A logger’s outlook

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Steve Goodman has felled trees in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years, mostly for small independent outfits. It is a job he loves—and is leaving. He is convinced that time is not on the logger’s side, and he wants out while it is still his decision to make. Here are some of his thoughts on the controversy over management of the forests.

The spotted owl

“The owl is a non-issye. The real question is, do we log old-growth timber, or don’t we?

“You have the camp that says ‘Let’s log everything and worry about it later,’ and then you have the side which says ‘I love trees, and any death of a tree is a death of me.’ Somewhere between these two extremes a decision has to be made about what time to log.”


“Maybe the environmentalists are right about the dangers of cutting the old growth. But this is not the last time this kind of conflict is going to come up. People’s jobs are going to come in conflict again and again with environmental issues.

“And the feeling I get from environmentalists is, ‘I don’t care. It’s not my job at stake. I want my environment saved—I don’t care whether you keep your job or your kids go to school.’ The environmentalists should show some compassion for what’s going to happen to loggers’ lives and come up with some kind of plan to help them.”

“For people to make an intelligent decision on the issues, they need to have more facts, not just this PR war that goes on. Both industry and environmentalists cook their figures. It’s just people throwing bumper stickers at one another.”

Loggers & logging

“In my opinion, clearcutting is the only reasonable way to log. It’s safer. If you’re working on real flat land, you can select-log. But where most of the logs are still left is steep ground. Select-logging on that ground is a nightmare, and dangerous. Select-logging-it sounds like a great idea. But nobody ever asked us about the safety factor.

“This is a dangerous job to begin with. Something like 20 people a year die working in the woods in Washington state alone. If somebody in Seattle inhales some ammonia gas, you can pick up the newspaper and read about it. But some poor slob can get killed in the woods, and there’s nothing.”

“If the environmentalists are right, my feeling is that my job isn’t so important that I’m going to rape the universe and say to hell with it. I’ll go find a job doing something else. But that’s easy for me to say because I live close to a metropolitan area.

“It’s different for someone in Raymond or Forks. They’ve worked 20 years in the woods, they’re maybe 40,45, SO years old, and all of a sudden they’re not going to have a job-what the hell are they going to do? They have a house with a mortgage. They have kids at home. They have to just pick up and leave everything behind them.

“A lot of them have lived in these’ towns for three and four generations. Their great-grandfather was a logger and their grandfather and their father. There’s a lot of pride there.

“What are you going to do? Are you going to make a make-work job for them? Make them bus boys and bartenders? You’re never going to turn a place like Forks into a tourist town anyway-it rains too damn much.”

The timber industry

“It’s a cutthroat industry. It’s not a bad thing that the environment has become an issue. The logging companies used to just do anything-build roads in wintertime, run cats up and down a riverbed. Nobody was there to stop them. They wanted to get the timber out and they wanted to get it out cheap.”

“Big companies like Boise Cascade and Weyerhaeuser hire mostly immigrants without papers to do the tree planting. They pay them next to nothing. The conditions are terrible. It’s slave labor. It’s a backbreaking, horrendous job. I couldn’t do it.

“Three or four years ago there were about 12 Hispanic tree planters riding in a crew pickup, working for a subcontractor working for Weyerhaeuser. They had an accident with a logging truck and quite a few of them were killed. There was just one mention in the newspaper and it’s gone, history, nothing ever heard of it again. You know that Weyerhaeuser had to twist some arms to see that that story did not go any further.”

“There’s going to be less and less jobs. That means that the people who are left are going to become more and more competitive. There’s two ways the companies can handle that. They can pay less money. They can press for more production. And that means more injuries, more deaths.”

Leaving the woods

“I just can’t abide the idea of working in an office. I think of that and shudder.”

“The last day I was working as a fulltimer in the woods, I saw an animal I had never seen before, after 20 years-a baby ermine. Neat.”

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