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.