My family owns a timber company in Washington state, and for us, money grows on trees.
Every time we buy
something, we see the physical signs of our consumption in our
backyard. Paying for my recent college education, for example, took
about 300 truckloads of second-growth Douglas fir, cedar and
hemlock trees. A $60 pair of jeans equals a log of Doug fir
that’s eight inches at the top and 36 feet long. When we pay
medical bills or leave our town of 200 to go on vacation, we cut
I grew up on the timber farm, which is owned
by some 30 members of my mother’s extended family. Some of
them work for the family company on the Olympic Peninsula,
operating chain saws and laying out clear-cuts; others work as
interior designers in Chicago or as wine importers in New York
Not everyone approves of the family business. One
of my relatives, for instance, called the company’s timber
income "blood money." But for the most part, we get along and enjoy
each other when we gather in Washington to talk about log prices,
sustained yield and board footage.
A surefire bet for a
heated family debate, though, is the question of how we should
manage Grandfather’s Park, 18 acres of river bottomland that
the family removed from timber harvest in the 1970s. Homesteaders
logged the park with oxen in 1880, 20 years before my family bought
the land, so it’s not the "virgin" old growth visitors often
mistake it for. But now the trees are huge again — covered in
moss, footed with sword fern and, when it’s sunny, lit by
For decades, my uncle, the
farm’s current manager, harvested a load or two of dead and
dying trees from the park each year, which earned us about $2,000 a
load. But this year, some family members got together and
petitioned to stop any logging of the old trees. Immediately,
another group formed, and it argued that ending salvage logging in
the park would be a symbolic first step toward destroying our
The debate wasn’t over ecology and
economics but about underlying philosophies — whether or not
it made us "better" people to stop the salvage logging. But this
wasn’t a philosophical exercise. The argument began through
mass e-mails and quickly became ugly and personal, sprinkled with
decades-old quotes dredged up from the family’s collective
memory. During the meeting, the anti-loggers shed tears and made
emotional speeches, while other family members signed petitions,
conducted biased surveys, sat in awkward silence and occasionally
shouted. I mostly listened.
The people who wanted to stop
salvage logging accused their opponents of being greedy,
out-of-touch and totalitarian. The pro-salvage logging team
retorted that the "greeners" were wealthy, out-of-touch and
Each side resorted to clichés. The
"environmentalist" cousins acted as if a human presence
automatically ruined a forest; the "anti-environmentalist" group
acted as if trees were only good for human consumption.
know that neither group is actually that narrow-minded, but both
were afraid that any compromise would lead to total surrender. In
the end, however, there simply weren’t enough stakeholders
for this to become the never-ending battle that it is with the
After a couple of hours, the people in my
mother’s generation put together what was generally
considered to be a win-win resolution. They created a park
committee, consisting of two moderate representatives from each
camp, which will be in charge of deciding when and how we
salvage-log. I think it’s a face-saver more than anything.
Grandfather’s Park is still open to salvage logging, but it
may be years — if ever — before the next load of dying
trees is taken out.
While it was painful to watch my
family argue, the meeting wasn’t discouraging. Most of the
young people at the meeting saw past the hullabaloo and agreed with
both points of view. It might just be because we’re younger.
Maybe as you age you simplify the world around you in order to stay
sane. Or maybe we chose the middle path simply because we
didn’t want to offend anyone.
I prefer to think
that my 20-something generation learned something from our parents.
I prefer to think of us as "green loggers" who have moved beyond
the black-and-white environmental vision that’s been passed
down to us. Most of all, I hope that when the time comes for us to
call the shots, we’ll be able to trust each other.