Environmentalists have always said that old-growth trees are worth more alive than logged. Recently, the Forest Service seconded that thought. In October, after five years of negotiations, the agency allowed Idaho sawmill owner Mark Brinkmeyer to swap his 530-acre grove of 1,200-year-old trees at the headwaters of Idaho's Upper Priest Lake for 2,200 acres of national forest.
The ancient trees have risen
steadily in value. In 1992, Brinkmeyer paid Plum Creek Timber Co.
$2 million for the Western red cedars. These days the timber is
valued at $8.7 million. The deal was prolonged by the complexity of
the exchange as well as changes in the Forest Service's negotiating
By law, the Forest Service had to trade
timber land for this high-value tract at a fair-market price. Arlen
Olson, an outside facilitator, says publicity surrounding the
old-growth cedars probably increased the timber's value, and
environmental legislation that slashed Pacific Northwest timber
harvests in the early 1990s added to it. Marty Healy, an
independent land and timber appraiser, says, "The demand for cedar
has been going through the roof."
But this tract
can't be measured in dollars, says Dave O'Brien, a Forest Service
spokesman. "It's the Mona Lisa of forests," he says. "How a tract
like this can be preserved for that long makes it a unique
ecosystem. The deal will also preserve wetlands and habitat for
rare plants, fish and wildlife."
groups, timber groups, and both of Idaho's Republican senators
applauded the swap. The Forest Service says it plans to manage the
grove as a natural conservation area. Still, some observers in
Idaho speculate that the cedars never would have been logged and
would eventually have been placed in a land trust - a long and
costly process. "Thankfully, we'll never know," says Olson. - Sara