Monument supporters should focus on local realities

When we first learned that a tour of the proposed Douglas Fir National Monument was planned for this Saturday, two thoughts occurred.

One, Oct. 1 is opening day for Oregon’s centerfire rifle season. Not a real good day to be walking in the woods – anywhere.

Our second thought was that the real tour should focus on the fallout from these activists’ last foray into our forests, to protext the spotted owl: poverty and all manner of associated ills in Sweet Home and many other forest-based communities.

These illustrate some underlying issues that are important in what will be a contentious face-off if this half-million-acre Douglas Fir National Monument proposal gets legs. This isn’t about the welfare of the people of Oregon, particularly rural Oregon. Behind the monument proposal’s upbeat, optimistic, poetic language describing the preservation of species and the immense beauties of one of Oregon’s greatest trees is short-sighted disregard for the people who actually live amidst those trees – by people who mostly just visit them on weekends.

It’s significant that some of the instigators behind this plan were among those responsible for the protections that have locked down local forests to grow like weeds and have put local citizens out of work, some for nearly a generation.

While there certainly may have been issues with how logging was conducted prior to the shutting down of vast reaches of national forest to protect endangered creatures, just leaving the forests be isn’t necessarily good stewardship either.

And the impact on rural forest-based communities has been devastating.

Here in Sweet Home, there have been far too many able-bodied people walking our streets or flopped on their couches. In many cases, a work ethic that once found its fulfillment in forestry jobs has deterioriated over the past generation. Instead, we have substance abuse and other health problems, domestic difficulties, and more problems stemming from lack of industry and responsibility. The reasons for all this are complex, not just limited to the spotted owl, but it has played a big part.

Our schools contain far too many students who lack basic necessities: adequate food or clothing and, often most importantly, stable home lives.

When we see 7-year-olds walking to school on winter mornings over frost-encrusted sidewalks, wearing nothing more than thin short-sleeve T-shirts and badly worn pants and shoes, it’s visible evidence of what happens when there aren’t jobs.

The majority of those interested in seeing this half-million-acre preserve happen are not vicious, predatory aggressors who, for some reason, hate loggers and have it in for Sweet Home.

Thease people love the outdoors. They believe the best way of preserving their favorite slice of heaven is to convince the president to lock it down so trees can grow naturally, wildlife can flourish, and people who love nature can marvel at the centuries-old trees in Crabtree Valley.

Many of these people have little experience with the outdoors other than in hiking boots. It’s no accident that Keen Footwear of Portland is an outspoken supporter of the similarly proposed 2-plus-million-acre Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument in eastern Oregon.

Anyone who has read this page, even casually, knows we see great benefits in outdoor recreation. But it is short-sighted folly to imagine that the only morally defensible use of our great forests l to the east is to limit human encroachment to a few hiking trails.

They talk about letting the forests burn – naturally. But foresters acknowledge that large portions of the national forest is so overgrown now that, if sparked during hot, dry summers, they will explode like tinder.

Back to Saturday. Wildlife managers and hunters agree that deer are even harder to find out there than they once were, thanks in part to overgrown forests that offer few open spaces needed to provide grazing these animals need.

But that doesn’t mean the hunters won’t be out there, looking.

We’d suggest that participants in this field trip go prepared. Make lots of noise and wear orange.