Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 4.3.08

Fiber Farm
Intensive tree farming is poisoning Lane County

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on forest managementin the region.

This hillside east of Mapleton was covered with a 15-year-old plantation of Douglas fir trees before a fire in the early fall of 2002. The fire started on Roseburg Forest Products land and involved adjacent BLM lands. It slowed when it reached older stands of trees.

Densely filling every acre with Douglas fir, growing the trees as quickly as possible and then harvesting at the most profitable moment is intensive forest management’s focus. Since after 30 years, dollar growth exceeds tree growth, many plantations will be harvested before they’re 40 years old. Today, with wood chips worth as much as saw logs, fiber farming will lead to even quicker rotations.

Tree farm manipulators can’t wait for the spear-shaped Doug fir seedlings to grow up through the brush. Neither does this business tolerate other kinds of trees competing for space and sun. Consequently, growing and harvesting these teenage monocultures relies on chemical poisoning and fertilizing. Lots of it.

While chemicals may speed seedling growth, they can’t save these compacted Doug fir colonies from fire. Dense, homogenous tree plantations ignite and burn far easier than older, structurally diverse forest stands. Ironically, while promoting thinning public forests for fire resistance, industry continues to plant flammable fiber farms! When these plantations burn, rain flushes chemical residuals downstream with top soils.

The same herbicides used to speed seedling growth damage the soil fungi that enable trees to assimilate natural nutrients. Studies have documented second-decade growth losses within intensively treated sites. Growth can also be thwarted by native pathogens like Swiss Needle Cast, a normally endemic fungus that blights fir monocultures at epidemic levels. With millions of coastal acres now infected, the state and industry have considered treatments with fungicides like Bravo, toxic to fish in even micro amounts. How would large scale spraying affect prime salmon streams?

Salmon runs are already affected by other forest pesticides. In his report, “Diminishing Returns: Salmon Decline and Pesticides,” Dr. Richard Ewing details the effects on salmon caused by sub-lethal concentrations such as damage to their immune systems and negative effects to their food supplies. No wonder. The forest is the “womb” of the salmon. Poison the womb, you poison the salmon.

Ewing says that “Scientists, policy makers, and interest groups have thus far given insufficient attention to the role that pesticide contamination of our watersheds may play in salmon decline.” Indeed, even environmentally based reports like one by Pacific Rivers Council, “Preventing Salmon Extinction: Forest Practice Guidelines,” ignore salmon declines due to pesticides. Collateral damage from forest poisoning continues to reduce crucially important honey bee and bird populations and will inevitably cause further ecosystem failures.

The scale of this methodical forest poisoning is huge. In the late 1990s, while directing Public Interest Forestry, we did a coarse screen survey of herbicide use in Lane County. Between November of 1997 and October of 1999, pesticide notifications were filed with ODF for 140,000 acres! Federal forest managers use comparatively little pesticides in Lane County, so nearly all reported use was on private lands. Some acres were treated partially; others will receive a half dozen poisons three times or more within the decade under one notification. Correlated with recently harvested and replanted acres, this tally is a reasonable indicator of current chemical use.

Since Lane County has 788,000 acres of private forestland (568,000 acres of it owned by industry), this implies that 9 percent of Lane’s private forest may be poisoned in a single year. With a pound of chemical concentrates and gallons of “inert” mixer commonly sprayed on each acre, perhaps 30 tons a year of pesticides, plus their chemical dilutants, are spread annually across our watersheds.

In our survey, two timber companies emerged as giants of forest poisoning: Roseburg Forest Products, which treated 42,000 acres, mostly in western Lane’s Long Tom and Siuslaw River drainages; and Weyerhaeuser Company, which treated 39,000 acres, mainly in eastern Lane’s McKenzie, Willamette and Row River drainages. Both companies are known within forestry circles for having a “pure plantation fetish” and going to chemical extremes, regardless of costs, to achieve this dubious goal.

These enormous chemical expenditures pose a serious threat to our quality of life and the publicly owned resources within the private forest: water, fisheries and wildlife. Considering the funding and political weight of chemical companies like Monsanto, it’ll be a long while before these issues are thoroughly researched or aired. Oregon’s industry-dominated Forest Practice Act not only fails to guard us or the forest from poisoning, it condones chemical use with its “growth goal.”

How can we protect ourselves and our forest resources from fiber farming folly?

Part 2 will be “Reducing the Negative Effects of Intensive Forest Management.”Roy Keene is a real estate broker and private timberland restoration specialist.