What plays out on the rest of the Oregon pilot projects will sway how the Bureau of Land Management moves forward with its first new plan in almost two decades. But a new approach to logging would only be one small part of a solution to the conundrum of timber, owls and county funding in O&C country.

State and federal lawmakers are now scrambling for a way to help the counties before federal aid disappears (see sidebar). Some call for bypassing the Northwest Forest Plan altogether to increase the cut, while environmentalists demand that counties and private timber companies pay more taxes. One thing seems clear: Logging alone won't save the counties if environmental laws are to be followed. Another tough compromise seems inevitable.

Meanwhile, Oregon congressmen are asking for more federal aid just to keep counties from going under. Facing bankruptcy, some counties are putting new taxes up for a vote in May in the hope that residents will finally approve them.

At another site down the road, Jerry Franklin stands on a stump in a clearing that resembles what the White Castle timber sale might look like if it succeeds. An old clear-cut that was never replanted, it could be seen as a forestry failure. But Franklin calls it an early seral success, boasting a diverse array of flowering shrubs and young Douglas firs.

"I'm a real advocate for finding integrated approaches that try to do good ecologically as well as for cultural and economic values," he says. "Any singular dominant objective for the federal forestland is a bloody mistake."

But where that balance lies has perhaps never been more uncertain, because dynamic ecosystems we're just beginning to understand refuse to hold still. Ironically, the need to restore the forest we've so drastically altered remains the common ground where loggers and environmentalists can both benefit --  if they can agree on the way it should be done.

Beneath tall trees, Franklin stops short of professing exactly how to balance the many virtues of the Northwest woods that have become his life's work. "You, collectively -- society," he tells his students, "are the ones who have to make that decision."

This story was funded with reader donations to the High Country News Research Fund.