A Brief Memoir on the Life and Times
Of Joe McCracken and Leonard Netzorg
A Speech by James D. Petersen
Journalist and Executive Director of the Evergreen Foundation
Publishers of Evergreen Magazine
On the occasion of the annual meeting
American Forest Resource Council
Skamania Lodge, Washington
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
It’s nice to be here among old friends.
As many of you know, I got my start in our industry in southern Oregon, but not at Evergreen, for which I am best known. More than a decade before its’ founding, 1971 to be exact, I went to work for D.R. Johnson. He hired me to do public relations work for the company and for the old Northwest Timber Association. He was president that year.
I already knew a bit about North West Timber, having met Arnold Ewing in 1970 when I was working for the Daily Courier in Grants Pass. Within a matter of weeks after I completed a 10-part series on forest practices in the Douglas fir region, three things happened that shaped my destiny:
First, North West Timber reprinted the series as a tabloid, which it inserted in about a dozen dailies around the region.
Second, the late Congressman John Dellenback posted the entire series in the Congressional Record.
And third, D.R. hired me.
I refused D.R.’s first overtures because I’d only been working for the Courier for about a year, and I wasn’t comfortable leaving them so soon, but the D.R. we know and love does not take “No” for answer, so when he offered to double my pay, I gave in, and soon found myself accompanying him to North West Timber meetings in Eugene.
I lasted about eight months, loved every minute of it, and to this day regret my decision to quit – but I didn’t think I was qualified to do the job he envisioned for me and I felt guilty taking his money, but when I tried to explain this to him he got so upset I feared he might not sign my last paycheck. Frankly, he had every right to be upset with me. He was spending his hard-earned money on me – and I was not holding up my end of our bargain. The problem was that I had not yet mastered the fundamentals of sound public relations. I was a pretty decent writer alright, and I’d learned a few things about forestry in my time at the Daily Courier, but I was hardly conversant where the industry was concerned.
Worse, I soon discovered that journalism’s skills are not directly transferable to the public relations field. Plainly stated, I wasn’t going to be able to fulfill DR’s fine vision until I mastered the art of good public relations. I knew this was going to take some time and that I needed to learn on my own nickel, not DR’s.
I can tell you this story now because D.R. and I long ago made peace with one another. And I’m very glad we did because, beyond his trademark frown he is one of the most decent and honorable men I’ve ever known. I remember the day he sent me to Roseburg to buy transistor radios, the day before Nixon’s 1972 State of Union speech. Minutes before the President came on the air, we shut the mill down so that every employee could hear his message. D.R. talked briefly about the importance of being politically active and well informed; then we all listened to the President on transistor radios I had positioned around the mill. It is a frozen moment in my life. How do you not admire such conviction, such dedication?
As some of you know, I am working on a book that will recount the post-World War II history of the West’s family-owned sawmills. Aaron Jones, for whom I also have boundless respect and admiration, is funding the project. It is the summation of a long running series of conversations and letters dating back several years. In August, 2004, nearly a year after Aaron and I had last talked, Dale Riddle called me to ask if I was still interested in writing the book. I said I was and he said Aaron wanted to talk to me; could I fly to Eugene to meet with him. I said yes.
In a matter of minutes Aaron and I realized we were on the same wavelength as to the story itself. I showed him the budget; he looked it over carefully, and then said something I’ll never forget. He said, “That’s about what I thought it would cost, but I’ll tell you what. I don’t care if it costs two or three times this amount of money, so long as you tell a story that is true and unassailable.
If luck is with me, I will finish the draft manuscript late next year.
This is your story – and if you don’t mind me saying so, it is one hell of a story. In fact, I think it is one of the great stories in the history of American industry, though I use the word “industry” advisedly, because I’ve never felt that the forest products industry was an industry in the same sense that the steel, oil or auto industries are industries. Rather, I see a collection of small, medium and large companies, some publicly traded but most privately owned. You compete like cats and dogs for log supply, fight like cats and dogs over matters of great principle, and only rarely come together around matters of common interest. You produce high quality products in abundance at very attractive prices. It is the consumer that uses your products who has benefited most from the brutally competitive nature of your business.
In the time we have together this morning, I’m going to share a smattering of what I have learned in the course of 18 months of book-related research. Much of what I have to say is necessarily directed at present and future mill owners.
Since September of 2004, I’ve interviewed many of this industry’s legends, including D.R. and Aaron. Though it seemed ghoulish at the time, I arranged my interviews by age and health, but I’m glad I did because over the last 18 months, four giants have died: Mark Schotnecht in Montana, and here in Oregon, Dean Swanson, Nat Giustina, John Hampton, and just last week, my old friend Lew Krauss.
Lew was too sick to talk by the time I started this project, but I spent some time with his wife, Kathy, who I’ve known since 1970, and their daughter, Jennifer who, with her husband Linc, now guides the fortunes of a company Lew’s father and Uncle Fritz started on Deer Creek in southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley in 1922. Lew was our Evergreen cover story in May, 1987. Like many of you, I have fond memories of this gentle and brilliant man. Having witnessed the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease in my own father, I know Lew is in a better place this morning.
So too are all of the others, including our friend John Hampton. I completed my second interview with him last November, a day or two after he learned his cancer treatments were no longer working. Yet I found him in remarkably good spirits. “I’ve had a lot of fun,” he said. “And I’ve accomplished everything I set out to do. I’m leaving my company in very good hands. Who could ask for more?”
John was very generous with his time. Aaron has been beyond generous with his. So has D.R. And so was Lew over the years we knew each other. Everyone I’ve interviewed seems to sense that now is the time to talk, to get the story down before it is too late, before memories fade into the shadows of forgotten time. I cannot begin to tell you what this means to me – how lucky I feel to have been entrusted with such a wonderful story.
Your story is yet untitled, but I do have a working title: “There is no quit in them.” I fear it is too long and unmemorable to be a book title, but it surely describes all of you to a tee. That you have survived and prospered amid such political, economic and social turmoil is a remarkable. That you have at the same time made such enormous contributions to forestry, conservation, education, technology, manufacturing, and our country’s economy, while also fortifying the social, economic and cultural fabric of your communities is even more astonishing. That most of you started with nothing – not an acre of land and not a dime to your name – is the wonder of it all.
Some of the 75 or so interviews I’ve completed have gone on for two or three days, a few even longer. Interviews can be exhausting, and at times every emotional. I am not embarrassed to admit there have been moments when we were both reduced to tears by events or memories.
I have asked all those who have passed a certain age how they want to be remembered. To a man, their answer has been the same. Sometimes the words are even the same. They want to be remembered for their honesty – and for having worked hard. Nothing else: not for having the biggest mill or the fastest mill or the most money or the most toys, just for having been honest and worked hard.
The day of my first interview with D.R., I insisted that we tour the mill at day’s end. I had not been through it in more than 30 years. He said, “I’ll find someone to take you.” I said, “No D.R., I want to go with you.” He smiled and said, “Okay, we’ll go together.” Later that day, standing on a catwalk that runs perpendicular to both saw carriages, amid ear splitting noise, neither of us able to hear well even on a good day, I leaned close to his then 77- year-old-ears and asked him if there was anywhere else on earth he would rather be than right there in his mill. He shook his head “No,” and the look on his face told me he wondered why I would ask him such a silly question.
I’ve twice toured Seneca with Aaron, and twice gotten the same response I got from D.R. You are all passionate about your mills, and much to my amazement, all of you can tell by ear, by listening, whether they are running as they should. And from the many mill tours I’ve taken I’ve learned that most of you know your employees by name, and, to a man, you consider your work force to be your greatest asset. I think this says a great deal about your affinity for people and communities.
To a large extent, your story traces the rise and fall of the old Western Forest Industries Association. North West Timber is part of the story too, as are the old West Coast Lumbermen’s Association and the Industrial Forestry Association, spun off from WCLA in the 1940s. But this morning I’m going to focus on WFIA’s formation, its early years, and where I think its’ legacy can still take you.
WFIA was created in March, 1947 with the merger of two like-minded associations: W.A.L.L., the Western Association of Loggers and Lumbermen, and the Pacific Lumber Remanufacturers Association. Its first executive was Reg Titus, who had worked earlier for the Remanufacturers association and before that WCLA.
W.A.L.L. presided over one of the stormiest periods in our industry’s history. In fact, had it not been for the determination of its members – gyppo loggers and the so-called “Have Not’s,” Depression-era sawmillers that couldn’t afford to buy timberland – many of the family mills represented here this morning, might never have gained a foothold in the post-war building boom. Such was Big Lumber’s determination to kill off startup operators who hoped to capitalize on what was to become the greatest economic surge in U.S. history.
Viewed in the context of Big Lumber’s tumultuous early years, one can hardly blame them for wanting to eliminate their weakest competitors. The boom and bust cycles of the early 20th century exacted a terrible toll on highly leveraged, poorly financed companies that were forced to liquidate their timber to pay down huge debts underwritten at usurious interest rates by eastern bank syndicates. Amid cutthroat competition in markets that were perennially flooded with cheap lumber it is no wonder none of them could gain any pricing power, no wonder that they sought refuge in various schemes designed to eliminate the weakest among them.
In the 1920s and 1930s Big Lumber devoted almost all of its political energies to various schemes designed to reduce competition, first by attempting to voluntarily limit sawmill production and later, when that didn’t work, by trying to limit access to federal timber under the banner of two publicly popular concepts: sustained yield and community stability, Populist ideas born of Depression-era hardship and widespread fears of a timber famine.
None of these schemes worked, even when Big Lumber conspired with FDR’s New Dealers under the aegis of the National Recovery Act’s Lumber Code, declared unconstitutional in the 1935 Schlechter Case. But the court’s decision only reaffirmed the obvious: once unleashed, entrepreneurship is an unstoppable market force.
But this truth didn’t stop Big Lumber from attempting to hijack the 1937 O&C Act and the 1944 Sustained Yield Act in a final attempt to destroy the family mills. Thankfully, Truman Democrats saw through this scheme and killed it – a rather revealing bit of history considering the role Democrats have in recent years played in the downfall of both federal forestry and the mills that depended on it for a half-century.
Four men figured prominently in the final defeat of Big Lumber’s post-war attempt to kill off the family mills: C. Girard Davidson, a Tennessee lawyer who played a prominent role in the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and went on to become Assistant Secretary of the Interior in the first Truman Administration. It was Jebby Davidson who presided over the January 1948 hearing in Eugene that was the beginning of the end for Big Lumber’s attempt to capture the then emerging federal timber sale program.
I have the transcript from that hearing. It is 502 pages long and is the cornerstone of my book. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a vortex, a convergence of ideas past, present and future that were to shape the family mills.
The other three in the Davidson foursome are known, if only by reputation, to nearly everyone in this room: Joe McCracken, who took over WFIA in 1955; Dan Goldy, a Truman strategist and Department of Interior economist who discovered Joe while he was still a student at Princeton University, and got him a job with the BLM when he graduated, and Leonard Netzorg, WFIA’s legal counsel for more than 40 years.
In the early 1960s Joe Miller entered the picture: powerful union lobbyist, JFK confidant, and in the opinion of many, the most gifted Democratic Party election strategist in modern history. Joe was WFIA’s Washington lobbyist until it folded, and in retirement remains an advisor to the O&C Counties.
I can only think of one other time in our industry’s history when such an enormous talent pool was assembled on one stage. In the early 1900s, E.T. Allen, Bill Greeley and David Mason, Forest Service veterans all: Allen at the Western Forestry and Conservation Association, which he guided for more than 30 years, Greeley as the third chief of the Forest Service and later executive vice president of WCLA and Mason, chief architect of sustained yield forestry through the 1920’s, 30’s and 40s, and founder of one of the West’s most respected forestry consulting firms. Allen, Greeley and Mason presided over the three pieces of forestry legislation that laid the foundations for modern forestry in America: the 1924 Clarke-McNary Act, the 1937 O&C Act and the 1944 Sustained Yield Act. The latter two are the only federal laws ever passed that specifically address sustained yield – balancing growth and harvest – as a means of achieving community stability. Progressive Era foresters advanced both concepts as a means of curbing the “cut out and get out” cycles that plagued the rural West before Congress passed the Clarke-McNary Act, which addressed both the wildfire crisis and related reforestation problems
Only one other forester has made contributions to our industry on the same scale as Allen, Greeley and Mason: Bill Hagenstein, IFA executive vice president for most of the organization’s life, and forestry’s most eloquent spokesman before the Congress for more than 30 years. When Bill graduated from the University of Washington in 1938, Greeley hired him as a WCLA field forester. No one contributed more to the formation of the Tree Farm System than Bill. Now 92, he has been my friend and inspiration for more than 30 years.
Come forward a half century and we find the American Forest Resource Council, a creation of mergers that included IFA and WFIA, fierce rivals for years in the war that raged between Big Lumber and the family mills that are today the heart and soul of AFRC.
You could be forgiven for wondering why this history is important to the future of AFRC and the family mills. It is important because the influence and subsequent confluence of these old associations courses through every major political event leading to the vantage point we occupy this morning: the green-dry lumber standards battle, log exports and the subsequent creation of the SBA program, RARE I and II, contract relief and, year-after-year Forest Service appropriations that were the lifeblood of the West’s federal timber sale program, now gone the way of IFA, WFIA and so many other associations that either collapsed or fell into one another’s arms as the West’s lumber industry was decimated by a litigation, the federal Endangered Species Act and the collapse of the forest planning process itself.
No two men played more prominent roles in the post-war rise of the family mills than Joe McCracken and Leonard Netzorg; and I know that many of you knew both of them. I did too, though I knew Leonard better. Joe and I got acquainted after he retired. Retirement was probably the toughest task he ever faced, and he did not handle it well because he didn’t know how to relax. The industry was his life, just as it is for all of the old bulls on Interstate 5 who still go to work every day because, by their own admissions, they don’t have anywhere else to go and they don’t know what else to do with their lives.
I think Joe was the most gifted political strategist ever to serve the family mills. Despite his trademark bravado, and his often grandiose schemes, he accomplished great things. He had marvelous instincts, a keen understanding of the intricacies of the House and Senate, and a photographic memory that he used to great advantage.
Like the old Marine that he was, he lived to fight – and he loved it. But he was uneasy in his own skin, and too restless to ever let himself appreciate victory, so he never learned how to savor the hard won battles he engineered. If there wasn’t a fight somewhere, he would start one.
Sadly, it was Joe’s style that led to his downfall. He drank too much, assumed too much, took advantage of the trust placed in him, and had ambitions much too large for many of his members to comprehend. It was his determination to build WFIA into a political powerhouse representing the interests of family mills across the 11 western states that led many of Oregon’s West Side mills to leave him in the late 1960s to form their own more local group, the now long gone North West Timber Association. Although they admired Joe, they only reluctantly shared his genius with East Side mills.
Of these stormy years, which were littered with budget-busting campaigns orchestrated by Joe and a string of D.C. lobbyists, my friend Frank Gladics, the last man to preside over the remnants of WFIA, observed that “Joe found it easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
I suppose Frank is right, though I wish Joe were here to confirm or refute Frank’s assessment. When I asked Janet McCracken for a one-word description of the man whose life she tried to share for 50 years, her split-second answer was, “Devious.”
Although Joe could be cunning and deceptive at times I still find certain sadness in her answer. And the truth be told, the vision for an organization representing the interests of the family mills across the 11 western states wasn’t Joe’s. It was Reg Titus working together with W.A.L.L. and later WFIA members that crafted this vision in the mid-1940s. The fact that there were proposals for creating sustained yield units all over the West – which would have given Big Lumber exclusive access to millions of acres of federal timberland at the expense of the landless family mills – no doubt drove them into one another’s political camps.
In fact, the most riveting testimony offered at Jebby Davidson’s January 1948 sustained yield hearing in Eugene, which concerned formation of the Mohawk River Sustained Yield Unit, was offered not by an Oregonian, but by a former Montana Supreme Court judge named Leif Erickson. Judge Erickson was a key Democratic Party operative in both Montana and Washington, D.C. He had returned to his Helena law practice, and was representing the interests of the newly-minted Western Montana Lumbermen’s Association, formed in W.A.L.L.’s image to fight a J. Neil’s Lumber Company proposal for creating a sustained yield unit on the Kootenai National Forest.
But no one played a larger role in the demise of the sustained yield units than Leonard. Fresh out of Yale Law School in 1937, he went out to Detroit to defend striking members of the then fledgling United Auto Workers union. Leonard’s fiery defenses of union organizers got him introduced to Ben Cohen, a brilliant lawyer and perhaps the most influential member of FDR’s New Deal Brain Trust. He worked briefly in the Department of Interior’s Washington office but was transferred to the Portland BLM office in 1948, where he spent two years crafting the regulations that stipulate reciprocal access to federal and private timberland.
Had Leonard not written these regulations as he did the family-owned sawmills that quickly gained both political and economic prominence in the post-World War II building boom might never have been established. Small wonder then that in the aftermath of the rights of way battle he became WFIA’s chief legal counsel, and Joe’s alter ego.
Of their years together, Leonard told me, “There were two opinions of us. We were either Great Saviors or No Good Son-of-a-bitches, depending on who you asked.” And of Leonard, Joe later told me, “If you were from a family-owned mill that didn’t own land you thought he was Jesus Christ, but if you were from one of the big publicly traded outfits that opposed the federal timber sale program you thought he was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.”
Leonard saw the battle in its purest light: a bare-knuckled, knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish between the family-owned David’s and the publicly-traded Goliath’s. For a Depression-era lawyer who mastered his oratory skills atop lunch room tables in Detroit union halls, it was an easy decision. He sided with the families, and devoted his life at law to their survival and prosperity.
“I have always abhorred concentrations of economic power in the hands of the few,” told me years later. “I guess it goes back to my old union days in Detroit. The road access rules broke down a concentration of power, allowing many new companies to get into the lumber manufacturing business. Competition increased and log prices went up, forcing companies to modernize to reduce wood waste. It was a good deal for the industry, forestry, forest communities, the government and the public.”
Indeed it was. But those days are gone now, along with the federal timber sale program that was the economic lifeblood of most of the West’s family mills. Those that survived the collapse now compete on a global stage – having secured new, more stable log supplies from lands they’ve purchased or from other ownerships: state or tribal forests, other non-industrial lands and, in a few cases, other countries.
But the federal timber sale program still had some life left in it when I interviewed Leonard in 1991 for an Evergreen Magazine cover story. Even so, he clearly sensed what he called “profound change in the wind.” Mills in the I-5 corridor were already cursing federal judges, lawyers and their clients, and it only got worse after the June 1990 threatened species listing of the northern spotted owl.
But Leonard had a slightly different view of the proceedings. He said, “The problem facing forest communities has little to do with the law, or the courts, and a great deal to do with changing environmental values, and with an urbanized nation that simply does not understand sustained yield forestry.”
I could not agree more.
And yes, I am well aware of the hundreds of millions of board feet of timber tied up in timber sale appeals and litigation. As infrastructure disappears from western forests, the public’s options for thinning diseased, dying and dead trees from desperately ill-national forests disappear. But nothing has impacted your mills or forests and forestry more than our society’s changing environmental values, what Leonard called “felt necessities,” a phrase often attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who was famous for observing that, “The life of the law is not logic. It is experience.”
Nowhere is Justice Holmes’ observation truer than in our nation’s forests. Today, society wants a much different forest experience than it wanted in the fall of 1945, when the post-war building boom pushed lumber demand into the stratosphere. We still want the wood today – in fact we want more of it than we’ve ever wanted, but it has to come from somewhere else: out of sight out of mind.
Here is a spectacular quotation that underscores just how profoundly society’s felt necessities have changed in the last century. It comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous presidential instruction to members of the Society of American Foresters, meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1903
“And now, first and foremost, you can never afford to forget for a moment what is the object of our forest policy, for that object is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful, though that is good in itself; nor is it because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness, though that, too, is good in itself; but the primary object of our forest policy, as of the land policy of the United States, is the making of prosperous homes. It is part of the traditional policy of home making in our country. Every other consideration comes as secondary. You yourselves have got to keep this practical object before your minds; to remember that a forest which contributes nothing to the wealth, progress or safety of the country is of no interest to the Government, and should be of little interest to the forester. Your attention must be directed to the preservation of forests, not as an end in itself, but as a means of preserving and increasing the prosperity of the nation.”
It would be almost 70 years before society’s scribes and pharoses seriously questioned Roosevelt’s instruction, before environmentalists finally got the public’s attention on the question of liquidating what remained of the West’s old growth forests, a process begun by the Forest Service and the BLM as part of their post-war mission, a mission spelled out for the agencies in two laws: the 1937 O&C Act and the 1944 Sustained Yield Act.
To generations of foresters trained in classic German forestry, bringing all U.S. federal forests “under management,” replacing decadent old timber stands with vibrant fast growing forests, made perfect sense. But it made no sense to a restless nation worried about Vietnam, acid rain, Three Mile Island, global cooling and the last old growth forests.
You know the rest of the story. Society’s felt necessities changed. New laws were passed and courts interpreted old laws in new ways that invited controversy, often bitter debate and what public foresters now call “analysis paralysis.” Between 1989 and 2004, 414 mills in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and California closed, and 48,501 workers lost their jobs
In the 79th year of his life, Leonard began to think deeply about society’s felt necessities. It was his desire to rejoin the debate that led me to his doorstep more than seven years after he retired. The day we talked he was in rare form. In fact, I had a hard time keeping up with him. One moment he was a lawyer celebrating a hard won case by reminding me that judges are human beings too, with values and prejudices just like the rest of us; and in the next instant I was transported to an earlier era by the fiery rhetoric of a young Detroit union organizer, determined to write society’s wrongs, to bring down General Motors, the largest corporation the world had ever known.
The title of my 1991 essay told the story in two words: “Distant Thunder,” a memoir rolling up from the depths of all that Leonard Netzorg believed in and stood for.
Listen for a moment to that thunder:
“What the hell have loggers done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing! To whom or what are we sacrificing these families? Where is it written into law that government has the right to trash the lives of decent, honest hard working families? Who has pressured the government to do these things and why? The government must be held accountable for what it is doing here, because what it is doing is wrong and unfair and inconsistent with the values our society places on human rights and human dignity.”
Four good questions for which I have no answers beyond Leonard’s observation that, with society’s transformation from a rural to an urban culture, felt necessities changed.
Of environmentalists, Leonard said, “There is no brooding omnipresence in the sky. No foreign power planted these people in our midst. They are a reflection of new and untested values which need to be debated openly and honestly. They’ve hired some damned capable lawyers to present their cases. If the Forest Service and the BLM listened to their lawyers as well as environmentalists listen to theirs, the government would have a much better track record in court.”
Of lawyers, Leonard observed, “Lawyers do not abuse laws. Courts do. Lawyers do not decide who lives or dies. Courts do. Your lawyer is your advocate. You have a constitutional right to have one and he has a constitutional duty to defend you. We have lawyers because our society has determined they offer a better way to settle disputes than guns and knives.”
Of federal judges then pulling the industry apart at the seams he declared, “Were I a judge, I would make damn sure I knew what the hell was going to happen to the people affected by my rulings. What is the public going to do to help these people? This strikes me as a very important test of the law – a very important litmus test necessary to expose the anguish and despair some environmental legislation and some judicial decrees have inflicted on woods and sawmill workers.”
If there is one gaping, unhealed wound in all of the federal and state court rulings that have come down since the mid-1980s, this is it. Put simply, our courts are not accounting for, much less acknowledging the social, economic and environmental upheaval their rulings have caused in rural timber communities, to say nothing of the public’s desperately ill national forests: all of them political pawns in the wider war for forestry’s soul – a war now raging on Mount Olympus: the Oregon State University College of Forestry
But as much as I would like to blame judges for these grave injustices, for the magnetizing of society’s moral compass, the fact is that the fault lies in all of us: we have allowed this to happen by not holding others in our society accountable for their actions, most notably radical environmentalists and their lawyers. The misuse of litigation to derail congressional intent and silence civil discourse has become a cancer on our society, and like all cancers it must be rooted out before it is too late.
On this subject, Leonard held out some hope for a social re-awakening. “There are great invisible leveling forces in our society,” he observed. “When society decides that this or that group has become too grabby, without regard for the consequences, it slaps them back into the corner. What society decides is good in environmentalism it will keep; and what it deplores it will eventually toss aside.”
There is a good deal of evidence suggesting Leonard was right on this point too. Much has changed since we started Evergreen Magazine in 1985. Back then, society was more willing to believe all of the dreadful things environmentalists were saying about the forest products industry, including the outrageous claim that the unwashed who lived in rural areas were simply too unenlightened to participate in lofty societal discussions about the environment, the future of forestry or national forests.
I remember with great bitterness the Forest Service’s announcement that letters written in response to its Byzantine draft forest plans would be judged on substance, not number. So if you were a logger or a sawmill worker, with a high school education at best, struggling to write a few lines in defense of your job, your family and your community, your letter most likely went in the round file. But, if you were the head of a big time environmental group, living the life of luxury in Washington, D.C., writing from your palatial office about the destruction of the last cathedral forest on earth, your letter got framed and hung on the wall. You got an “A”. Loggers and mill workers got “F’s”
No, it wasn’t fair, or logical, but it was an experience. It was Justice Holmes talking to us from the grave, reminding us again that the life of the law is not logic, it is experience.
Now, almost 20 years later, society’s felt necessities are again on the move, both literally and figuratively. City dwellers moving into our rural environs are beginning to see us in a more forgiving light. For some it was simply a matter of discovering that we had not chopped down every tree in sight, as forestry’s opponents routinely claim; but for others, it was the looming threat of catastrophic wildfire that changed their perceptions of us, and of the multiple benefits that flow from well managed forests.
Although this shift in public opinion is probably more keenly felt in the Intermountain region – owing to the dominance of drier mixed conifer forests – the polling and focus group work that tracks these new felt necessities on a national level leaves no doubt that it is time for us to start a long-running conversation with our new neighbors. If you have seen this research, which was conducted in conjunction with the Healthy Forests Campaign and, more recently, the ESA campaign, you know that these four forest values score highest: clean air, clean water, abundant fish and wildlife habitat and a wealth of year-round recreation opportunity. These are not amenities found in the ruinous remains of fire or bug-killed forests. But they are routinely found in forests that have been cared for, that have been the focal point of the kind of well designed, well regulated, hands on management programs for which the West’s diseased and dying forests cry out.
Happily, public support for this kind of work is very strong. We need to exploit this fact – and I’d be remiss if I did not suggest to you that the pages of Evergreen Magazine would be a good place to start. For 21 years, we have been on the front lines in every major battle, from forest planning, through the spotted owl wars and on to forest health. In fact, a very good case can be made for the fact that the forest health debate began on Evergreen pages in a 1992 issue titled “Grey Ghosts in the Blue Mountains.” No one has worked harder in defense of the family mills or science-based forestry than we have.
In our early years, when there were still lots of family-owned mills in southern Oregon, we published monthly. Then, as attrition took its awful toll on our sponsors, we transitioned to bi-monthly, then quarterly publication. Now we publish when we can afford it – but we’re still here, just like you. Principle drives our work, just like you.
Although I now live in western Montana, I spend at least half my time in Oregon, so I am keenly aware of the mega-forces that are again influencing issues and events that impact the course of your family-held businesses: Canadian lumber imports, the formation of REITS and TIMOS, the construction of leviathan sawmills in Washington and British Columbia, the massive lodgepole pine infestation in Interior British Columbia and Alberta, the hope that you can jump-start the Northwest Forest Plan or perhaps even revive the O&C timber sale program – in my mind your best opportunity on the federal front.
Astonishing, isn’t it, that the biggest issue facing you today is the same issue that faced Joe Crahan, George Owen, Fred Harris and Jimmy Jones when they started WFIA in 1947: log supply, always log supply, because without logs there isn’t anything else to fight about. They won that fight against Big Lumber in 1948, laying the groundwork for your businesses, because they stuck together, built a winning campaign, picked their audiences and their allies carefully, and stayed on message, which is to say that they won the same way we pushed through the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, the same way I hope we prevail in the fight to modernize the Endangered Species Act.
When Aaron and I made our pact to chronicle the history of the West’s family owned sawmills we agreed that our story had to the light the way to a better future, or the story wasn’t worth telling. We still believe that. And although no one can know for certain what the future holds, we cannot escape – nor should we ignore – these truths:
The only constant in nature is change; the world is not using less wood, nor will it;
entrepreneurship is still the most powerful economic force in the world; society’s “felt necessities” undergo periodic course correction; the right to practice forestry is a social contract; the public can understand anything but silence, and the world is run by those who show up.
I want to commend all of you for showing up, not just this morning, but day after day and year after year for 60-some years, in good times and bad, victory and defeat. I only wish society was more aware of the enormous good you have done, and continue to do, in your communities, in forestry, manufacturing, charity, technology and education.
It seems fitting that I should close out my time with you this morning with words of wisdom from our old friend Leonard, whose passion and insight I miss more than words can say. This was his parting shot to me they day that I interviewed him in April of 1991.
“Congress needs to stop waiting around for divine guidance from the scientific community because it will never come. There is no perfect truth that can guide us forward. The larger issues involve separating society’s material wants from its spiritual needs. Sorting these will not be easy, but this does not remove the decision-making burden from Congress’ shoulders.
“Meanwhile, the timber industry is going to have to learn how to share these forests with others who have different values and want different things from the forest. Frankly, I welcome it and I rue the day when polarized factions no longer tear away at the fabric of our society.
“The American Revolution is still going on. We are still changing, still learning. If some of us were not constantly tearing away at what others of us think we know, we would all still think the earth is flat. What is science today is witchcraft tomorrow.”