Hopes and fears for Oregon's Ancient Forests

I haven’t been out hiking this spring and early summer as much as I’d like. (Most of you readers can probably say the same, right?)

I think many have the wrong idea about what it is that I, and the rest of us at Oregon Wild, do day in and day out. While we do get out to enjoy our forests and rivers every chance we get, the day to day work of protecting our wildlands, forests, and wildlife habitat takes place mostly on a keyboard, on conference calls with other advocates, or around a table with other interested parties - not all of whom agree with what we do. 

A good part of what I do at Oregon Wild is to try to communicate the complicated issues and positions we’re dealing with - why we might support “thinning” plantations on the Siuslaw National Forest (with caveats!) but not “fuels reduction” activities in the moist forests of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest; or why logging rules on private lands in Oregon are different from public lands; or why protections for the wildlands around the Rogue River were cut from legislation that passed earlier this year. We want our supporters and the general public to be well-informed, to understand some of the nuance behind our advocacy, to get excited to help us make change. 

We talk to reporters, issue press releases, share scientific studies on social media, ask folks to contact their elected officials - among other advocacy tactics. And I know that these efforts reach a lot of people who believe in our work because we see results - phone calls, e-mails, and letters from our supporters putting pressure on the Governor, legislators, county commissioners, and U.S. Senators to make decisions that benefit our wildlife, water, or forests. (Sometimes, they even do this!)

While these actions, and the behind-the-scenes work Oregon Wild staff do on their laptops day in and day out, make a difference, sometimes we all just have to get out in the woods and the wild to reconnect with our passion, our spirit, and our purpose. 

It’s with the hope of helping people do this incredibly important thing, getting out into the forests we work so hard for, that I’ve spent the last two years working to publish Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A hiking guide, with the support of Oregon Wild and Mountaineers Books. 

I know why I love forests, but love is difficult to explain in the abstract. If I can enourage people to visit just a few of the places featured here, the forests will speak for themselves. They will explain, without words, what is at stake, why it is so critical that they be allowed the opportunity to persist. …I hope this book piques your interest, fosters your curiosity, and plants the seeds of advocacy that these forests still need… (From the introduction)

That's right, it's finally out! 

While I've always thought this book would be important, this past year, seeing the continued logging of old forests, fresh clearcuts fragmenting the landscape, and some of the same old political shenanigans being played out that keeps polluting and extractive industries in power, I’ve been keenly aware of the need for this book to be out in the world now. 

Federal administrations more concerned with the interests of Big Timber than those of endangered species, clean water, and climate change still seek ways to erode forest protections. Powerful interests continue to spread false information about “sustainable” forestry, the causes of wildfire, and the “need” to log our public lands. Forest advocates cannot rest on the work that has been done to protect our ancient forests. With so few of them left, every acre we protect - and the vast amounts that need to be restored - is vital for wildlife, clean and plentiful water, the climate, and Oregon’s future economy. And to become effective advocates for these ancient forests, people need to experience them directly. That is where this book comes in. (From the introduction) 

Of course, there has been good news for forests recently as well. I was able to squeak one last-minute edit into the book, mere hours before it was too late to go to print, back in February - to take out the word “proposed” when describing the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness. That felt pretty good! 

Now that the book is finally out in the world - and I hope to see folks at some of our planned celebrations, presentations, and signings (all of which can be found here) - I am feeling a combination of hope and fear for its existence. 

I hope it’s good enough. I hope it helps protect the forests described within. I hope, as I write in the introduction, that it inspires readers to take action - “to help preserve these places before they disappear entirely”. 

My fears center on it not being good enough, and not inspiring the action needed to save our ancient forests.

Those who pick up this book can help prove my fears wrong and my hopes right. Please, check it out. Read it. Learn about our ancient forests. Visit them. And take action to help me and my colleagues keep up our work behind our screens, on the phone, and around the table when we can’t be out hiking in the forest.