The Vanishing Old Growth Forests of Klamath County, Oregon
Who among us have not felt a deep sense of loss and frustration when we have heard about the destruction of the great whales, or the elephants of Africa, or the rain forests of the Amazon? Yet here in Klamath County, Oregon, we are the silent spectators to the destruction of one of the world's great forests.
In the ages before the first settlers the forests of Klamath County covered at least 2,700,000 acres. (1) There were dense tracts of lodgepole pine, periodically renewed by fire, forests dominated by giant white firs, with scattered cedars and sugar pines. And there were thousands and thousands of acres of ponderosa pine, more than two feet in diameter at breast height, and living from 500 to 700 years (2), forming one of the finest ponderosa pine forests ever seen.
Now most of the old growth forests are gone. There exists hardly a place in these millions of acres that is virgin timber. Even using the less than rigorous modern standards for old growth, most of the old growth is gone, and of what little remains, most of that is slated for destruction, along with the species dependent on it.
Is this an exaggeration? Let the figures speak for themselves. (3)
1. The Winema National Forest has 1,043,547 forest acres in Klamath County, of which 133,300 are classified as old growth, 60,000 of which are to be retained with an additional 24,400 acres pending. (These figures represent the Chiloquin and Chemult Ranger Districts. No data is available on the Klamath District.)
2. The Rogue River National Forest has 68,500 acres in Klamath County, 14,700 are classified as old growth, and 9,600 are to be retained.
3. The Bureau of Land Management has 58,280 forest acres in Klamath County, of which 11,000 are old growth and what will be retained is currently being decided. (These figures do not include BLM land in Klamath County in the Prineville BLM District.)
4. Crater Lake National Park has approximately 162,000 acres of forest in Klamath County, of which 50,000 is old growth, all of which will be retained.
5. Private Timber Owners have 650,000 acres, for which there is no data on old growth, and it is presumed that none will be retained.
6. The Fremont National Forest does not have data on the total forest acres in Klamath County, or on the old growth in it. It estimates that there exist well below the 175,000 acres of mature and over mature trees (which does not necessarily coincide with old growth) in Klamath County that were inventoried in 1979.
7. The State of Oregon has 33,265 acres of forest, with no data on old growth acres, and no plans to retain any, except what might be preserved indirectly in their conservancy program.
8. The Deschutes National Forest has 291,900 forest acres in Klamath County, of which 75,000 are classified as mature trees, and 6,600 are to be retained as old growth, though some of it is not currently old growth. Old growth might also exist in their wilderness and recreation areas, for which no data is available.
Out of the original forests of Klamath County of at least 2,700,000 acres, at this moment 150,600 are actually being managed for old growth, which is 5.6%. And even if all the current old growth and mature tree acres were to be saved, they would represent only 10.5% of the total forest area. Further, there is no overall coordination on the old growth question among the major forest managers. They do not possess complete data about the issue, and agreed upon ways in which this data is being analyzed.
Conclusion: The question of the old growth forests and the species dependent on them in Klamath County should be examined as a whole, and until that is done, no further old growth should be cut. Once this data is available, the major forest owners should have to demonstrate how an ecosystem, reduced to 10% of its original size, and heading towards 5%, can maintain its biological viability. This summary was done around 1993. Don't imagine that the situation has gotten any better.
(1) Final Environmental Impact Statement, Winema National Forest. p. 3-33. (2) Ibid., p. 3-105. (3) Most of these figures have come from the forest managers themselves.
Go to page 9 of Story Book