Felt Necessities: Engines of Forest Policy, Part 9
This is the ninth part of "Felt Necessities: Engines of Forest Policy," a series of essays tracing the history of the conservation movement in the United States, and its influence on the nation's ever-shifting forest policy.
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This is the ninth part of “Felt Necessities: Engines of Forest Policy,” a series of essays tracing the history of the conservation movement in the United States, and its influence on the nation’s ever-shifting forest policy.
The series expands significantly on a half-day lecture Evergreen founder, Jim Petersen, delivered to a graduate-level forestry class at the University of Idaho in February 2017.
The term “felt necessities” is taken from The Common Law, a book of essays assembled in 1881 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in which he explains the historic underpinnings of the nation’s legal system. President Theodore Roosevelt thought so much of Holmes’ essays that nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1902.
We hope you enjoy this series and find it informative. Your comments are most welcome. “Felt Necessities” will subsequently be available in book form. Click on the number to be directed to Parts 1-8 of the series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8
The 1944 Sustained Yield Forest Management Act unleashed a public outcry that continues to present day. That outcry took center stage at the 1948 Mohawk hearings in Eugene, Oregon and in public opposition to a Forest Service’s proposal that would have granted the giant J.Neils Lumber Company exclusive cutting rights on 91 percent of the Kootenai National Forest.
David Mason’s cooperative sustained yield ideas made reasonably good sense from a pure forestry perspective. The federal government would grant exclusive cutting rights to big timberland owners – meaning there would be no competitive bidding for the timber – Uncle Sam reserved the right to exercise some control over the way the landowners managed his own ground.
Three lines of thinking were embedded in the 1944 Act:
- A constrained log supply would slowly wring economically crippling competition out of oversupplied lumber markets
- Encourage lumbermen who owned land to make investments in reforestation rather than simply abandoning cutover timberland
- Insure long-term economic stability in nearby sawmilling communities.
Encouraging investments in replanting private timberland certainly made sense, but granting monopoly cutting rights on public forestland at the expense of small lumbermen that did not own land represented an unwanted return to the era of robber barons that Congress had ended when it ratified the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act forbidding the formation of financial trusts controlled by wealthy industrialists.
The still unrecognized reality is that our public land laws are rooted in tenure and management arrangements that have existed in Europe for centuries. When our earliest white settlers arrived in New England they quickly recognized that plentiful eastern white pines were an excellent source of building material. The wood was light, strong and resisted rot. Better yet, the trees were 150 to 240 feet tall and branch-free for 80 feet: perfect as ship’s masts.
Enterprising settlers were soon doing a brisk business selling eastern white pine masts all over Europe. Needing to maintain Great Britain’s dominance on the high seas, England’s King George I declared that white pines more than 24 inches in diameter 12 inches above the ground were the King’s property. He could do this with impunity because all of New England was still considered crown land.
King George’s ownership of these majestic masts was written into the 1691 Charter of Massachusetts Bay and the penalty for stealing one of them was death by hanging. British surveyors marked the King’s trees every winter with what became known as the King’s Broad Arrow: three hatchet slashes - two forming an upside-down “V” and a third vertical strike representing the tree itself.
The Revolutionary War was fought for many reasons, but the King’s Broad Arrow mark was near the top of the list in the minds of many colonists – at least as instrumental as King George’s tea tax.
With this bit of pre-Revolutionary War history in mind, you can perhaps see how and why the federal government’s embrace of David Mason’s ideas about cooperative sustained yield forestry enraged people whose livelihoods were totally dependent on access to national forest timber. But let’s give Mason credit for believing that lumbermen who entered cooperative agreements would provide steady employment in nearby sawmilling towns. The Neils family certainly had but elsewhere across the West the record was mixed.
The 1944 Act authorized the U.S. Forest Service to establish two very different types of sustained yield agreements. The more onerous was the cooperative sustained yield agreement. Only slightly less onerous was the federal unit. It authorized the U.S. Forest Service to negotiate national forest cutting rights with the millowner of their choice. Again, no competitive bids.
Both ideas were colossal failures. The only cooperative agreement ever signed involved western Washington’s Simpson Timber Company and the adjacent Olympic National Forest. The 346,500 unit was created in 1947. It brought together 235,402 acres of mostly cutover Simpson land and 111,108 acres of Olympic old growth. The 100-year agreement was supposed to insure the livelihoods of 2,400 Simpson workers living in or near Shelton, a logging town with a rich history. By mutual agreement, it was terminated in 2002. Society’s felt necessities no longer favored logging on the Olympic National Forest, so the Forest Service opted out.
Five federal sustained yield units were established across the western United States and all of them failed for the same reason. Changing felt necessities made it difficult for the Forest Service to honor its promise to provide sufficient timber to maintain the economic viability of timber towns it had helped grow for decades following World War II.
In hindsight, the public attraction was sustained yield itself – the presumption that citizen worries about forests and forestry would vanish if the federal government could offer assurances that harvest would never exceed growth. Metaphorically, we would all live off the interest in our timber bank account.
In exchange for granting exclusive cutting rights, no sense – not because they were flawed The reasons behind public angst have changed as our society’s felt necessities have evolved, but the tensions resulting from the federal government’s many failed attempts to balance forest management against the economic and social stability of rural communities dependent on them has not changed. If anything, it is worse today than it’s ever been.
On paper, the idea made perfect sense. But no law, no matter how honorable its motives, can account for our society’s ever-changing felt necessities. By 1960, the Forest Service had given up on the idea that it could manage our national forests for the exclusive benefit of towns that were economically dependent on the timber they provided. The agency retreated to earlier ideas about permanence that drove the formation of the nation’s forest reserves – reserves that became national forests when the Forest Service was founded in 1905.
The Forest Service’s retreat was codified in the 1960 Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act. Multiple Use was not mentioned in the 1944 Act, thought it did acknowledge it by reference to need to maintain water supply, regulate stream flow, prevent soil erosion, preserve wildlife and ameliorate climate – a strange phrase given that there were no climate concerns in 1944, though I suspect many Americans still remember the 1930s Dust Bowl that drove many Midwesterners west.
In any event, the 1960 Act made no direct reference to community stability. Rather, it directed the Forest Service to base its management decisions on resource productivity and market conditions. The resource productivity requirement was easy but in the 40-some years I’ve been writing about forests and forestry I’ve never met anyone who could predict the stock market or lumber markets.
Sustained yield’s founding principle – harvest will not exceed growth in national forests – turned out to be its Achilles heel because it inferred that old, slow growing trees would be harvested to make room for new, fast growing seedlings. Thus, there would always be a “crop” of trees ready for harvest to meet the nation’s homebuilding needs.
Although this seemed like a worthy objective, it again did not account for our felt necessities – in this case a growing public discomfort with the whole idea that the Forest Service was liquidating old growth in order to provide more growing room for “crops.”
But in 1944, with war raging in Europe and the South Pacific, there was strong public and congressional support for doing what was necessary to make sure our armed forces did not run out of timber. Our military consumed about 90 billion board feet during the war, so much that few homes were built in the U.S. between 1941 and 1946.
History aside, sustained yield is not a new idea. Although it began in Europe’s feudal forests, I will argue that its philosophical roots on this side of the Atlantic are found in a wisdom offered by Chief Oshkosh, leader of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin from 1827 to 1858. I don’t know the context, but his description sums up sustained yield in a very memorable way:
“Start with the rising sun and work toward the setting sun, take only the mature trees, the sick trees and the trees that have fallen. When you reach the end of the reservation, turn and cut from the setting sun to the rising sun, and the trees will last forever.”
Sustained yield forest management explained in 50 words. If Chief Oshkosh’s wisdom was the sum and substance of our nation’s forest policy, our national forests would not be burning to the ground today.
By the late 1960s, our felt necessities had shifted again. Our nation was restless. No, we were angry. JFK had been assassinated on national television, Martin Luther King had been gunned down as he stood on a hotel balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee and Bobby Kennedy was killed as he walked through the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Adding to our national nightmare, we were bogged down in a godawful war in Vietnam, teenage drug use was skyrocketing and our nation’s anger was cemented in songs and movies that gave voice and support to sentiments that were the exact opposite of those most Americans held dear throughout the Second World War.
Amid the tumult our country celebrated Earth Day for the first time on April 22, 1970. The idea has been advanced in 1969 at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] meeting in San Francisco, Ground Zero in the war against the war in Vietnam. Peace activist, John McConnell, thought there ought to be a day every year when we celebrate Earth and the concept of peace. UN Secretary U Thant signed a proclamation declaring March 21, 1970 – the first day of spring – to be the first Earth Day. We celebrated our first Earth Day a month later with a teach-in sponsored by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Denis Hayes coordinated events nationally.
I was then an investigative reporter at the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana and the Forest Service was on my beat. I have no recollection of any events celebrating the first Earth Day by the Forest Service, the Society of American Foresters or the forest products industry. My guess is that the event was viewed with suspicion. Anti-war peace activists celebrating the Earth. What the hell could they possibly know? Say can what you will about their motives – but their timing was exquisite. Our nation was hungry for something – anything – that might divert our attention from the tragedy that was unfolding before us every evening in our living rooms: network television news footage from the war in our nation’s streets and war in far-away Vietnam. The wheels were coming off our nation’s post-war vision of itself and its future.
I have long thought that Earth Day embraces the kind of big picture thinking that is still missing from our long and largely unconstructive debate about what to do about the wildfire pandemic that is laying waste to our western national forests.
Earth Day brought together two longings – peace and an Earth that actually was like the blue-green planet we all saw in the pictures our astronauts were sending back from space. There it was: our planet orbiting peacefully around our sun, giving no hint of the terrible struggles underway hundreds of miles below.
My friend Patrick Moore, who holds a PhD in forest ecology, saw the same images we saw but he did something about it. He co-founded Green Peace in 1971, an organization dedicated to ridding our planet of the threat of nuclear war while holding tight to our green earth. He left the organization when it took a radical and violent turn, but the original idea is as valid today as is the idea that we ought to thank our lucky stars for our Earth one day every year – and probably every day.
Back to the 1960 Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act for a moment. Embedded in it was an idea quite the opposite of the notion that the Forest Service needed to ensure the economic stability of communities within national forest boundaries. The idea was that national forests needed to be managed for the benefit of the entire nation.
It was the same idea as the “greatest good for the greatest number in the long run” theme espoused by Agriculture Secretary, James Wilson, in his letter to Gifford Pinchot on the day the Forest Service was established with Pinchot as its first Chief – February 1, 1905.
As you may know, forest scholars believe Pinchot actually wrote the letter for Wilson’s signature. Be that as it may, the instruction was to reconcile conflicting interests from the standpoint of the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run. And, again, the idea was not new. The English Writer, Jeremy Bentham, founder of a philosophy called Utilitarianism, is credited with first using the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Others picked up on the idea but Pinchot claimed to have added the phrase “in the long run.”
The long run notion made sense to Pinchot because foresters are taught to think in long time frames – much longer than most people live. It is thus said that planting trees is an article of faith that affirms that life will go on long after the planter is dead and gone. But by the early 1970s, our nation’s faith in its future was being seriously tested. Surrounded by death and destruction, we struck back at many targets that symbolized killing, intolerance and destruction. Among them: clearcutting timber in our national forests. It looked too much like the blasted-to-smithereens tops of jungle mountains in South Vietnam. It reminded us of a war many of us hated and were trying to forget.
Clearcutting became a made-for-television feeding frenzy in 1971. In April, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands – a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs – conducted a full blown hearing in Washington, D.C., chaired by Idaho’s Senator Frank Church.
I had gone to work for the Daily Courier in Grants Pass, Oregon four months earlier, and I got so interested in the hullabaloo that I wrote a series of essays based on what I was seeing in southern Oregon and northern California. There were sawmills and plywood plants in every community and log trucks crowded Interstate 5 from daylight to dark. Although I grew up around northern Idaho’s logging and sawmilling industry, I’d never seen anything even close to what was business as usual around Grants Pass: log trucks, lumber trucks, chip trucks, low boy trailers hauling huge bulldozers logging towers with tubes that extended 100-feet into the sky.
I interviewed people from both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, including a fair number of scientists and industry leaders. Nowhere did I find anyone who thought there was anything wrong with clearcutting. The practice was certainly scientifically sound given that Douglas-fir, the predominant tree species, regenerates best in the full sunlight that clearcutting provided.
In the course of winnowing my way through years of clear-cutting history, I stumbled across an innocently sounding research paper titled “Place of Partial Cutting in Old Growth Stands of the Douglas-Fir Region.” Research Paper No. 16, published by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station in March of 1956, had been written by Leo Isaac, who I later learned was also known as “Mr. Douglas-Fir,” a tip of the hat to his vast knowledge about the species.
Isaac’s credentials were impressive to say the least. He had worked at the PNW station for 37 years and was its senior silviculturist for 10 years before retiring in 1956. Thereafter, he worked for the United Nations in Turkey for two years before accepting a professorship in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.
His 1956 partial cutting paper was written in hopes of settling the Forest Service’s argument with itself about the merits and scientific soundness of clearcutting in the Douglas-fir region. Ever the diplomat, Isaac noted  that clearcutting was indeed the silvicultural system of choice throughout most of the Douglas-fir region but  that as you traveled south of Roseburg, Oregon you entered a more arid region where clear-cutting could do more harm than good if the harvest units were on south facing slopes where temperatures often soared above 100 degrees and soils were less fertile than they were north of Roseburg. Seedlings could not survive such heat.
Although Isaac’s paper largely settled the science underscoring clearcutting, it did nothing to settle the political controversy. It thus had its staunch opponents at the 1971 Church hearing: Arnold Bolle, the outspoken and polemic dean of the University of Montana forestry school; Brock Evans and Gordon Robinson representing the Sierra Club, Howard Deitz , representing the West Virginia Isaac Walton League; and the leadoff witness, Wyoming Senator Gale McGee and followed by West Virginia’s Jennings Randolph, who chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for eight years.
Its proponents included representatives of the West’s most prominent timber associations and lumber manufacturers: Boise Cascade Board Chairman, Bob Hansberger; Dr. George Staebler, then director of Weyerhaeuser’s highly regarded research center at Centralia, Washington; and six witnesses I later got to know quite well: Arnold Ewing, executive vice president of the North West Timber Association at Eugene, Oregon; Bob Helding, a Missoula, Montana attorney who represented the Montana Wood Products Association for many years; Kirk Ewart, Boise Cascade’s principal lobbyist for decades; W.D. “Bill” Hagenstein, executive vice president of the old Industrial Forestry Association, a friend of 40 years and the most sought after forestry witness in congressional history; the fiery Joe McCracken, executive vice president of the Western Forest Industries Association and Mark Schoknecht, one of Julius Neils’ grandsons and then manager of St. Regis Paper’s Libby, Montana lumber and manufacturing complex. You may recall my discussing the Neils family and their involvement in the Forest Service’s cooperative sustained yield proposal for the Kootenai National Forest.
I have the three-volume transcript of the hearing plus its appendices. It takes days to read all of it and even longer to wrap one’s mind around its significance, which extends far beyond the science and practice of clearcutting.
It is fair to say the most instructive testimony came from George Staebler, Weyerhaeuser’s principal forest scientist and a close friend of my later father-in-law, Wes Rickard, Weyerhaeuser’s first forest economist and the man widely credited with “inventing” high yield or industrial forestry, which in the Douglas-fir region, relied almost exclusively on clearcutting.
It is also fair to say that the hearings were a draw, at least in the sense that clear-cutting’s proponents and opponents had their say before the most powerful U.S. Senate forestry committee. If I had the time, I’d try to turn the transcripts into a Ken Burns-like documentary. The personas are powerful and so were the stories they told.
It seems likely that clear-cutting’s defenders went home satisfied that they had beat back a well-scripted attempt to besmirch the practice. And they had – but only for a moment. In hindsight, they had no idea what was about to happen.
Clearcutting was simply a surrogate, much like the northern spotted owl would be a 15 years later. The goal was to shut down the entire federal timber sale program – a felt necessity shared by millions of Americans who watched in horror as network news crews filmed the felling of towering fir trees in western national forests.
Environmentalists know how to spin a good yarn. How to play off the emotions of people who know little or nothing about forestry. How to create word pictures. When, where and how to strike next. They have near-infinite patience. If it takes years – even decades to build their case – so be it. They willingly invest the time and money.
You won’t find these traits in the timber industry. Most are very impatient and few see any value in investing the time and money in a well-rounded forestry education program. I have watched lumbermen invest $80 to $100 million in a new sawmill and not one damned dime in a public outreach program designed to protect the mill’s log supply. Thus, no one should have been surprised by the federal government’s June 1990 decision to list the northern spotted owl as a threatened species – a decision that largely affirmed the environmentalist goal unveiled at the 1971 Church hearings.
In 1973, the Isaac Walton League successfully sued the U.S. Forest Service to block a timber sale in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. In his ruling, federal district court judge, Robert Maxwell cited the Forest Service for violating a stipulation in the 1897 Organic Act which noted that only “dead, physiologically mature and large growth” trees individually marked for cutting” could be sold.
What I found most interesting about Judge Maxwell’s ruling was its reliance on the same federal law that became the cornerstone on which the entire western timber industry was built – the statutory authority describing the management of the nation’s forest reserves. Remember, these reserves did not become national forests until they were transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture when the Forest Service was formed in February 1905. My friend, Bill Hagenstein, who had a photographic memory, could recite the entire Organic Act, but the passage he loved most was the one that stipulated “favorable conditions for water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States.”
Clearly, the meaning and intent of the 1897 Organic Act is no longer a felt necessity. Not even close. But what I think angered Judge Maxwell the most was clear evidence that the Forest Service had ignored the sentiments of West Virginia hunters who feared that the clearcuts the agency planned would destroy the habitats of squirrels and turkeys. Squirrel and turkey hunts are cultural articles of faith in West Virginia, as is the belief that the Monongahela was “their” forest.
In 1976, Congress felt obliged to revisit federal forest management in a broader context than it had before. The result was the National Forest Management Act [NFMA]. Most notably, the Act mandated decadal planning for all 154 national forest plans and a public involvement process on each forest – the latter requirement being an expression of congressional hope that there would be no more Monongahelas.
When I started Evergreen Magazine in Medford, Oregon in 1986, my primary goal was to encourage people living in southern Oregon and northern California to comment on the first decadal forests plans ever written for six forests: the Siskiyou, Rogue, Winema, Klamath, Six Rivers and Umpqua. There were dozens of communities, but the main ones were Medford, Rogue River, Grants Pass, Cave Junction, Roseburg, Klamath Falls, Brookings, Gold Beach, Coos Bay and North Bend, all in Oregon, and Yreka, Redding and Crescent City in California.
We are still arguing about the meaning of public participation ascribed by NFMA in 1976. Most people – me included – thought Congress meant exactly what it said – which was that the Forest Service needed to hear and consider comments from people living in communities that were economically dependent on timber flowing from national forests.
Environmentalists saw the public comment periods as popular votes, meaning that all they needed to do to “outvote” people living in small rural areas was to get people living in big cities – or their congressional proxies – to vote “No.”
The Forest Service had its own interpretation. It thought it can do whatever it chose to do without regard to public input because they were the experts and they were the ones Congress had put in charge of our country’s national forests. If this behavior reminds you a bit of the way foresters in feudal Europe behaved you are on the right track. And until the spotted owl was listed and the federal timber sale program cratered, the agency continued to sail its own ship without regard to the public’s advice and content.
In fairness to the U.S. Forest Service, I want to me remind you that Pinchot’s 1905 instruction to himself – the letter he ghost wrote for the signature of Agriculture Secretary James Wilson – commanded Forest Service Chiefs to make decisions “for the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” But who or what determines what constitutes the greatest good? Is it the 1897 Organic Act mandating “a continuous supply of timber for the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States?” There is no definitive answer in federal law. What we have are what the late Forest Service Chief, Jack Ward Thomas, saw as a “crazy quilt” of conflicting environmental law and regulation assigned to competing federal natural resource management agencies with conflicting missions and congressional mandates.
One result of Forest Service arrogance in West Virginia was that it gave rise to an industry populated by hundreds of law firms that make their living suing the Forest Service for alleged process-related violations of complex and frequently conflicting environmental regulations that make it virtually impossible for the agency to do its job.
Fortunately, the Forest Service persona is beginning to change for the better. There are several reasons that I’ll dig into in our next meeting, but first I want to introduce you to the lumbermen stepped onto the stage following World War II. These steps back in time are necessary for you to fully understand the events that unfolded following the Mohawk hearing in Eugene, Oregon in 1948 and the Forest Service decision that same spring to withdraw from its proposed Kootenai National Forest accord with the J. Neils Lumber Company.
About 15 years ago, I wrote a letter to Eugene, Oregon lumberman, Aaron Jones, asking if he might be interested in funding a book in which I proposed to trace the post-World War II life and times of the West’s Independent lumbermen – independent in the sense that they built their companies by themselves, kept their own counsel and, because they did not own forestland, were totally dependent on timber they harvested from the West’s national forests – a privilege secured for them at the 1948 Mohawk hearings.
It turned out that Aaron was very interested – even anxious – to have the story told, in part, I suppose because he had lived it, though the only instruction he ever offered me about content was to say he did not want me to write a book “about him.” When I subsequently asked him where he thought the story of the Independents began he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It begins with the transcontinental railroads coming West. If you don’t explain their significance, the rest of your story won’t make much sense to your readers.”
The Independents consumed my every waking moment for the next five years. Unexpectedly, it also took me to some far off locations including the Truman Library at Independence, Missouri and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The manuscript runs about 1,500 pages and the book has yet to be published, but I’d like to summarize some of my observations that describe these men – most of them war veterans – who stepped into the forestry world’s klieg lights following the Second World War.
I personally knew 10 for whom the term “legend” is not an exaggeration: Aaron Jones, Seneca Sawmill Company, Eugene, Oregon, who kept me in beans for the five years it took to complete The Independents; Jim Hurst Sr., Kasanka Lumber, Fortine, Montana; Bud Johnson, C&D Lumber, Riddle, Oregon; D.R. Johnson, D.R. Johnson Lumber, Riddle; Fred Sohn, Sun Studs, Roseburg; Milt Herbert, Herbert Lumber; Riddle; Lew Krauss Jr., Rough and Ready Lumber; Cave Junction, Oregon; Dick Bennett, Bennett Lumber, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Holly Larson, who I described in our last meeting, Royal Logging and American Timber, Columbia, Falls, Montana.
I describe these men and many more in Chapter 13. It is 80 pages long, so this will be a brief overview, but their lives are illuminating, so if any of you would like a copy of the chapter, I’ll make one for you and stick it in a three-ring binder for a few bucks. Their many contributions to the forest products industry’s technological advancement following World War II is inestimable. So too were their contributions to the cultural and social fabric of hundreds of rural timber communities scattered across the western United States. When the federal timber program began its slow motion collapse following the 1990 spotted owl listing, the West lost much more than 60,000 or 70,000 jobs. No one knows for sure.
In the course of interviewing them I discovered that they shared some common traits we don’t see much these days.
Most of them started with nothing. Unable to find jobs after the war, they got into sawmilling because, as Milt Herbert once told me, “I was surrounded by trees. How could I possibly fail?”
They were unimaginably stubborn - which is to say they were supremely confident in themselves. D.R. Johnson said it best. “Our greatest strength was that we were independent as hell. Our greatest weakness was that we were too damned independent.”
D.R.’s independent streak prevented him from ever asking family members – even his own son and daughters – to work with him. It was a failing he never overcame, even after he suffered a series of debilitating strokes that left him in a wheelchair. When I asked him why, he said it was because he had struggled his entire life to explain himself to others in words and he knew he wasn’t good at it so rather than have hurt feelings, especially in his own family, he chose to go it alone.
He hired me away from the Grants Pass Courier in 1971. He’d enjoyed my clearcutting series and thought it would be great to have his own public relations guy. At first I refused, but then he offered to double my salary. I worked for him long enough to realize  that I admired him as much as I did my own father and  I could not work for him. It was that stubbornness thing. He was the toughest man I’ve ever known but he had a soft spot in his heart that few ever saw. I remember watching him write a check to a Roseburg hospital for $100,000 to cover the care of a woman he knew who had been horribly burned in a house fire. She had no money and he did not want her burdened by a bill he knew she could never pay off. That was the D.R. I loved and still admire - although we lost him on Thanksgiving Day in 2010.
They were tireless workers who made up for the fact that they had no money by working 16 hours a day seven days a week. To supply his tiny portable sawmill in northwest Montana, Jim Hurst Sr. logged with a team of horses. He had been a navigator on a B-17 that made 30 daylight bombing runs over Germany’s industrial complex: Pforzheim, Schweinfurt, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Kassel, Mainz and the Ruhr.
“There were times when anti-aircraft flack was so thick other B-17s right on our nose would disappear into black smoke,” he told me. “One moment you could see them and in the next instant, poof, they’d be gone. You just held your breath, not knowing if you were about to collide in mid-air at 30,000 feet. We could see artillery shells bursting all around us. In those moments, I think we were all silently praying we’d make it back to England alive. Many didn’t. We were lucky.”
Jim remembered two sensations: the burning ache of gloveless hands turned blue by 60-below-zero cabin temperatures that made writing on his navigational charts all but impossible – and long hours of boredom punctuated by moments of heart-stopping terror. Logging with horses in the solitude of waist-deep snow was better.
They learned by doing. Most had never been inside a sawmill before they got started. They bought used or scrapped equipment and learned by first putting their mills together. Unable to find work after the war, Aaron Jones started up his father-in-law’s old circle saw at Triangle Lake, west of Eugene. It hadn’t run much during the war years, so Aaron’s first job was to get it running again.
His boundless enthusiasm masked the fact that he had witnessed his mother’s murder when he was still a toddler. His distraught father sent him to live with an Oregon uncle who beat hell out of him until he ran away for good. He wanted to be a veterinarian but could not afford the schooling, so on the advice of a college counselor, he settled for a degree in physical education. Then the war came along and he ended up running a logistics and supply operation in the Philippines. He never talked about it but one night his wife took me to their basement where she opened an old trunk that held pictures of decapitated Filipino soldiers who found alongside Aaron.
I don’t think Aaron stopped running until he crawled beneath his father-in-law’s circle saw to see what he needed to do to get it running again. He went on to build a sawmilling empire so technologically advanced that he was able to patent some of his inventions.
They were risk takers and innovators. They reasoned that in an industry they dominated by giants they had to invest in log sawing technologies that allowed them to recover more wood from every log. Joe Crahane, a stubborn as hell lumberman at Brownsville, Oregon, pioneered a combination of band mills and gang saws that recovered more wood from each log than did the old circle saws. Keen observers – Aaron among them – learned by copying and improving his methods.
They were very good with numbers. Some could work math problems in their heads that graduate engineers could not solve with slide rules. Fred Sohn built the first computerized sawmill in the world. When an Oregon State University mathematician could not figure out how a log could be sawed for maximum recovery, Fred hired a draftsman and the two of them figured it out by drawing endless circles on sheets of paper that illustrated hundreds of sawing solutions. Fred later built a lab at his mill. The engineers who worked in it wore white coats. Some of Fred’s peers laughed at the seeming showiness but I saw the lab coats as a symbol of his commitment to excellence in everything he did.
They did not live lavishly. Some lived in the same houses with the same wife for their entire working lives. Milt Herbert again comes to mind. His wife, Arlene, loved to remind me that it was her $600 – money saved while working as a beautician in Eugene – that got them started in their first sawmill. Their first home was an Army surplus tent pitched beside the tiny mill that Milt assembled from pieces of other mills near Canyonville, Oregon. They could not afford a refrigerator to keep baby formula cool, so Milt dug a pit on the shady side of the tent. To show skeptical bankers that he intended to make sawmilling his life’s work, he anchored his mill in a concrete slab. Many tiny mills of that era were portable. Hardscrabble lumberman behind in their bills could easily skip town under cover of darkness. Not Milt. Not ever.
They were exceptionally loyal to their communities. You could drive around any timber town in southern Oregon any evening of the year and see their support on shirts and caps worn by bowlers, Little League baseball teams and soccer teams. When a new CAT scan was needed, Allyn Ford bought one for a hospital in Roseburg. Not to be outdone, Fred Sohn bought one for the other hospital.
They were also very loyal to their employees. On learning that their mechanics had worked all night in a driving rainstorm to repair Milt and Arlene Herbert made breakfast and took it to them. “You can always buy more equipment or rebuilt a mill after a fire but you can’t replace a loyal crew,” Milt explained.
Milt also helped start a small bank in Canyonville because he did not like the fact that his employees had to cash their paychecks in bars. The little bank grew and grew. Today, it is the Umpqua Holding Company, a $24 billion colossus with 350 branches in five states. Milt succeeded magnificently in two profoundly different businesses by being a careful observer of what was needed – right down to the dog watering bowls outside several Umpqua branch banks in Portland.
I mentioned Holly Larson in our last meeting. You may recall that he made a bloody fortune when the Northern Pacific Railroad, which owned half his logging company, merged with three other railroads in 1970 to form Burlington Northern. What I did not mention was that he had been a pilot in World War II.
He had trained in B-25s and figured he was destined for action in the European Theater but he was diverted to the South Pacific, where he spent two and a half years in the left seat of a C-7 transport, ferrying paratroopers and incendiary bombs to the Philippine, Marshall and Solomon islands, then ferrying the wounded to hospitals in Honolulu. “Mainly we flew one big route,” he told me. “From Wheeler Field in Hawaii to Johnston Island, then Majuro and Kwajalein in the Marshall’s, then on to Guam and Burma. A round trip took us two weeks.”
It must have been a real eyeopener for a 20-year-old who had grown up doing whatever he was asked to do - in his father’s logging camp on Nyack Flats, some 30 miles east of Columbia Falls, Montana on Highway 2, where the Middle Fork of the Flathead River slowly chewed its way through the Continental Divide, separating snow capped Glacier National Park from the vastness of the million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Middle Fork’s headwaters.
By contrast, Johnston was a difficult to find pencil-dot-of-an-island 717 miles southwest of Honolulu: Elevation 44 feet with a narrow gravel runway barely three football fields long. It was the first stop on the road to Burma and the last stop on the way back to Wheeler Field.
Japan surrendered the day before Holly was scheduled to fly his first cargo run to a point near Tokyo. “The bomb probably saved my life,” he said of President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When I pressed him for details he said, “I was luckier than a lot of guys I knew and many more that I ferried back to Honolulu who had been shot all to hell. All I had to show for my time when I got back to the states just before Christmas was a bleeding ulcer. But logging never looked as good to me as it did when I got home.”
Dick Bennett was too young to be drafted, but not too young to be enlisted by his father who had started building boxes at night and on weekends in his basement in Clarkston, Washington after discovering that orchardists in the Mediterranean-like Lewiston-Clarkston area were unable to buy wooden boxes to transport their cherries, pears and apples to market. Ammunition manufacturers had seemingly sucked up every wooden box in the country.
Guy Bennett’s day job was in the big Potlatch mill at Lewiston. No one seemed to care if he brought home lumber scraps in the truck of his car so he kept himself supplied with all the free wood he needed to build thousands of boxes. Dick soon joined the assembly line. The business grew like crazy, Guy Bennett quit Potlatch, expanded again and basically worked himself into a frazzle.
Dick wanted none of it, so when he graduated from high school he headed to Oregon to join some buddies who had found jobs there. It didn’t last long. Dick was called home to help figure out how one of the box company’s bookkeepers had absconded with several thousand dollars. It being an all-cash business, it wasn’t hard for Dick to figure out where the money had gone but shoring up the company’s finances was another matter. Dick got it done but by the early 1950’s the wooden box business died a slow death. Cardboard boxes were all the rage.
“That’s how we got started in the lumber business,” Dick told me years later. “We’d learned a lot about lumber in our box building days, so the transition to sawmilling was easier for us that most.”
Actually, Dick’s rise to the top was more challenging than he likes to admit, but his monumental success put him at the center of numerous political skirmishes – some involving squabbles with competing lumber companies and some involving early attempts by environmentalists to add significantly to Idaho’s millions of acres of wilderness.
Early on, he learned a very valuable lesson about finance. He had approached a banker for a $75,000 line of credit so he could buy logs and lumber. “No,” the banker said. “You will need $125,000 to keep growing.” So that’s what Dick got.
“He was right,” Dick later told me. “One day you need a wheelbarrow to get all the money to the bank and the next day you’re broke.” It’s the nature of the business. Lots of risks, lots of opportunities and lots of rewards, but the work is hard and you never get away from it.”
The empire Dick built now belongs to Marc Brinkmeyer, another hard charger that Dick helped when help was needed. His company, Idaho Forest Group, now owns five sawmills in Idaho: Grangeville, Lewiston, Chilco, Laclede and Moyie Springs. Last I looked, IFG was the ninth largest lumber manufacturer in North America.
Like Dick, Lew Krauss Jr. was too young to go off to war. His first job in the mill his father and uncle started near Cave Junction, Oregon was as the gatekeeper. He was all of 10 years old. Rough and Ready Lumber was named after nearby Rough and Ready Creek.
“It was a pretty idyllic job,” Lew told me. “I opened and closed gates on roads leading to logging jobs. That’s how I kept cows from getting out.”
Lew graduated from Oregon State University in the mid-1950s and went back to Rough and Ready. After he father died, he took over the company and built it into one of the most admired in Oregon. It was far from the largest, or even the best, but it provided more than 200 jobs for Illinois Valley families. Lew was so devoted to his employees and the Illinois Valley that he passed out $100 Christmas bonuses annually for decades. The bonuses were gift certificates good at any store in the Illinois Valley.
I was well acquainted with Lew’s generosity. He was one of the founders of Rogue Community College in Grants Pass. I was RCC’s first public relations director during a delightful year in my life after I left D.R. Johnson. Again and again, Lew hauled out his checkbook to help the college buy what it could not afford. And when it came time for the college to secure a tax base, Lew personally raised the $20,000 it took to convince voters the college merited their support. I know it was $20,000 because I ran the campaign. I also know that the campaign fund came exclusively from southern Oregon lumbermen who would have followed Lew anywhere, not because he was a hard charger but because he wasn’t. He was soft-spoken, unfailingly polite and very sensitive to the needs of others less fortunate.
Several years before Alzheimer’s disease overcame Lew his oldest daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Link, took over daily operation of the mill. They had great ideas for modernizing it but by then the federal timber sale program was gone and there was simply no way to keep it running, despite the fact that it was surrounded by Siskiyou National Forests that desperately needed to be thinned to reduce the wildfire risk. Last I knew, the entire operation had been sold at auction. The old log yard is now a weed patch and more than 700,000 Siskiyou acres have burned in stand-replacing wildfires since 2002. Bedridden, Lew died in 2006. Sometimes these stories don’t end well.
I would be remiss if I did not mention three others – again friends – who did not own sawmills but were giants in the timber industry: Bill Hagenstein, who I have twice mentioned in our chat this morning and who ran the old Industrial Forestry Association for almost 40 years; his nemesis, Joe McCracken, the mercurial executive vice president of the Western Forest Industries Association for about the same number of years; and Leonard Netzorg, a brilliant lawyer who understood our society’s felt necessities better than anyone I’ve ever known.
Bill and I were friends for almost 40 years. At his insistence I wrote the foreword to his memoir, Corks and Suspenders, a lovely story about his life. It took him nearly 20 years to finish it and those of us who knew he was writing it thought it would be a book about his years as executive vice president of IFA. No one was more in demand before House and Senate forestry committees and subcommittees than Bill, not so much because he was IFA’s paid executive and thus represented the interests of one of the nation’s most influential timber associations but because he was the consummate gentleman, and his possessed an encyclopedic memory for facts and figures.
Corks and Suspenders turned out to be a more personal story about his life. His father had died when he was 11 leaving his upbringing to his mother, Jenny, who appealed to his better angels and saw to it that he got a good education.
By the time Bill was 12 he was six feet tall and strong as an ox. He lied about his age and went to work on a timber salvage crew in the big woods of western Washington. Even then, labor laws required that loggers be 18. I have 12 by 16 picture of Bill standing on a springboard opposite his partner, whose name I no longer remember. They are black with soot from burnt logs, Their faces are solemn and both of them are gripping the handles on double-bitted axes. Salvaging the burnt cylinders of still standing dead trees was tough and dangerous work. And, yes, Bill is sporting in his corks and suspenders, looking at least 20 years older than he was.
When the Depression set in, Bill hopped a freight train from Seattle to Spokane and hired on with a Forest Service firefighting crew. He was so good at it that two summers later his boss put him in charge of a crew on the Pete King Fire in Idaho’s remote Selway Country. They found fire for some 40 years before released for some much needed rest.
When he got back to Seattle, his mother urged him to walk over to the University of Washington campus – less than four miles from the house where he grew up – and see what courses might interest him. When the registrar got to the letter “F” on the list of majors, Bill stopped here and said, “I’ll take that one.”
After he graduated from the University of Washington College of Forestry he applied for and was awarded a scholarship to Duke University where he earned a master’s degree in Forestry. Years later, he told me he nearly bailed out on his thesis and figured he never would have finished it had it not been for the firm insistence of his young wife, Ruth.
Bill Greeley, who had been the third Chief of the Forest Service, hired Bill. He filled a vacant forester’s position in the Seattle office of the old West Coast Lumbermen’s Association, which Greeley had directed since 1928. In one of our many long conversations, Bill told me that Greeley was the closest thing to a father than Bill ever had – close in the sense that Greeley mentored him in a way that only a caring man could have. Having spent his growing up years in logging camps and on fire lines, Bill could swear with the best of them – a habit that the pious Greeley was determined to break. He even put a swear jar in the office. Bill quickly filled it with nickels. One day, when Bill was out inspecting a logging camp, someone asked where he’d good. Greeley laconically replied, “He’s gone out for another bushel of god-dammits.”
I have about 40 hours of recorded interviews with Bill, plus copies of every article and speech he wrote during his 40 years at IFA’s helm. He witnessed history many times, most notably the 1942 founding of America’s Tree Farm System. Bill took the minutes at a meeting in the basement of the old Portland Hotel in downtown Portland.
The Tree Farm System was Greeley’s greatest achievement. He had cajoled WCLA’s timberland owning members about it for 14 years. Its founding changed the course of forestry history. Lumbermen pledged themselves to replant their cutover timberlands rather than abandon them as they had done all over the country – mainly because they did not want to invest in trees they were sure would burn in the next forest fire. But after Congress put the Forest Service in the fire fighting business in 1928 alongside privately funded fire cooperatives that had been around since 1902, the wildfire situation began to change for the better and, by 1942, planting trees made sense to lumbermen who had their backs to the Pacific Ocean and could march no further west in their search for new virgin forests.
Bill was too old to serve in World War II, so he got himself appointed to a federal agency that arranged for shipments of war material. From a tiny office in San Francisco, he bought a big sawmill and enough logging equipment to keep it supplied, then had it – and himself – shipped to the South Pacific, where he island hopped and built and ran sawmills that supplied lumber to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
Throughout his professional lifetime, Bill was a tireless promoter of good forestry. He wrote more than 500 published articles and spoke publicly nearly 1,300 times – once every 10 days for 35 years.
Although he never had children, he was a devoted husband to two wives: Ruth, who died of cancer in 1979 and Jean, who died of cancer in 2000. After Jean died, our visits became more frequent. We were often still reminiscing about our lives at two or three in the morning. But he was always in his “cookhouse” by 7 a.m. making bacon and eggs for us. He was a gracious host and a marvelous friend.
Bill retired from IFA at the mandatory age of 65, but he never gave up the fight for better forestry. He was still writing letters to the editor of the Oregonian newspaper when he was 95, chiding their lopsided coverage. He was 99 when he died in September of 2014.
I hope to still be railing against what he called “forestry’s fakers and fornicators” when I am 95.
Earlier, I said that Joe McCracken was Bill’s nemesis. I knew Joe from afar. He was a tough-talking ex-Marine and lover of classical music who spoke fluent Japanese. He guided the chaotic fortunes of the Western Forest Industries Association for almost as long as Bill was at IFA. WFIA represented the many and varied interests of the Independents, those who owned mills but not land. They were totally dependent on federal timber sales, so I should not have been surprised that Joe’s member recruiting strategy was built on making Bill an enemy of the people.
It wasn’t true but it drove Bill crazy. The truth was that several Independents were IFA members. They joined because they did not like the way Joe conducted himself publicly. On one infamous occasion, United Air Lines threw Joe off a flight in Denver because he was drunk and disorderly. Harvey Bones, a WFIA stalwart, flew to Denver to bail him out of jail.
But Joe was brilliant - a gifted political strategist with a photographic memory that dazzled everyone who watched him in action in the halls of Congress. Harvey told me that on one memorable occasion, Joe had scanned a timber sale map for about two minutes, then strolled into a meeting with a U.S. Senator and talked about the sale so convincingly that the Senator later told Harvey he thought Joe had grown up in the drainage. He was that good.
Joe was born in Dillon, Montana, where my mother lived during her high school and college years. His father owned a men’s clothing store and his mother spent most of her time playing bridge with other ladies of her stature in Dillon. When Joe was a toddler, he was so precocious that his mother kept him zipped inside a black leather bag at bridge games. As a result, Joe never overcame his fear of elevators.
He was Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Svengali all rolled into one. By the time he was three he could read from books that many adults had not read. At five he was playing Mozart at music recitals for western Montana’s cultural highbrows. Ralph McFadden, his piano teacher thought he was a child prodigy and, to prove the point, drug him from town to town when he was five and six years old.
McFadden ran the music department at Montana Western in Dillon. My great aunt ran the English department and rented the upstairs at McFadden’s home at 837 South Atlantic, across the street from the college. My mother lived with my aunt during her high school and college years and I’ve often wondered if she knew Joe. After Joe died, I asked his widow, Janet, to describe him in the fewest possible words. “Devious” was her immediate reply.
Unable to tolerate his drinking, Janet had divorced him years earlier, but he had talked her into remarrying him. In his final days, she kept him injected with morphine as he lay dying in an upstairs bedroom in their home in Sausalito, California.
I last saw Joe at an Intermountain Forestry Association meeting in South Dakota. He had retired years earlier, but he never lost interest in the affairs of Independent lumbermen. He had flown to the meeting with my friend, Dick Bennett, who, along with Harvey Bones, was probably Joe’s last friend on earth.
I admired Joe professionally. His grand vision had been the creation of a nationwide association of Independent lumbermen. Sadly, his western Oregon members, who could think of nothing but themselves, would have none of it. To thwart him, they formed a competing association. Now a young man named Nick Smith is trying to do the same thing. With so few Independents left in western Oregon, I think he will eventually succeed. Good for Nick.
Joe’s comrade in arms was Leonard Netzorg, a brilliant lawyer who represented WFIA and several of its members. I knew Leonard well and liked him quite a lot. He was polished to the point of always wearing a red carnation in the lapel of his sport coat and he always wore a white shirt and tie.
Leonard began his professional life as an organized with the United Auto Workers in Detroit. To rally the troops, he developed the habit of jumping atop lunchroom tables before he spoke. I would have liked to have seen it. Benjamin Cohen, perhaps FDR’s closest advisor, spied him there and tucked him away in the Solicitor’s office of the Department of the Interior where he worked until we entered World War II.
In war, he traveled at night, hid in the daytime and sent coded messages to cryptologists working to break the German code at Bletchley Park north of London. The experience was so terrifying that he contemplated suicide following the war.
After the war, WFIA hired him for less than half what he’d made working at Interior, but by then he knew enough about the Mohawk hearings – which he is thought to have witnessed – to be interested in finding a way to corral the appetites of the big outfits that had come close to hijacking the entire federal timber sale program.
It was Leonard who wrote the infamous reciprocal rights of way agreement that stipulated that industrial timberland owners could not cross federal lands to reach their timber unless they granted the same right to Independent lumbermen who needed to cross private land to reach federal timber they had purchased. The agreement enraged Big Timber but the Truman Administration would not budge. Its principal forestry operatives – Jebby Davidson, who as Assistant Secretary of the Interior, killed the Mohawk proposal and his assistant, Dan Goldy, who joyfully orchestrated the hearings – saw to it that Leonard’s agreement became the reciprocal law of the land. It is still in force today.
I last interviewed Leonard for Evergreen Magazine in the spring of 1971. He was in rare form – so rare in fact that I titled the interview “Distant Thunder.” I’d like to read a few excerpts that underscore my earlier observation that he understood society’s felt necessities better than anyone I’ve ever known.
“Government is the practice of politics,” he said. “It is the institution through which members of society are able to adjust their competing and often clashing opinions in order to evolve decisions by which we all agree we must abide. If the decision is to be wise, the decision making process needs more than biology. We are not governing wildlife. Our decisions are all in print and animals do not read. We are, in fact, governing people for the purpose of affecting wildlife. The direct impact of our decisions is upon people - not animals.”
Here are a few more pearls from my last talk with Leonard.
“I have always abhorred concentrations of economic power in the hands of the few. 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.”
Of the 1990 spotted owl listing he said, “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.”
Of the lumber industry’s loathing of environmentalists he 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 in general he said, “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 said, “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.”
Of Congress and its roll in forestry issues still unresolved 28 years after my last chat with Leonard he said, “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.
And of lumbermen he defended so brilliantly he said, “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.
And of our society’s ever evolving felt necessities, he said, “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.”
So there you have it: the lives and times of some extraordinary men I was privileged to know. I apologize if this reminiscence has gone on too long this morning, but I wanted you to meet them as best you could. Their story is very much an American story, born of felt necessities, hardship and sacrifice.
Their contributions to forestry, forest products manufacturing and their communities were enormous. Very simply, there was no “quit” in them.
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