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Old growth; perhaps just 15 percent of the West's original forests still exist in their wondrous old-growth state. And storm is raging over how much should be saved and how much cut.

Old Growth Like so many resources, America's biggest trees--the virgin stands of coast redwood and giant sequoia of California, the Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, and Western red cedar of Oregon and Washington--were once thought to be inexhaustible.

But now that the West's old growth is small enough to measure (some 15 percent of the original Pacific Coast forest), timber and environmental concerns are fighting desperately in Congress, in the courts, and in the forest over what remains. By early summer, there were already heated protests by people on both sides of the issue--for more on the public debate, see page 64.

The issue is uniquely Western. Virtually all of the nation's old-growth coniferous forests are here. As old growth is cut, we have nowhere to go for more. And as it is set aside, fellow Westerners will be the ones who lose their jobs.

What is old growth? What sets it apart from second-growth forests created by nature or replanted after logging? It comes down to diversity. In old growth, you'll find an enormous amount of wood, living and dead, standing and fallen; a great variety of plants, animals, birds, insects; a wide range of tree ages, sizes, and kinds.

In the lumberyard, more than half the clear wood that's sold is old growth, as is the darkest (and most rotresistant) of the Western red cedar and redwood. Old-growth supply, however, is already dropping, while the demand for wood is increasing. Results are rising prices and changing options; many of us are switching to tight-knot (instead of clear) redwood for decks, for example--and pressure-treated hemlock instead of cedar for fences.

Use these 11 pages for help in understanding what the old-growth debate is all about--and in getting out and appreciating the majesty and fascinating ecosystem of our old-growth forests. The destination we suggest are principally in areas where old growth is not being contested, where it has already been protected in parks and other accessible areas.

What makes an old-growth forest

Though scientists have only just begun to understand the complex workings of old-growth forests, they have come up with some common denominators. The most obvious one is that the trees tend to be old--125 to 250 years is the most widely accepted starting point. Dense stands of these big trees tend to temper the seasons, keeping summers milder, winters less severe.

The features we describe on these pages apply to the huge conifers that range from the narrow canyons of Big Sur, California, up the coastal plains to Alaska. The one anomaly, giant sequoia, lives in moister parts of the relatively dry central and southern Sierra; undergrowth isn't as lush or dense, but even so it still exhibits some of the old-growth features outlined here.

Indicator species. Many animals prefer, even require, old-growth forests to breed and thrive. Roosevelt elk slip in and out of Douglas fir and redwood groves to graze in coastal meadows

Nurse log. New trees take root in the thick, nutrient-and moisture-rich dead wood of a fallen tree, often thriving in a patch of light (left). Look for rows of mature trees (right) with buttressed bases completely surrounding the crumbling log

Nitrogen fixers. This lichen grows in the canopy, where it traps atmospheric nitrogen. When lichen falls to the earth, it releases nitrogen--essential to forest life--into the soil. Some fungus also convert nitrogen. Small mammals eat the fungus, helping disperse nitrogen through the forest

Standing snags. Struck by disease, fire, or lightning, some giants die but don't fall right away. All provide a heyday for beetles and other insects, and hence woodpeckers. Snags also provide nests for cavity dwellers, such as flying squirrels

Large downed trees. Fallen trees in streams slow the water's velocity, important for the success of eggs and fry for salmon and trout. Wood serves as food for midges, mayflies, snails, and crayfish, which then serve as food for fish, otters, raccoons, birds, bears, and other animals

Multilayered canopy. Note the tapestry of different-age species. Look for low shrubs and ferns beneath arcing understory trees. In windows of light, created when giants fall, look for young conifers reaching toward the canopy 200 feet or more overhead. Furrowed trunks and limbs of old trees are covered with mosses and lichens; insects and bats hide in deep fissures

Hummocking. On the ground, trees may take more than twice as long to decompose as they did to grow. Once fallen, they function much like huge timed-release vitamin capsules, slowly breaking down into nutrient-rich soil. In essence, the trees get recycled

Fire scar. Thick bark on old trees often protects them from fires that sweep through the forest. Fire is an important part of the forest ecosystem clearing out plant litter, providing windows of light for new growth, adding nutrients to the soil, and--in some forests--causing cones to release seeds

Spawning streams. Waters of coastal forests are habitat for salmon, steelhead; golden trout live in sequoia creeks. These 2-foot pink salmon spawn among silt-free pebbles

World's tallest trees and Sierra behemoths

Few trees anywhere stop traffic like California's two kinds of redwoods. You first notice northern California's coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) for its soft, setter red bark. Then you look up; this is the tallest tree in the world.

Farther inland, the trunk of giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) tells all: this isn't just the biggest tree in the central and southern Sierra; it's the most massive living thing on the planet.

Northern California Coast

What makes this region prime redwood real estate? In winter, gauges often measure 50 to 100 inches of rain or more. In summer, marine fog keeps redwood groves cool and humid.

Redwoods grow in pure stands or with Douglas firs. As you walk through the forest, notice the "families"--circles of genetically identical trees. New shoots emerge from fallen trees, and from knob-like dormant buds clustered around the base or burls of still-growing giants.

Currently, redwoods grow in about 1 3/4 million acres of forest, 14 percent of which is government-owned. These forests protect about 80 percent of all existing old-growth redwoods.

Coast redwoods here have been heavily logged since the mid-1800s. Most remaining stands of old growth are protected in state and federal parks, though thousands of acres can still be logged.

As you head inland, past the fog belt, redwoods give way to Douglas firs. These mixed forests, not protected in parklands, are most likely to be cut. Nonviolent protests are scheduled for this region; you may see demonstrations if you visit.

Redwood National Park--the world's tallest trees. This 50-mile-long preserve, strung along U.S. 101 from Crescent City south to Orick, includes three state parks (Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek). Some groves can be crowded; access is now limited at one popular site to reduce impact (see Tall Trees Grove hike information, below).

For maps, write to park headquarters, 1 1 1 1 Second St., Crescent City 95531, or call (707) 464-6101. For more on the park, see page 48 of the August 1988 Sunset.

Wildlife. For Roosevelt elk, go to Prairie Creek headquarters; ask for directions to adjacent Elk Prairie Trail (2 3/10 miles).

Hikes. Tall Trees Grove, which includes the world's tallest measured tree (nearly 368 feet), is a 1 1/4-mile downhill hike from the trailhead. The route links to Redwood Creek Trail (about 8 miles), which passes through undisturbed and logged forests. Only 25 cars a day are allowed to drive to the trailhead (first-come), but shuttles run daily in summer (call park for details).

Six Rivers National Forest--a remarkable mix of trees just south of Oregon. From Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, 13 miles east of Crescent City on U.S. 199, head inland to this border-hugging forest. You quickly enter a mosaic of hefty Douglas fir, Port Orford cedar, and redwood. In the understory, look for mahogany-colored trunks of madrone.

Nearest lodging is in Crescent City. There are numerous campgrounds along the river; you need a campfire permit (free) for stays in the Siskiyou Wilderness (see below). Call or write the forest at 500 Fifth St., Eureka 95501 (442-1721); or visit Gasquet Ranger Station (open 8 to 4:30 daily mid-June through September), 10 miles east of Jedediah Smith park.

Drives. Follow U.S. 199 east along the middle fork of the Smith, then north toward the Oregon border (about 30 miles). Much of this still-logged area is now being proposed as Smith Wild River National Park; for details, write or call Save-the-Redwoods League.

Hikes. South Kelsey Historic Trail, a former supply route for the military, heads through ancient stands of Douglas fir above the south fork of the Smith east into the Siskiyou Wilderness. Total length is 16 1/2 miles, with a 4,000-foot elevation gain.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park--tremendous giants, but erosion threatens. Much of this park, 45 miles south of Eureka on U.S. 101, exists due to efforts of conservation groups--but threats remain, mostly from erosion caused by earlier logging. Efforts are underway to acquire remaining private lands in the Humboldt Redwood watershed and to fund reforestation projects. For details, write or call Save-the-Redwoods League. Write or call the park at Box 100, Weott 95571; 946-2311. Nearest lodging is in Garberville, 20 miles south on U.S. 101.

Drives. Bull Creek Flats Road, 4 miles north of park headquarters off avenue of the Giants (paralleling U.S. 101 north of Garberville), takes you to impressive groves. Continue about 5 miles through the redwoods; the road then climbs into drier, second-growth stands, mostly Douglas fir. Severe erosion at the crest threatens old-growth redwoods below.

Hikes. Untrammeled Greig Grove (not on park maps), is off Avenue of the Giants about 8 miles north of Bull Creek Flats Road; look for the sign on the west side of the road. A 1-mile loop winds through huge trees, carpets of redwood sorrel, tall ferns.

Sinkyone Wilderness--close-ups of Roosevelt elk. Sea views through virgin redwoods and Douglas firs make this state park north of Fort Bragg a worthy stop. Old-growth parcels have been donated by Save-the-Redwoods League, though logging continues in nearby virgin forests. Closest lodging is in Fort Bragg. of dozens of backpacking campsites ($2 a night per person), Little Jackass is closest to old growth (Sally Bell Grove).

For an excellent park map ($3.83) showing old-growth stands, write or call Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Box 100, Weott 95571; 946-2311. To reach the park's south end, take State 1 about 38 miles north of Fort Bragg to Usal Road; don't drive this winding, sometimes dirt route in an RV, during rainy weather, or after dark.

Trails. Lost Coast Trail follows the coast for 17 miles, with numerous offshoots. To see the best stands, plan on a full day's hike or overnight; they're in narrow canyons along the sometimes steep path.

Wildlife. Roosevelt elk often graze near Needle Rock Visitor Center. Move slowly and steer clear of large bulls.

Mendocino National Forest--cool stands above the baking Central Valley. On the flanks of 7,056-foot Snow Mountain, high above Clear Lake (and summer heat), explore towering red firs and mixed conifers. Fire devastated much of this wilderness in October 1987, but excellent stands remain. Logging is underway outside the wilderness; watch for trucks. Fire danger may close some of the area; call ahead.

For maps, write to the Stonyford Ranger District, HC-1, Box 12, Stonyford 95979, or call (916) 963-3128. From I-5, 10 miles north of the Colusa exit, take the Maxwell Stonyford exit west to Lodoga (28 miles); follow signs to Stonyford, 8 miles farther. From the center of town, follow signs on Fouts Springs Road (M-10 on the Forest Service map) to Snow Mountain.

Hikes. Newly improved Deafy Glade Trail (about 13 miles from town) dips into a cool canyon at about 3,000 feet before climbing 3-1/2 miles to Summit Springs Trail (2-1/2 miles to summit).

Guided walks. The Mendocino--Lake County Group of the Sierra Club sponsors outings every weekend into old-growth areas. For details, visit Mendocino Environmental Center, 106 W. Standley Street, Ukiah 95482 (off U.S. 101), or call (707) 468-1660. Hours are 10 to 6 weekdays, noon to 6 Saturdays.

Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais--a half-hour drive from the Golden Gate. These neighboring sites in Marin County offer the closest old-growth redwood and Douglas fir to the north Bay Area. To avoid crowds, go very early, in the evening, or on a foggy weekday. New at Muir Woods are a handsome visitor center (excellent books) and children's "discovery packs"--a teaching tool.

For maps, contact Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley 94941 (415/388-2595) or Mount Tamalpais State Park, 801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley 94941 (388-2070). From U.S. 101, take State 1 to Panoramic Highway; follow signs to parks.

Hikes. In Muir Woods, try less-crowded Hillside Trail (1-mile loop). For longer hikes on Mount Tamalpais, climb Bootjack Trail to Pantoll Station (3 miles one way). Or try Steep Ravine Trail (3-1/2 miles one way); on weekends and holidays, you can hike down, then catch a bus back ($2; for times, call Mount Tamalpais park).

Special programs. Full-moon hikes at both sites (call for dates) let you focus on forest sounds and smells.

South of San Francisco,

smaller redwoods

From the Santa Cruz Mountains south to Big Sur and the rugged Santa Lucia Range (redwood's southernmost range), trees show the effects of the drier, harsher climate. Close to the ocean, salty breezes stunt growth and cause redwoods to dry more quickly; trees seldom top 200 feet. These smaller trees are more vulnerable to fires; it's hard to find any without scars of past blazes.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park--head-high ferns, looming redwoods. This area, a bowl-like depression in the Santa Cruz Mountains, protects nearly 18,000 acres of old- and second-growth trees. Semper-virens Fund recently led efforts to protect delicate watershed areas and reduce erosion along Big Basin's northwestern corner.

For maps, write or call Santa Cruz Mountains Natural History Association, open 10 to 4 weekdays, at 101 N. Big Trees Park Rd., Felton 95018; (408) 335-3174. From Santa Cruz, take State 9 north 15 miles, then State 236 northwest 8 miles.

Hikes. Popular Berry Creek Falls Trail has excellent old growth. To avoid crowds, try a 10-mile loop linking this route with Skyline to the Sea and Sunset trails.

Guided walks. For hikes here and at Henry Cowell and other nearby redwood parks, telephone the natural history association at 335-7077.

Mountain biking. For guided trips ($55 and up), call or write Dusty Roads Mountain Bicycle Tours, 23027 Cricket Hill Rd., Cupertino 95014; 973-9299.

Big Sur--dark glades in narrow canyons above the sea. From Pfeiffer--Big sur State Park, 26 miles south of Carmel on State 1, explore redwoods in the Santa Lucia Range. To learn how and where the trees grow, get a free copy of the Forest Service's Coast Redwood Ecological Types of Southern Monterey County, California. Write to Pacific Southwest Research Station, Box 245, Berkeley 94701; ask for GTR PSW-107-1988.

The area's only interpretive center, signed nature trail, and summer programs are offered at Pfeiffer--Big Sur. For maps for here and nearby Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, write to Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur 93920; 667-2315.

Trails: At privately owned Limekiln Beach Redwoods, 28 miles south of Pfeiffer--Big Sur and pictured on our cover, mostly flat paths twist through carpets of redwood sorrel and along clear streams. Much of the area was logged by the late 1800s to fuel kilns used for extracting local lime deposits, but a few remain. The now preserved site is regaining the varied undergrowth typical of old-growth forests. Day-use fee is $4 per person; hours are 8 to 8 daily. For details on camping, call 667-2403.

Behemoths of the Sierra

An anomaly among old-growth species, the massive giant sequoia rises out of the dry, often fire-scorched Sierra Nevada. Although not as tall as the coast redwood, the sheer bulk of this botanical behemoth makes it the world's largest living thing.

Sequoiadendron giganteum grows in a 250-mile-long, 15-mile-wide range on the central and southern Sierra Nevada's western slope, often along natural watersheds and in places where snowmelt provides moisture into summer. Nearly all untouched groves are within parklands and Sequoia National Forest.

On mature trees, foot-thick russet-colored bark wards off fire and insulates the tree from heat. Yet fire is critical to the trees' reproductive success. This species may produce up to 1,500 cones a year, each carrying 200 flake-like seeds. Green cones may hang on trees for 20 years, not releasing seed until dried and opened by fire.

Notice how far apart sequoias grow. Although sequoia seeds may carpet the ground after a fire that clears out other species, often only a few sequoias per acre survive in the competition for limited sun, water, and nutrients.

Calaveras Big Trees--uncrowded groves between Tahoe and Yosemite. At this state park, 70 miles east of Stockton on State 4, most visitors head for popular North Grove. But the sprawling South Grove remains relatively remote and wild.

For maps and details, write or call the park at Box 120, Arnold 95223; (209) 795-2334.

Hikes. An excellent 24-page guide (50 cents at the trailhead) takes you along the 3-1/2 mile South Grove Trail loop.

Sequoia--Kings Canyon National Parks--Trees as wide as a three-lane highway. The Redwood Mountain area on the parks' western edge contains the world's largest grove. Best access is from the Grant Grove entrance, about 60 miles east of Fresno on State 180. Since 1969, prescribed burns here have helped perpetuate sequoias and revitalize habitat.

For maps and details on camping, write or call the parks, Three Rivers 93271; 565-3341. Lodgepole Visitor Center has best displays on sequoia habitat.

Hikes. Try 6-mile Sugar Bowl Trail or 6-1/2-mile Hart Tree Trail in Redwood Canyon; both climb and drop about 1,000 feet. The handout Trails of Redwood Canyon lists other trails; ask for INT-314-1183.

Sequoia National Forest--the largest groves not protected by parklands. Pockets of giant sequoia pepper this region, which flanks Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks (above). Logging here has raised concerns (and spurred lawsuits) about the future of these magnificent trees; since 1988, the Forest Service plan has prohibited logging within sequoia groves until impact can be analyzed.

Logging of other conifers continues in surrounding groves; concerns have been raised that this may harm sequoia habitat (see page 64 for details).

For maps and road status (some closures due to logging), stop by Springville Ranger Station, 11-1/2 miles east of Poterville, at 32588 State 190 (open 8 to 4:30 daily); 539-2607. Or try Hume Lake Ranger Station, 44 miles east of Fresno on State 180 (same hours); 338-2251.

From Springville, continue 13-1/2 miles to the forest's western boundary. For more on the region, see page 42 of the August 1989 Sunset. There are lodges and numerous campsites in the forest (try Redwood Meadow Campground, 14 miles south of Golden Trout Wilderness turnoff; see below).

Drives. The Black Mountain are has excellent groves (some areas logged). About 16-1/2 twisting miles from Springville on State 190, take the turnoff for Camp Nelson. Bear right at the fork onto paved then dirt Coy Flat Road; continue 6 miles.

Hikes. The forest's largest remaining tract of undisturbed sequoias is 1,750-acre Freeman Creek Grove. A sloping trail leads you down to massive trees; closest are about 1-1/2 miles from the trailhead. ACcess is from Forest Road 21S50 (turnoff for Golden Trout Wilderness about 8 miles beyond Camp Nelson). Follow signs to Forest Road 21S99; the road dead-ends at the trailhead.

Trail of a Hundred Giants interpretive trail is 13 miles beyond the Golden Trout turnoff on State 190. To see Long Meadow Grove (excellent trees, some logging), drive 1-1/2 miles farther to Forest Road 2318; turn right. Drive 1 mile to the T; turn right and follow the trail along Forest Road 22S04.

Mossy hemlocks, cedar swamps, soaring firs

These great forests are the hearland for Douglas and Pacific silver fir, red and Port Oxford cedar, hemlock and others.

North Cascades

Trees here have just 4,500 vertical feet to grow in, so small differences in altitude make big differences in the make-up of the forests in the North Cascades.

Baker Lake: low and snowy in winter, it has some surprises. At 729 feet, this should be pure lowland forest. But deep snowpack encourages silver fir, normally found only at higher elevations.

From Interstate 5, go east 4 miles on State Highway 20 to Sedro Woolley Ranger Station (open 8 to 4:30 daily); pick up a forest map ($2) and backcountry permits. Continue 17-1/2 miles on State 20 to Baker Lake Road; follow it north 13 miles.

Stay at cabins or campsites along the west shore. Or, on State 20 near Rockport, camp in Rockport State Park's stately old growth. (Ask a ranger about guided forest walks.)

Hiking. Two trails show off old growth. Shadow of the Sentinels Nature Trail, 1/2 mile long, starts just past Komo Kulshan Ranger Station on the west shore.

Baker River Trail starts at road's end. Follow it upstream 3 miles into North Cascades National Park to Sulphide Creek Campground (permit required). Beaver dams abound here.

Ross Lake--if you've never seen cedar swamps, hike here. Big Beaver Creek has perhaps the best example of old-growth Western red cedar forest anywhere. It was recently spared inundation when Canada protested that a proposed dam would flood its forests as well.

Many of these giants are rooted in swampy sites; bug repellent is essential.

Pick up maps and permits at Sedro Woolley Ranger Station (see above). From Baker Lake turnoff, take State 20 east 52 miles. For campsites, try Colonial Creek Campground. (North Cascades National Park had interpretive programs here, and a great backpacking trail up Thunder Creek.) Or take a housekeeping cabin at Ross Lake Resort, (206) 386-4437; or Diablo Lake Resort, 386-4429.

Hiking. Big Beaver Trail follows Big Beaver Creek west from Ross Lake. Cedars 10 to 15 feet in diameter start about 2-1/2 miles upstream. You can make it in and out in a day, or follow a 28-mile loop trail up Big Beaver and back down Little Beaver Creek to the lake (permit required).

Have Ross Lake Resort ferry you to the trailhead ($20 each way for 1 to 6 people). Park in the lot at milepost 134 on State 20, and walk down the trail 3/4 mile to its end at a dirt road. Turn right; walk 1/4 mile to the lake. Dial 7734 from the phone on the last power pole; the resort will send a boat.

The Olympics

The Olympic Peninsula is the best place to see Sitka spruce, with its scaly bark and tack-sharp needles. This tree's presence tells you you're in rain forest. Precipitation tops 200 inches annually here.

Moss-draped bigleaf maple, Western hemlock, and Western red cedar mix in with the spruce at lower elevations. Up higher, Alaska yellow cedar and subalpine fir take over, while farther back from the coast Douglas fir becomes dominant.

Besides Lake Quinault, the Soleduck and Hoh river valleys both have national park campgrounds, backpacking trails, interpretive walks and exhibits, and fine tracts of rain forest.

Lake Quinault--dense old growth at the Olympics' southwest corner. Sitka spruce is giving way to Douglas fir in this transition forest, but the pruce is still enormous here; the country's largest, 18 feet in diameter, is at Rain Forest Resort Village, 1-1/2 miles east of Quinault.

Stop by the Forest Service visitor center in Quinault (open 7:30 to 5 weekdays, 9 to 6 weekends), or call 288-2525 for maps and information about lodging, guided walks, evening talks at Lake Quinault Lodge, and interpretive programs.

The national park's ranger station is 6 miles east of U.S. 101 on North Shore Road (open 9 to 6 daily). Get camping information, backcountry permits, maps; ask about recent elk, deer, bear sightings.

July Creek is perhaps the park's best walk-in old-growth campground (pictured opposite). To camp in maple woods hung with club moss--and nothing looks more like an enchanted rain forest--try the park's Graves Creek Campground.

Hiking, guided walks. Naturalists lead 1- to 4-hour walks from Quinault Saturdays, Sundays, and some weekdays.

Classes. Seniors-only Elderhostel programs ($265 room and board for five nights) are held at Lake Quinault Lodge. October and November sessions cover rain-forest natural history, land management (all viewpoints are represented), and local history; call Clem Lagrosa at 288-2525.

Southern Oregon Coast

Much loved for its wild beaches and photogenic sea stacks (many of them topped by Sitka spruce), this area is a botanical transition zone. Here, where summer fog lies against coast mountains, the ranges of Sitka spruce, coast redwood, and Port Orford cedar come together.

Rogue River--hike through the old growth here or, if it's hot, float. The Rogue meets the Pacific at Gold Beach. The finest old growth around here is back from the coast a little, along the Rogue River. Keep your eyes open for Port Orford cedar.

Pick up a forest map ($2), trail directions, and camping information from the ranger station (open 7:30 to 5 daily) in Gold Beach, and ask about guided walks.

Hiking, mountain biking. Shrader Old Growth Trail, a mile long, is new this year. A 60-40 blend of Douglas fir and Port Orford cedar, this acreage was pulled out of a timber sale by federal foresters who were impressed with its beauty and accessibility. Pick up a free trail guide at the trailhead.

Lower Rogue River Trail parallels the river for 12 miles, threading through 7- and 8- foot-diameter Douglas firs near its lower end. Camp anywhere (no permits required). Start upriver at the Agness library, or downriver at Silver

Creek.

Boating, floating, rafting. Jet boats take you miles upriver for sightseeing, camping, or accommodations at a river lodge. They'll even drop you off on Upper Rogue River Trail for the 16-mile hike back to Agness (or for a pickup later). For details, call (800) 542-2334.

You can raft or float downstream from Foster Bar (near Agness), but go early in the day; afternoon winds blow upriver.

The old-growth debate: What to save, what to log

The debate rages about how much public old-growth forest should be saved, how much sold.

Western forests are about 15 percent old growth, 85 percent second growth (down from a 60-40 ratio before logging began; fire and other natural processes have always kept younger trees coming). Half the remaining old growth is protected in state and national parks, wilderness areas, and so forth. The debate is over the other half.

Environmentalists claim that much of the remaining old growth has been so seriously fragmented that we risk losing many of the species it supports. The forest products industry argues that enough old growth is already preserved, and that if any more is taken off the market, the industry--and many of the people it employs--will be devastated. Old-growth trees account for half of California's annual timber harvest.

Here's how the debate is translating into public policy.

Owls, trees, and jobs

For some time now, northern spotted owl has been at the heart of the battle because it's the first species to die out when too much old-growth forest is cut. It's an indicator of the ecosystem's overall health. The owl's numbers have been declining for years, so environmental groups have been pressing to have it listed as a threatened species. That listing was announced in June, effective July 23.

The result will likely be large federal old-growth set-asides--the most recent federal study suggested that 30 percent of the Northwest's forests should be reserved for the owl, reducing the region's total timber harvest by about 17 percent. Forest would be set aside in chunks (mostly in the 3- to 150-square-mile range), each block holding about 20 pairs of owls.

* In the House, the Ancient Forest Protection Act (HR 4492) would protect most federal old-growth forest in California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as in some associated forests. It also mandates economic help for timber-based communities.

* In the Senate, the National Forest Plan Implementation Act of 1990 (S 2762) would force early filing of challenges to forest plans (these determine timber sales), allow changes in forest plans as conditions change (for example, if a new species is found, or if a mill is in danger of folding), guarantee timber sales volumes in forest plans, and give all factors (from economics to owls) equal weight in the forest planning process.

This is one of several bills Oregon's Senator Mark Hatfield has in the works dealing with trees, owls, log exports, and economic assistance for out-of-work forest products workers.

In California, the people

will help decide

Three forest-related initiatives will be on the November ballot. All would affect state and private timberland (mostly redwoods), but not the 55 percent of California's forests on federal land.

Initiatives that pass will be compared; where provisions conflict, the language of the intitiative with most votes prevails. However, if the Global Warming initiative gets most votes, it will void forest-related parts of the others. If the Forest Protection initiative wins, it will void the Global Warming initiative.

* Environmental Protection Act of 1990, also called The Big Green. This would set a one-year moratorium on cutting old-growth redwoods (except private stands under 10 acres), and mandate $200 million in bonds to buy virgin redwoods. Write to Big Green, 926 J St., Suite 300, Sacramento 95814.

* Forest & Wildlife Protection Initiative (Forests Forever) would provide $710 million to buy privately owned old growth, ban clear-cutting of areas larger than 2-1/2 acres (5 in the Sierra), prohibit most slash burning after logging, and stop trees from being cut faster than they regrow. Write to Forest & Wildlife Protection Committee, 2410 K St., #C, Sacramento 95816.

* Global Warming and Clear-cutting Reduction, Wildlife Protection, and Reforestation Act of 1990, the forest products industry initiative, would mandate a $300-million bond for forest rehabilitation or acquisition of 1,600 acres of redwoods, and eliminate or reduce clear-cutting. Write to Californians for New Forestry, 1311 I St., Sacramento 95814.

World Heritage status for giant sequoias?

Some 80 groves of these magnificent big trees--about two-thirds of the original number of sequoias--dot the Sierra.

Public pressure has virtually halted extensive logging in big tree groves in Sequoia National Forest, where the largest number of sequoias outside park boundaries can be found. However, the Forest Service believes that some form of logging or controlled burning is needed to keep the sequoia ecosystem healthy.

The Sequoia Forest Alliance is attempting to have all sequoias not already within parks set aside as a World Heritage site. Such sites, designated by UNESCO, recognize areas of outstanding natural and cultural value. These sites cannot be changed in any way that might jeopardize the resource.

In the Northwest, a shaky truce is threatened

Until September 30, timber and environmental interests live under the terms of an amendment worked out by senators Hatfield and Brock Adams (Washington).

By those terms, the forest products industry gets a reduced but guaranteed harvest and must leave certain large tracts of old growth uncut. Environmental groups, which have used lawsuits to tie up timber sales, must object to sales quickly, and courts are asked to rule quickly.

The truce held into June, when it became clear that the Forest Service wasn't going to sell all the timber promised in the Hatfield-Adams amendment. Timber interests sued, hoping to obtain a summary judgment (a court order to sell) in July.
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