bookshelf would I have? Would I have had wood readily available from the Home Depot down the street to build the Adirondack chair when I got inspired?


Wood has a story. The soil and the birds and the ecology of the woods have a story. And so do the companies that provide us this wood and the people who touch the wood as it goes from upright in the ground by its own roots to upright in the ground with manmade roots.

I very much want these stories. As many stories as I can collect.

See the rest of the Logging in the Pacific Northwest project

[1] Timber Sales. Retrieved July 9, 2014 from Olympic National Forest, Land and Resource Management: http://www.fs.usda.gov/resources/olympic/landmanagement/resourcemanagement.

[2] Chiang, C. and Reese, M. (Year unknown). Evergreen State: Exploring the History of Washington’s Forests. A Curriculum Project for Washington Schools. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Department of History.

[3] Romero, L. (2012). “Caring for the Land and Serving People”: The Origins of the U.S. Forest Service Motto. Forest History Today, Fall, 35-39.