Ninety minutes by car north of Warner Creek in the Detroit Ranger District, hundreds of big trees have tumbled like tenpins all spring and summer.
Four sales containing at least some old-growth timber have been or are being cut, despite three protests from late April to early August, during which the Forest Service arrested 40 activists. Two more sales seem likely, despite opposition from city officials in the state capital of Salem, 45 miles downstream of the forest.
The fight started last April, when Tom Vuyovich, a motel owner in the neighboring town of Detroit, was walking his dog on a forest road. A guard for a local timber company stopped him and told him the road was closed to public entry so the area could be logged. After the two men exchanged angry words, Vuyovich went home and started organizing.
"Until then, I thought, so what if they log 300 acres of trees, I'll just stay home and be my usual Goldwater Republican self," said Vuyovich. "Then I thought, this is our yard, this is our national forest. They're already raping the trees, but to chase me off the place where I'm walking my dog, that just pissed me off."
In late April, well over 100 people attended a protest at his motel. From there, activists drove to the site of the planned Red 90 timber sale and 28 crossed the federal closure line and got arrested. In early August, four activists planted a junk car and "locked down" on the road leading to the Horse Byars timber sale. The blockade lasted most of the day.
Then, in mid-August, the Salem City Council voted to oppose two planned sales out of concern that additional timber-cutting would harm the town's drinking water. A February 1996 flood had poured sediment into the river, forcing the city to close its water treatment plant for several weeks.
Detroit District Ranger Bill Funk approved one of the sales after an Environmental Protection Agency study concluded that the risk to the watershed from additional logging was minimal. The new cuts, the EPA said, would protect the land along streams much better than prior logging projects had.
The second sale is pending. Many of the contested timber sales lie within a few miles, and in one case less than a half-mile, of the legendary Opal Creek area for which Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield is now struggling to win congressional protection (see page 4). More painful to environmentalists is that loggers cut about 1.3 billion board-feet of timber in the district from 1980 to 1990.
"The vast majority of the watershed, except Opal Creek and the adjacent drainage area, is all nearly cut over," said Trygve Steen, a Portland State University biologist who has flown over and photographed this area. "By and large, this forest is heavy-duty industrial forest."
As it has over much of the Northwest, the Forest Service has changed its logging ways in this area. During the early "90s, it reduced the cut to only 5 million board-feet a year, and from now on, the cut will never rise above 24 million board-feet.
The agency says that 65,000 acres, or more than 20 percent of the district's 318,000 acres, are old growth. And it plans to let loggers cut only a fifth of the old growth under the Clinton administration's Northwest Forest Plan.
Rob Freres, president of Freres Lumber Co., which cut the Horse Byars and Red 90 sales, said that Red 90 is a perfect place to cut just because so much of the area has already been logged, replanted and paved with roads. Horse Byars "is a highly defective stand, highly rotten, old and diseased with a white speck fungus," Freres said. "We can use it or lose it."