Clearcuts and Landslides: Who Benefits and Who Pays?


(Published in Access magazine in July 1997)



"Let us cut, the industry says, but don't hold us responsible for our logging. We want your trees, but you pay for the logging roads, you fight the fires, you subsidize the sales with your taxes. We want to clearcut steep slopes, but when they slide and bury public roads, you pay for the cleanup and repair. We want to log your watersheds, but when cities cannot use their water supplies because of siltation from our logging, that's just tough. We foul your streams and rivers, and if you have to spend hundreds-of-millions of dollars to build a water filtration system, that's your problem. If your homes flood, if your insurance rates go up, if you have the misfortune of being killed by a mudslide, hey, that's just too bad. ...We want to suspend the laws because they're in our way. We want the last old growth. We want the last redwoods. We want. We want." - Tim Hermach, Executive Director, Native Forest Council




Throughout the Pacific Northwest and Northern California last Fall and Winter, thousands of logging-related slides killed at least eight people, buried roads and damaged homes, destroyed countless salmon spawning streams, contaminated public water supplies, crippled agricultural production, and caused general havoc.


According to Andy Stahl, Executive Director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), "Political and economic forces created these slides, not God or Nature."


Government and corporate officials continue to try to pass the buck, claiming that more studies are needed to determine if there is indeed a direct correlelation between clearcutting and landslides. But there is irrefutable evidence, documented over thousands of years of human history, to link logging, flooding and landslides.


Here are three examples:

* Cyprus, 1200 BC: By this date, the effects of deforestation were already well known. Cypriots, having cut the forested slopes, suffered from increased flooding and mudslides. So much mud accumulated in the Hala Sultan Tekke Harbor that it became sealed off from the sea and could no longer be used as a port.

* The Alps, 1618: After felling the forests above the town of Plurs, the earth roared down and buried the town under 70 feet of mud. Not one of its 2430 inhabitants survived. In 1806, 450 people in Goldau lost their lives in a similar incident.

* Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 1988: Originally forested, the now barren slopes of the Himalayas were pounded by rains, causing massive mud torrents which killed 2000 people and left 25 million homeless.


Many recent studies offer further evidence. The US Forest Service did a study after the 1964 storms which found that the greatest soil loss was from mudflows and landslides, and these occurred more frequently at roads and clearcuts. An OSU Masters thesis reported that "Landslides occur 24 and 253 times more frequently (relative to forested rate) in clearcuts and road areas, respectively." And the Oregon Dept of Forestry published in 1995 a document titled, "Cumulative Effects of Forest Practices in Oregon", which found that "Clearcut harvest and/or slash burning on steep slopes may increase failure rates from two to 40 times over rates on undisturbed sites."


Many municipal leaders are already experts on this subject. For example, city officials in Portland and Salem have asked that their watersheds not be logged anymore due to economically devastating sedimentation from logging operations.


How large was the toll to human life last winter? It was immense.

Near Roseburg, OR, four neighbors died when one of their houses was hit by a torrent of boulders, logging slash, uprooted trees and mud from a nine-year-old clearcut on an 80% slope. Said a survivor, "That home exploded, like a bomb had gone off."


Three motorists were knocked off Oregon Hwy 38 by a muddy avalanche - one of them died. A woman and her two children drowned when their car was hit by a tractor-trailer trying to avoid a slide. In the town of Myrtle Creek, OR, five homes were knocked off their foundations when a clearcut gave way shifting tons of wet earth.


In Stafford in Humboldt County, seven homes were obliterated and seven more damaged by a mile-long, 100-yard-wide mudslide. The culprit, Maxxam Corp, has offered to buy the homeowners' properties for $3 million. Eight of the thirteen families who lived on the street have since moved away.


The callousness of official government and corporate responses has been instructive.

* Says an area director of the Oregon Dept of Forestry: "The jury is still out on the issue" of clearcuts and landslides. "The Oregon Dept of Forestry is not in the business of protecting houses."

* Only a mile down the road from one of the fatal Oregon slides, Roseburg Forest Products plans to log a similar site, totally ignoring the pleas and concerns of seven homeowners who live directly below the planned logging site. (To help the homeowners, contact Karen Henderson at

* West Coast Land and Timber Company (of Coos Bay) is urging forestland owners to ignore a request from the state Forestry Dept asking loggers to voluntarily stop clearcutting on slide-prone slopes above highways and homes.

* And OR Senator Bill Fisher (R-Roseburg) suggests that the homeowners "were at fault for building their home[s] in the wrong spot." He adds, "Clearcutting is a practice that enables a diverse ecosystem to thrive."


And the expense to taxpayers is record-breaking, and continues to rise. The early January floods were easily the most expensive in California history, totalling over $1.8 billion. Nearly 300 square miles of northern California were flooded (including the Central Valley's Sacramento River), damaging or destroying 21,000 homes, 3000 mobile homes, and 1900 businesses. At the height of the emergency, 120,000 people had been evacuated. The cumulative cost, both via taxes and personal loss, is absolutely staggering, and a significant portion of it can be considered another donation by We The People to logging corporations which are not required to pay for the damage they create (i.e. corporate welfare).


To put it in perspective on the local level, here are a few examples:

* Humboldt County: $16.4 million in damage and climbing

* The lower Klamath River: 28 businesses and more than 50 homes damaged or destroyed - $800,000 just to repair one section of riverbank

* Forest Service road repair expenses: Siskiyou NF-$10 million, Rogue River NF-$8 million, Curry County-$2 million - (and all as quickly as possible so the USFS can reopen the roads in order to sell more healthy ancient groves this summer)

* Jackson County: More than $50 million in damages, including 1200 affected homes

* Not to mention the thousands of individuals who have filed for unemployment assistance after being put out of work by the flooding.

* And on and on and on.


Will states, counties and municipalities have to raise taxes to cover these expenses?

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) money (i.e., federal taxes) and insurance will pay for much of it. Insurance customers (that is, most of us) will pay for it in increased premiums. There are indications that the insurance industry is seriously over-extended, and will require a taxpayer bailout.


A better solution? Our governments need to find the courage to send these bills to the real culprits: the logging and other resource extraction corporations.



"If another nation had done this to our lands, we would call it an act of war." - Timothy Hermach, Native Forest Council



How many more hundred-year-floods will we citizens accept before we stop battling one clearcut at a time? And is it enough simply to sue specific corporations for specific harms, or has the time arrived for a new kind of citizen activism, which fundamentally challenges the rights of giant corporations to rule over us? What if we got organized enough, through citizen initiatives or other processes, to ban all corporate involvement in the political process? Would our elected officials continue to ignore majority citizen opinion if they no longer received funds from corporations, if corporate lobbying was banned? This is not a pipe dream. It was the norm in most states throughout the 1800's, and remained the law in Wisconsin until 1953.


For more than 100 years, American citizens understood that a corporation was an artificial, subordinate entity with no inherent rights of its own, and both law and culture reflected this relationship between sovereign people and the institutions they created. Toward the end of the 19th century, corporations set out to transform the law and recreate themselves as "natural persons" with Constitutional protection. Citizens in massive numbers rose up and organized, educated, and resisted with great passion and energy. By the beginning of the 20th century, corporations had become 'sovereign', and in turn had defined 'We The People' as merely consumers, workers, taxpayers, etc. Today, our law and culture concede our sovereignty to corporations. So do most of our citizen organizations.


"But we don't study who We The People are; sovereign people should act," says Richard Grossman, co-director of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy. "We need to realize what power and authority we possess; and how we can use it TO DEFINE THE NATURE OF CORPORATIONS, so that we don't have to mobilize around each and every corporate decision that affects our communities, our lives, the planet."


To find out more about how you can join a growing new national movement of people who are learning how to take their democracy back from logging and other corporations, send $4+ for info packet to Democracy Unlimited, POB 27, Arcata CA 95518, and specify where you saw this announcement.


Here's how you can get involved:

* Support (with your time and money) one of the organizations struggling to keep up with the unravelling forest landscape crisis:

  -Oregonians for Sustainable Forestry has gathered a remarkably diverse coalition working to pass a state ballot initiative which would ban clearcutting of all Oregon forests: 2675 SW Vista Av, Portland, OR 97201, ph 541-770-3191, email

  -Native Forest Council (NFC) is circulating a petition demanding Zero Cut on all public lands (see petition in this issue of Access) and has drafted a five-part legislative package called The National Forest Protection Acts: POB 2190, Eugene OR 97402, ph 541-688-2600, email

  -Forest Sevice Employees for Environmental Ethics is working hard to challenge Forest Service policy, and recently produced a video, "Torrents of Change" ($18 postpaid): POB 11615, Eugene OR 97440; ph 541-484-2692; email

  -And your local  forest protection groups. Here's a sampling...

Environmental Protection Info Center (EPIC), POB 397, Garberville CA 95542, 707-923-2931,

Siskiyou Regional Education Project, POB 220, Cave Junction OR 97523, 541-592-4459,

Mendocino Environmental Center, 106 W Standley, Ukiah CA 95482, 707-468-1660

Klamath Forest Alliance, POB 820, Etna CA 96027, 916-467-5405,

Trees Foundation, POB 2202, Redway CA 95560, 707-923-4377,

Headwaters, POB 729, Ashland OR 97520, 541-482-4459,


* Educate yourself:

- For a historical perspective, read Man and Nature by George Perkins Marsh, first published in 1864; and Railroads and Clearcuts: Legacy of Congress' 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan ($17 postpaid from Inland Empire Public Lands Council, 517 S. Division St, Spokane WA 99202).

- For current news, read NFC's excellent Forest Voice - Spring '97 issue, "Landslides: Living in the Barrel of the Gun" (single issue free-see address above); "Landslides and Clearcuts: What Does the Science Really Say?" by Doug Heiken (free from author: 1551 Oak St, Eugene OR 97401 or; Corporate Power, Corruption & the Destruction of the World's Forests by the Environmental Investigation Agency (15 Bowling Green Lane, London, England EC1R 0BD, ph 0171-490-7040); and "Getting Business Off the Public Dole: Model Laws for State and Local Governments to Curb Corporate Welfare Abuse" by Loyola Law School Prof Robert Benson ($4 from Democracy Unlimited: POB 27, Arcata CA 95518).

- If you'd rather read the computer screen, try Public Information Network's website at:



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