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15th June 2020
...continued from Part two

“They’re wasting it,” Franklin said, his tone matching that of a Sunday preacher, as he looked at clear-cut Weyerhaeuser land. “The incredible capacity of these forests to produce incredible volumes of high-quality wood is wasted. It’s criminal.”

In reports to investors, Weyerhaeuser says the average age of a tree cut in the Pacific Northwest is 50, but the company expects a decrease. Some older trees have yet to be logged because of regulations that limit the percentage that can be cut annually, the company states in reports.

Weyerhaeuser representatives said the company’s conversion to a real estate investment trust didn’t change its management of forestlands.

“We have been practicing and continually improving on this system of sustainable forest management for generations, and we will continue to do so in Oregon — and on all our timberlands — for generations to come,” Wirsing said.

Oregon is suffering from the side effects of short-term logging practiced by companies that don’t plan to stay around long, said Steven Kadas, who until two years ago was chief forester for the smaller, locally owned company Thompson Timber.

When trees are cut down before reaching the peak of their ability to absorb carbon, it stunts one of the state’s biggest assets in combating climate change. The use of herbicide on clear-cuts and the lack of mature trees have deteriorated habitat for native songbirds on industrial private lands. Streams for salmon, for other fish and for drinking are drying up because young forests use more water and lose more of it to evaporation.

“You’re not going to see the results of what you do,” Kadas said. “You’re not going to have to live with those.”

FALLS CITY’S MAYOR stands in the empty lot that once housed the town’s mill, imagining a two-story brewpub, its rooftop seating filled with locals and tourists on a summer evening.

Just up the hill, brush and bramble have overtaken a rusted chain link fence. Dirty yellow paint peels off a “dead end” sign dangling upside down.

But Gordon envisions a waterfront park fit for Instagram, complete with a footbridge across the namesake falls on the Little Luckiamute River.

“Falls City — end of the road. Start of your adventure,” Gordon said. It’s a slogan the town adopted this year as a way to jump-start its economy.

The town is the gateway to the Valley of the Giants, a 51-acre federal forest preserve with an iconic grove of trees as big as redwoods, draped in soggy neon moss. On the way is the ghost town of Valsetz. Then, the scenic Oregon coast.

But the roads to those destinations are often behind locked gates during peak summer tourism months because of the timber companies that own them.

The companies restricting access say they are worried about vandalism and wildfires, but $250 a year can buy you a permit to camp or collect firewood on Weyerhaeuser lands. Hancock, the other major investment company that owns property near the town, opened part of its lands for recreational access during non-wildfire months after receiving $350,000 in grants from the state. Falls City leaders are seeking more grant funding to open up the road to the Valley of the Giants.

“I just don’t think that’s something that would sit well in the stomachs of most Oregonians,” Corthell, the city manager, said. “To know that there’s a town right here that’s suffering for lack of ability to support itself in many ways and that we have this giant asset right up the road that we can’t get to because the big corporations have control over it.”

A few times a year, Friedow, the local logger, acts as a guide for tours to the Valley of the Giants.

He stops at the concrete slabs that remain of Valsetz, telling stories of the now-defunct mill town. Then he begins the more than hourlong drive to the grove with trees older than the founding of the United States.

Friedow doesn’t get far out of town before hearing from shocked tourists.

They can’t believe the clear-cuts.