Old-growth tree in Unit 166 of the Quartzville-Middle Santiam timber sale, Willamette National Forest (photo by Chelsea Stewart-Fusek / Cascadia Wildlands).

Guest Opinion: QMS logging project will undermine Willamette National Forest recreation

By Nadene LeCheminant | Guest Opinion in The Statesman Journal
Originally published at 11:00am on December 24, 2021

Willamette National forest in the Santa Canyon where tree species are dominated by Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar and other fir trees (courtesy of Richard Yates).

I moved to Oregon 16 years ago, drawn by its physical beauty. The Cascade Mountains are the primary reason I chose to live in Salem.

I was dismayed to learn about the proposed Quartzville-Middle Santiam logging project being planned in the Willamette National Forest. This massive project covers a staggering 89,000 acres between Detroit and Sweet Home.

It is uncomfortably close to a protected wilderness area and would convert some of the most scenic locations in the Oregon Cascades into barren slopes scarred by skid trails, logging slash, exposed stumps, bulldozed roads and a moonscape ambience.

I am not opposed to all aspects of the QMS project, such as thinning some dense stands of younger trees. What is disturbing is the immense scale of the project and especially its inclusion of mature and old-growth trees.

Old-growth tree in Unit 166 of the Quartzville-Middle Santiam timber sale, Willamette National Forest (photo by Chelsea Stewart-Fusek / Cascadia Wildlands).

Old-growth trees once covered the entire Cascade and Coast Range. Today less than 10% remain, and the Quartzville-Middle Santiam project has some of those rare stands in its sights.

Many Oregon residents have chosen to live here because of the state’s exceptional scenic and recreational values, and millions of tourists are drawn here for the same reason.

Indeed, these values are a primary driver of the Oregon economy, which is shifting from extraction-based sectors, such as timber, to the recreation sector. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, outdoor recreation in Oregon adds $5.3 billion to the economy and provides almost 70,000 jobs, giving it greater economic importance than timber production.

The Willamette National Forest, in particular, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, including campers, hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, picnickers, hunters, anglers, swimmers and horse riders.

If the QMS project goes forward as planned, its impacts on scenery and recreational values will undermine the outdoor experience of these visitors.

Oregon’s future does not lie in continuing to designate our forests as economic sacrifice zones devoted to timber production. Tourism and recreational values are degraded when forests are thinned and clear-cut on the massive scale that is occurring in the Cascade Mountains right now, and especially when mature and old-growth forests are logged.

Our majestic older forests form the iconic heart of the outdoor experience for Oregonians. I urge the Forest Service to choose “Alternative 4,” which eliminates logging in old-growth stands and focuses solely on thinning previously logged, younger forests. This alternative will still produce 50 million to 60 million board feet of timber over the next several years, helping support local economies.

The Willamette National Forest is loved by hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, and they should have a voice in how this forest is managed.

Recreational values will become increasingly important as we move into the future, and those values must be protected in order to protect our economy.

Nadene LeCheminant (photo courtesy of Richard Yates).

Nadene LeCheminant is a retired writer, hiker and member of Cascadia Wildlands. You may reach her at nadene@yatesguitar.com.