resourceful Northwest towns

3 February 2008
photo: Steve Ringman for The Seattle Times

I’ll stand with farmers (of the small and sustainable school) in almost any fight, but a recent dust-up – forgive me, but it this case it should really be a mud-up – in southwest Washington’s Lewis county has me puzzled.

Folks there are still recovering from early December floods. A few days ago, our Governor said a recovery task force would study how humans contributed to the mess. She emphasized that finger-pointing wouldn’t bring people’s homes back, but that hasn’t stopped anyone so far. It goes something like this: farmers blame environmentalists blame loggers blame God.

In this case, I think the farmers have it wrong.

If a slope is wholly denuded and that slope subsequently slides into a river, does it have anything to do with the lack of trees?

In a Wednesday Seattle Times editorial a candidate for WA commissioner of public lands said, essentially, “duh”:

The damage to Lewis County clearly was made worse by mudslides from the clear-cuts, building up at the base of the hills, bursting from pressure, and sending torrents of dirt, trees and water across a floodplain already stressed from years of development and pavement.

Since I’ve never picked up a pitchfork I guess I’ll be counted among the “urban environmentalist mafia” — as Robert Michael Pyle put it in Where Bigfoot Walks – who prioritize salmon and owls above people. But that isn’t quite right. I prize salmon and owls above land-raping corporations and the public bureaucracies that abet and abide them.

My guess is that Tim Egan would agree. Before he received the National Book Award for his Worst Hard Time about Dustbowl survivors, Egan admired Theodore Winthrop, adventurer and author of The Canoe and the Saddle, enough to wander in Winthrop’s wake around the Northwest.

The troubles of Lewis county, “a declining economy based on logging and mining”, would have fit right into his 1990 book The Good Rain describing slowly dying “resource towns” – those places built up to exploit and export the wealth of the Northwest.

Egan has the talent to keep readers engaged and encouraged even as he laments the clear-cutting, damming, and over-fishing that strips the Northwest of its characteristic elements.

If only Lewis county could become less dependent upon logging, a shift Egan traces in nearby places, such as Hood River, Oregon — once a timber town, now a windsurfing mecca. It would require identifying what is uniquely Lewis county and using that to grow its material wealth while preserving its natural wealth.

That would be resourceful.

3 Responses to “resourceful Northwest towns”

  1. 1 Carrie
    February 4th, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I’m confused.. why do the farmers think the environmentalists are to blame? Logging seems logical to me…

  2. 2 Jenni
    February 6th, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Carrie

    The NY Times article I link to offers some insight, quoting dairy farmer Pete Dykstra:

    Mr. Dykstra and many other local residents attribute some of the damage to laws intended to protect salmon. “We can’t dredge it,” he said of the river. “And if a tree falls over, we can’t clear it out because that’s habitat.”

  3. 3 kitchenMage
    April 10th, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Hmmmm. I realize that the paper quoted someone who blamed environmentalists, Jenni, but that’s not the general feel I get from talking to people on the ground. The local papers have talked a bit about all the development in the flood plain, which continues without a hiccup post-flood because the county likes Walmart more than farmers. Or so their behavior would make you believe.

    I live on the south side of the Willapas – that mountain in the picture is a north/north-east face, I believe – and when it floods, I look at the clearcuts as a source for the runoff and floods. (That and the 120 inches of rain a year.) Corporate logging, done with choppers and 3am flood lights, are trashing the Willapas and sh*t runs downhill.

    While the NYTimes article has a farmer blaming environmental policy, I question the slant. Check out this list of comments from the residents of the area in 2000. I didn’t read every word but I scanned and couldn’t find ANY environmentalist-blaming. OTOH, there are at least 32 comments about building in the flood plain. Think the NYT might be supporting their corporate masters by not reporting that the real problem is Walmart, filling in the fraking flood plain?

    btw, You may fit the rough definition of “urban environmentalist mafia” per Bob Pyle, but he too prizes salmon and owls above land-raping corporations and the public bureaucracies that abet and abide them. I think you’d make the dinner invitation short-list…when he gets back from his “A year…” book writing tour. (He’s chasing butterflies, big surprise.)