The days of one-log loads are over and not coming back

In 1991, when I was 7, it wasn't uncommon to see "one-log loads" screaming through my hometown of Sheridan, Ore. At the time, even though my family's livelihood was dependent on lumber, I didn't think much of it.

And around the same time, I can remember passionate dialog between adults about — what was it? Oh yes, the spotted owl. Looking back, I guess they either hated the bird for taking jobs or loved it for preserving the last remaining tracts of old-growth forest.

To me and my generation, though, the debate is a faded memory of an argument antiquated by technology, economy and time. For the generation following me, who never saw a one-log load, the logging debate is even fainter. The Google generation, disappointingly so to their log-rolling forebears, doesn't see economic fruit borne from backcountry logging or front-country milling.

Wild lands are more playground than workplace to a generation that grew up swimming in Oregon's rivers and lakes, hiking through our forests and enjoying untreated water from protected watersheds. While resource-exhaustive practices such as commercial logging are worrisome to us, they seem simply impractical, old and inefficient.

Building expensive industrial infrastructure (which is even more expensive to maintain) to access logs that are fetching historically low stumpage prices just isn't economical. We'd much rather hold our forests in trust and let the equity build.

If we are going to log old growth, it's intuitive to wait until demand is high, supply is low and international competition sparse. And we don't expect a housing boom that propelled the 20th century lumber demand any time soon.

In the meantime, we have an interest in utilizing public lands to produce long-term resources once thought of as toxic to economic growth. There is financial opportunity in taking advantage of ecological services offered by comprehensively managed forests, wild lands and waterways. We see the cash in abundant fisheries, equity in carbon-consuming native forests, job opportunities in restorative forestry and revenue potential in developing outdoor destinations.

That's why we don't engage when politicians or timber managers gripe to the media about "lost cut" or "locking up the lands." Administrative and legislative preservation efforts historically draw visitors, improve infrastructure and increase environmental services.

We know that if there were a demand for timber, the turning wheels of industry would source it — and if that demand resurfaced, it's possible a new debate over preservation would reignite. But, as good economists, my generation easily identifies the commercial commodities forests can provide aside from stumpage; we want to take advantage of the 21st-century services a healthy forest offers that are still unseen by 20th-century land managers and politicians.

Forget the fat stumps, the birds and the housing boom — that age is over. We've watched environmentalists draw lines on maps, lumber interests complain about it, and politicians rehearse scripts that fall somewhere in between — and all with little success. There are no wood jobs and indicator species are still threatened.

To bring forest management policy into the 21st century, the boomers have only the option of yielding control to the 21st century. I know that's scary to a generation of individuals who invested their entire lives in single careers. But not doing so is detrimental to economic and ecologic vitality, and unfair to succeeding generations.

So, I ask the generations before mine to please let loose their grip on public land policy and politics. We seek purposeful jobs that fill global market demands. Let my generation project futures on clean water; allow us to restore a commercially viable fishery; help us develop geographic gems held in secret into popular outdoor destinations. Because we're not anticipating any one-log loads within your lifetime.

Gabe Howe lives in Ashland.

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