Evolution of a timber family

  • BEN KILLEN ROSENBERG
 

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 more trees.

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 City.

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 golden-green light.

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 timber company.

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 manipulative.

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.

I 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 Forest Service.

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.

Lissa James is a contributor to Writers on the Range. She just concluded an internship with High Country News and is back in Washington, working in the family business.

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.