Archive for February, 2020

TIMBER ISSUES

February 29, 2020

Last weekend I went to the annual Oregon Logging Conference, where our volunteer trail crew had set up an exhibit about our trail work and brought several small logs and two large crosscut saws, about 80 teeth each, for people to use, with supervision, to get an idea of how we clear wilderness trails, where chain saws are not allowed. 

The night before, Oregon Wild, an organization to which I belong and donate, demonstrated out front.  I felt a bit traitorous going inside the exhibit hall, but my trail clearing crew has many ex-loggers on it.  They are experienced sawyers and have a lot of woods experience, and I have learned from them.  Showing the public that volunteers are doing significant work to help the public access their national forest is important. 

There is now hashtag Timber Unity, Stand up for Working Oregonians, web page Dear Oregon, which is more of the same, and a year after the attempt failed, Stand up for Oregon, Legislators want to take your guns.  The legislature Republicans have left the state so there won’t be a vote on the cap and trade bill or anything else. Last year, they did the same thing.  They feel put upon as a minority.  Well, I lived in southern Arizona for 37 years and was a minority when it came to stuff that was passed up in Phoenix. We talked about Baja Arizona and seceding, but it was a joke. I feel like a minority in my country right now, run by the rural and put upon folks, who rub it in whenever they can.  Apparently, when the Republicans get put upon, they walk out.  It reminds me of the kind of stuff I did when I was a boy and what some physicians I know did when medicine changed and hospitals had to change, too.

On my way from the car to the exhibit hall, I went by a house with a sign up on a tree: “Log it, Graze it, or watch it burn.”  And one of the first people I saw in the hall had a Trump 2020 hat on.  This is not a friendly group.  Many think we are forcing them all into Priuses and want to outlaw diesel, red meat, gluten free, LED bulbs, transgender, the thought of climate change, think the eastern two thirds of the state should become part of Greater Idaho, and only one side owns the flag.  At least with Greater Idaho, they wouldn’t have any more senators and not another representative, either, unlike the State of Jefferson folks, who think the 40,000 there deserve two and one.  

I hear much about how we have more trees than we did a hundred years ago.  Sure, because then, there was mass cutting without concerns about ecosystems, resources, animals, or anything else.  But there isn’t more old growth now, where carbon storage is huge and the ecosystems fully developed.  I don’t count seedlings as “trees” in that sense.  If we had more trees now, the pictures of the state over the last 20 years would not be an example of how much clear cutting has been done, and Oregon Wild would not have put pictures of clearcuts on the MAX trains up in Portland.

A friend told me her father was a logger many years ago and said everybody thought the forests were infinite.  I also see signs saying that young trees take up carbon at a higher rate than older ones. That’s a tipoff to the fact that the trees are small.  Here’s how I know “higher rate” comparisons are a sign of something small: 

2018 2019

Paul’s Pizza sales    $1 million                $2 million  

Big Cheese Pizza.   $175 million         $180 million

Paul’s has grown 100%, impressive; Big Cheese has only grown 2.9%. Wow, Paul’s is growing more than 33 times faster than Big Cheese.  

But Big Cheese has gained $5 million in sales, compared to Paul’s $1 million.  That is 83% of the market increase. As to market share, Paul’s has increased from about 0.6% to 1.1%.  Now, extrapolation can be misleading, but I could hardly be faulted here for noting at the current rate of increase of market share, it will take Paul’s at least a century to catch up with Big Cheese, which is well named.

A century is about the minimal time period we should let planted trees grow, not 40 years..  Do clearcuts affect the soil long term?  One reference, which was put out by a logging group, pointed to the need to keep slash, the branches and other material, at the site and that the nutrients quickly came back to normal.  It’s perhaps not fair, but the reference looked at only minerals, did not define ions properly (calling them “nutrients”) and said new approaches used non-toxic chemicals, including “agua regia” (sic).  I heaven’t studied chemistry in a half century, but the term is “aqua regia,” a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, a bit toxic.  Another article looked at fungi and bacteria in the soil and found that even 10-15 years after a clearcut, the soil had not recovered.  Compaction from heavy equipment, with anaerobic conditions developing, was a significant problem. It was clear to me that the second article gave a better idea of what was going on than measuring only minerals and ions, and using Spanish where Latin belonged.  Don’t laugh; mistakes like agua regia (even spell check picks up the error) hurt one’s cause. It is the coffee stain on an airplane meal tray. If you can’t check spelling or grammar, what else are you missing?

A significant number of fires start in slash left behind after clearcuts, including the Milli fire in 2018, where Black Crater’s wonderful trail was destroyed.  We used to have “teepees” to burn waste. I remember them when I traveled through the state 50 years ago. Many think we should bring them back; in this administration, who knows, maybe we will.  Never mind that smoke from them and once allowable grass burning once led to a multi-car, multi-death pileup on I-5, in 1988, where 7 were burned to death and 37 injured, many severely, from smoke.  Twenty years later, the rye grass group still had 10% of the fields burning every year.  

These organizations want to go back to the days when we could do all this stuff, but we didn’t know better then, the land was less crowded, and life was supposedly better—assuming, of course, one didn’t get seriously injured in an accident, didn’t die of diseases we can cure today, and one wasn’t a person of color, immigrant, female, different, gay, lesbian, or disabled.

What I noted in the exhibit hall were young parents with several children.  I wondered, while looking at them, how they would adapt to climate change, which is real, to changes in timber management, which must happen, if not now, after this administration, and to health care.  Their representative in Congress, Greg Walden, wrote the bill that would have taken a couple of hundred thousand of them off Medicaid.  He still got easily re-elected.  

Our priorities need to include education, family planning, better access to affordable quality medical care, better environmental stewardship, adaptability to climate and world demographic changes.  COVID-19 is another warning shot by nature.  We would do well to listen. There will be more of these, and neither nature nor viruses cares a whit about jobs, ways of life, families, or those who feel they have a monopoly on “hard work.”

OLC 2019
Using two man competition saw for first logging this year of a trail blocking log on the S. Willamette Trail, February 2020.

YOU GOT AWAY WITH IT, BUT THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT SAFE

February 3, 2020

I got an email from the Boss-founder of the Scorpions Trail crew with whom I work.  He sent an attachment out containing a Facebook video of horseback riders in the Brice Creek drainage, where we have spent collectively nearly 1500 hours, probably near 100 for me alone, removing logs, rebuilding the trail, digging in the mud, moving rocks, often in rain, snow, in rather cold temperatures.

The video, taken from a horse, showed two women riding on a narrow rocky trail on a steep hill 75-100 feet above Brice Creek. A pair of dogs were running along, too.  As the video progressed, I could see more of the familiar trail to me, as the women went between the two parts where we had cut out a log, the horses barely fitting through.  The one woman showed was not wearing a helmet.  

Being somewhat impulsive, I immediately posted a comment, despite my exile from FB commenting.  Then I deleted it.  Then I wrote the Boss.  Then I deleted that email, too. I wish more commenters would follow my lead. OK to write, get it out of your system. Then delete it, unless you really feel the same way a day later. You probably won’t.

The women had no business being out there, despite the plethora of positive comments from other riders discussing the difficulty of the trail. This trail is marked as dangerous at the entry points, because there is still a lot of instability and holes from where trees fell, and what was once a known trail to the Forest Service has changed significantly.  In short, we don’t know where all the danger points may be.  Some may be in spots we thought were safe. 

Not wearing a helmet when riding a trail horse is astoundingly poor judgment.  My wife, who has ridden for more than sixty years, always wears a helmet as well as a chest protector.  She has fallen from a horse before, has been kicked by one, and has been slammed by one.  

Having dogs loose on the trail is not only against the rules, which says dogs must be leashed, but creates another form of danger.  Yes, horses can be good and sound, deal with dogs properly, and all that, but horses are animals, and we all know the “He never did that before,” comment, which usually is said as an apology to others or as an answer given when one arrives in an emergency department.  

What if the two, horse and rider, met a mountain biker coming full tilt the other way? I’ve had that happen hiking and had to jump off the trail. What if the trail collapses? “It never collapsed there before”?  The horse and rider’s going down the cliff is going to lead to at least one death, maybe two.  What is the chance that might happen?  I don’t know. But I bet if they rode that area 25 times, something bad probably would have happened.  That’s a 4% risk of serious injury.  If the Scorpions had that sort of risk, we wouldn’t be allowed in the Forest.

What disturbed me equally were the comments were a mixture of “Wow, great trail to ride” and “not me.”  There was not one comment that took the rider to task the way I did above.  

“We got away with it, so it was OK.”  Yes, many said that just before Challenger, which 34 years ago last January blew up 73 seconds after lift off.  O-ring fraying had occurred before and without problem until that day.  The engineers were against a liftoff in cold weather, because they knew the properties of the rubber O-rings.  They were overruled.  “We have had leakage of gasses before,” said others, “and nothing bad happened.”  

* * *

Earlier in the week, I attended a Club meeting, the officers looking for ways to get new hiking leaders. Safety and accident prevention came up, and one of my colleagues spoke to a picture posted on FB by one of the hikers with whom I was with on Mt. Hood, crossing a log bridge, the log 7 feet off the water.  Six of seven went across the log, some walking, others straddling it with their legs and scooting across.  I looked and looked for a safe place, finally facing upstream, used my hiking pool as a prop, and was across in 10 seconds, minimally wet. Had I not done that, I would have turned around and gone back. We have had a hike once in the area where someone fell in a similar situation and needed to be evacuated.  “We can do it.  We can do anything,” has been said by some of the members. No, we can’t and shouldn’t.

* * *

The head of the trail maintenance committee for the Club is not shy about criticizing those of us who do not have his expert trail maintenance skills. I was working with him well up the west side of the Butte when there was ice on the trail, putting in wood markers. I slipped once on a hill but caught myself.  Coming back down, I started to slide on the trail and only a tree’s being in the right place stopped me.  We shouldn’t have been up there, and I didn’t speak up because while there was a chance I might get hurt, there was a certainty if I spoke up that I would be yelled at.  This is not a safety culture.

  • The 1979 jet crash in Oregon was basically due to junior crew members who failed to convince the captain that the plane was running out of fuel and that his fixation with the landing gear was secondary.
  • I once was given a chest tube in the OR by a cardiac surgeon and told how to put it in. When he asked me if I understood, I nodded. I didn’t understand, but to me, winging it might work; admitting I didn’t know, “No, I don’t understand,” would not have. He had already driven me to tears in the OR once. I ended up placing the tube wrong, it bonked the surgeon in the mask, contaminating the tube.  He swore, threw the tube on the floor, thereby contaminating his gloves, too.  He had his OR nurse, a toady, do it for him. She smirked at me.
  • I still have trouble telling senior people on the trail crew when I see something unsafe, the classic one being not lifting properly. The culture is not adequate so long as I feel that way.

* * *\

When I was in the Navy, my corpsmen once treated a drug overdose with Narcan, saving the man, but didn’t tell me until days later.  I was ashore overnight when it happened.  They were afraid I would write them up for being quiet about a sailor who used drugs. I thanked my men for what they did and told them quietly they had to tell me about everything that happened in sick bay when I was not there.  Everything. No yelling, no write-ups.  I simply had to know.

We have to look out for ourselves and each other on the trail.  We do it with respect and caring, not to score points, not to get even with someone else, not to be angry that someone is doing something unsafe.  I am new to trail work, unlike many others with whom I work.  I want to learn, but I don’t learn by being yelled at, and I remember those times. I teach math, and I teach it to many who are new to the concepts they are learning, whereas I have known those concepts for more than half a century. I try to be patient, find ways to explain it better, the rules, the shortcuts, the need for practice, and reinforce them when they are doing it right.  Students often say they understand my math help when their body language says they don’t have a clue.  I have to address that safely. “You look like you aren’t quite seeing that, correct?” In the right tone of voice. It’s my job to help them. I want them to learn, not to suffer.