Logging is a cure worse than disease
As Oregonians who cherish our public lands watch the Columbia Gorge fires, it is natural to fear the worst. Scenic viewpoints and beloved hiking trails are like old-friends, places we return to year after year to reconnect with the natural world. Will Eagle Creek, Oneonta Gorge, and Wahclella Falls ever be the same? Will our old-growth forests, wildlife, and wild places survive?
It will be some time before we know how much this fire has changed the Gorge. But what we can say definitively is that the Columbia Gorge is not lost. It will come out of this fire, as it has countless fires before, as a place of wonder, natural beauty, and the amazing diversity of life.
The native plants and animals of the Gorge, like elsewhere in Oregon, have spent millions of years adapting to fire, or evolving to take advantage of it. While ghostly silver snags may appear ugly to the human eye, within a few years post-fire landscapes teem with wildlife. Much of the more fire-resistant old-growth will survive, and dense, younger forest that burns away will be replaced by brilliant wildflowers and shrubs.
Some in the logging industry are promoting the idea that the Gorge has been lost, exploiting the fire to advocate for more "active management" of our public lands. Their argument is twisted — to save our forests, they say we must cut them down.
This cynical public relations campaign is as wrong as throwing fireworks off the Eagle Creek Trail. We already have enough logging in our national forests. A mix of beneficial restoration thinning and destructive "salvage" logging and clearcutting still occur on tens of thousands of acres of our national forests every year. And when it comes to fire, numerous studies have shown the most heavily-logged forests actually burn more intensely than natural, protected landscapes.
Returning to the era of clearcuts marching up mountainsides, and new roads permanently carved into the heart of our wildest places is a cure worse than the disease.
Removing large trees and replacing them with dense, monoculture-style management favored by logging advocates is a recipe for increased fire danger. A sprawling road network, driving deeper into our forests to access the most valuable, fire-resistant trees, will inevitably lead to an increase in human-caused conflagrations started by vehicles, cigarettes, escaped campfires or irresponsible fireworks.
The role of a changing climate cannot be ignored. At the same time greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to erratic weather, warmer climates, and drought, the logging industry is writing huge campaign checks to the politicians that are most willing to bury their heads in the sand. Of course, this makes sense when you consider the industry sits near the top of the state's carbon polluters and their aim of harvesting Oregon's oldest, most carbon-storing forests is antithetical to accepting climate change as real.
During the massive fires that burned through Yellowstone National Park in 1988, many feared the park was "ruined" forever. Now we know the fires played a vital role in restoring a healthy landscape and diverse species of wildlife. In 25 years, Oregonians will likely look back at the Eagle Creek fire and say the same thing. The Gorge will be different, but it will still be a natural treasure, a place of beauty and wonder for generations to come.
Sean Stevens is executive director of Oregon Wild, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters for future generations.