Thursday, July 23, 2015

War and Hope in Washington

Sunday we crossed that big bridge over the Columbia River - that's a river? There is construction at the top causing a two minute stop waaaaay up there :-(, but the acrophobia stayed in check, and the drive up and over and 4 miles across wasn't bad at all. Even though we didn't beat the wind out of town :-(

Cutting inland along Hwy 401 in Washington, reconnecting with Hwy 101 20+ miles later, I was pleasantly surprised with the roads. Wide and flat for the most part, a very nice drive.

How the environment knows it's a different state I may never know, but I do know it looks quite different in this one. There is significantly more undergrowth, at least in this part of southwest Washington, and much of it is dry. Yellow grasses, low rivers, muddy creek beds. It's like the drought skipped over Oregon impacting her neighbors much more severely.

We were warned of the devastation of the forests in Washington, and it wasn't long before large gaps came into view. There were logging trucks along most of our route, and acres of cleared land.

By cleared I don't mean smoothed over. More like large broken stumps, ripped open earth, broken branches in large piles. It was a shock after the untouched beauty of Oregon and most of northern California.


A small corner of an area just being cleared, horrible to watch
As we covered more ground, heading away from the coast, we started seeing more "in between" areas along the road. Not full grown, deep forests, but also not devastated, denuded earth. There were several places where the trees were about 7-10 feet tall, and growing thickly. Wildflowers grew abundantly here, more so than the old-growth forests. I thought how the bees must love it. 

Thick new growth forest

In some places you could still see the old stumps, gray and cracked among the new growth, watching a new generation take their place. It will still take many, many years to restore.

Very small trees, flowers and bees surround old stumps
I also remembered that when we were in northern California and southern Oregon there were a lot of logging trucks too. They had to be getting the timber from those forests. But we never saw any of the clear cutting like we have in Washington. Seeing it makes a difference.

We are 90 miles inside Washington and signs of the logging wars are prevalent. Handmade signs equating logging with jobs and saving families. Handmade signs advocating for the Wild Olympics to save the forest. Corporate signs reminding everyone of the acres of timber blown down by Mt St Helens, and the clean-up job the lumber companies continue to do. Environmental impact meeting notices, billboards calling for protection of the forests. Logging is saving you, logging is killing you.

There are also signs of an economy in serious decline in the towns of Aberdeen and Hoaquim. Boarded up buildings, homes falling off their foundations, everything needing a coat of paint and a lawn mower. Whether logging is causing it or the only thing holding it at bay, the small towns we visited in Grays Harbor County are fighting for their lives. 


Once grand hotels have little left but brick facades and large signs in Aberdeen

Stately architecture deteriorates while Timber Bank keeps time
A new building was being raised on the edge of town. An old building was being remodeled with Seahawks colors and flags. A few tumbling cottages had fresh flowers hanging on the porch. A Tully's Coffee just opened on the main street (we enjoyed their chai lattes). People are friendly - to each other and to visitors with fluffy dogs.

For a tree-hugging hippy from California it hurts my heart to see the devastation. For an advocate for working families it hurts to see entire communities struggling to make it.

I have no answers, I know almost none of the facts. My opinions are based on emotions and gut feelings and what little I can see on the surface. I want the trees to remain. I want the people to survive.

I do know that seeing those new growth areas thick with trees gives me hope. The expanded habitat for bees and other small critters gives me hope. The Seahawks flags give me hope. The flower baskets give me hope. Even the passion of the fight gives me hope.

On a brighter note, the small, rural roads reveal nice farms with huge barns - old and new - and pretty little houses. The small town of Montesano has a nice downtown and streets of well-maintained Victorian homes. The City Hall is an amazing century-old stone building complete with clock tower. 

We're staying in a lovely, small state park 10 miles off Hwy 12 until Thursday. Quiet among the trees with the Satsop river a few yards away, Schafer State Park is a sweet spot for our first stop in a new state. One that has already given me something besides beauty to see, and think about, on this journey.





20 comments:

  1. We took a tour offered by the Forks, WA Chamber of Commerce that, even though pro-logging, helped us understand that the logging companies do the clear cutting and the Forest Service generally does selective logging...I do wish it was more profitable for the logging companies to do selective logging. At least selective logging serves to keep a forest healthy yet makes it more fire resistant.

    My daughter lives in Roseburg, OR, a logging town. There are plenty of denuded hills in OR...it makes me sick to see those bare hills.

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    1. I figure we skirted the logging areas in Oregon, only seeing the coast. It's pretty grim up close :-)

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  2. Sounds like you skipped over some of the fun places to visit in the SW corner of Washington. It has been terribly dry and terribly hot this summer. It's so unusual. However, the planting of new trees after the logging is good. It keeps the forests alive.

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    1. We missed all of Long Beach and hope to get back there next time. We continue to Hoodsport this week. It has been so surprising to see how dry it is, not how one pictures Washington when there is the usual rainfall :-(

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  3. Hwy 101 in WA state is one of my least favorite drives. It's mostly ugly. It's depressing and it has been for years. I keep wondering if there were ever any "good years" for these communities. "Twilight" gave Forks a boost, but without it, who knows what the sad little town would be like now.

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    1. That's what we heard from the BFF as well. We'll see Forks next week on our way to La Push. We came over to the "other" 101 and it seems pretty nice so far 😄

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  4. I really feel your thoughts on deforestation vs. the livelihood of a community. A balance is truly in order. I feel the same way about towns with character falling to the wayside of strip malls.

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    1. Wouldn't it be great if someone could find that balance? I so dislike strip malls and big box stores!

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  5. I think I would be similarly conflicted* between the environment and the employment scene. But since both sides now seem like train wrecks, where can we go with policies to make things better?

    * except for feeling good about Seahawks flags. I find them the least likable franchise in any sport.

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    1. 😀 now football is a whole other war and hope story for sure! Sure wish I had an answer for the rest of it though.

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  6. I feel your conflict about logging. Nature vs. livelihood is a toughie for me.
    We had a very small patch of wild growth trees less than a mile from our home. We would take the kids there on our bikes and ride among the small 'forest'. I say 'had' because it was stripped, flattened and now a home depot, walmart and a gas station take it's place.
    But, we frequent all of the business there. There's a fine line and I don't have a solution. Logging will continue. I just hope that new trees are taking the place of those cut down.
    I'm an optimist at heart. And so I also have to remind myself that logging forests are a small fraction of the entire continent.

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    1. Yep, I fought against Walmart's employment practices for years and now find myself having to shop there occasionally because they're the only place for some things :-(

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  7. You wrote about this issue so poignantly, Jodee. Although my initial emotional reaction is always to advocate for the forests, it's another whole kind of devastation to witness families struggling to survive in former logging towns. As Lisa said, I wish the logging companies would adopt the practice of selective logging. Clear cutting is incredibly destructive to the land and the rivers, even if the trees are replanted.

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    1. Thanks Laurel, it was so "in my face" I couldn't not write about it :-) I have to believe there's a better way that doesn't wipe out habitats and strip minerals and clog waterways. Hopefully some brilliant young mind is working on it as we speak - and logging companies will listen

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  8. I am so sorry to hear that Washington has gone the way of clear cutting. I find it very difficult to believe that the logging families will be better off clear cutting all the trees and THEN having to find new employment. Some things just can't continue forever-like logging and we need to help these people retrain in less environmentally devastating fields. Or at least that's my opinion. This is an important topic. Thank you so much for bring it to our attention.

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    1. I actually thought of you when I saw the acres of destruction, how so many trees would never get hugged. And so similar to the coal mining wars close to you. I have to believe there is a better way to make a living in the area, but I also imagine many have tried and failed so go back to logging. I have no doubt humans will pay the price for it in the long run.

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  9. This has been a tough issue for me. I use to read a novel with my students about the lumberjacks vs spotted owls. You can see both sides. Someone loses in some way. It is so hard to make everyone happy. But I can't stand to see clear cutting. That causes so much harm to the rivers and the fish. Until we learn to use paper, this will always be an issue. We are such a wasteful society.

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    1. We drove to/in the Olympic National Forest while in Hoodsport where the clear cutting goes right to the border of the park. The difference is so profound it's hard to comprehend the amount of trees being cut. Then you go through towns where old buildings - many very nice - are standing vacant while new buildings are being built the same size a couple blocks away - using stacks and stacks of wood from those forests. It really is disgusting how wasteful we are.

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  10. How I remember those stripped bare lands in WA and my heart broke for the forest and the people. Seems there could be a balance seeing we all tend to like wood products.

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    1. Even with all the forests remaining, the stripped areas are so hard to see.

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