June 20, 2006 9:39 AM PDT

Forests: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Road Trip 2006

July 11, 2006
PORT ANGELES, Wash.--It's been a day of extremes.

On the one hand, I've encountered some of the most beautiful natural scenery I've ever witnessed. On the other, I've been ankle deep in what might well be the ugliest thing I've ever seen.

I've made my way to northern Washington on my Road Trip 2006 through the Pacific Northwest, and after stopping to see the Arcata Kinetic Lab, Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" and several other man-made wonders, I'm now ensconced in natural glory.


So it's disheartening to witness the ugly: miles and miles of forestland clear-cutting. I've driven by on Route 101 in Oregon and Washington state. Often, these cut areas are hidden away or barely visible from the road. But sometimes it's as blatant as can be: acres of land with nearly every bit of tree, plant and topsoil simply ripped away, leaving a barren, destroyed surface that looks like it was hit by a hurricane.

But it wasn't hit by a hurricane. It was hit by loggers, intent on saving time and money in their hurry to log the endless stretches of forests here. And while there is some disagreement about whether clear-cutting has benefits--some say it makes way for nearby, smaller trees to grow since they now are able to get more natural light--there is no doubt that the practice is the aesthetic equivalent of a high-speed train wreck.

Critics say it leaves clear-cut land susceptible to erosion. And that's not good.

On the other hand, though, just minutes past some of the most egregious clear-cutting, I find myself in the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington's Olympic National Park. And in stark contrast to the clear-cut hillsides, I can say confidently that this is one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen.

This is what happens when you combine a perfect storm of beneficial ecological factors: the cool mountain mass that is the Olympic; the Hoh, an ocean-facing valley; the Pacific Ocean itself; prevailing onshore winds; and the protective barrier that is the nearby Cascade mountains.

Road Trip 2006

The result: forest that is nearly dripping with tangible lushness. That is to say, gigantic Sitka Spruce trees that average 220 feet in height, and an uncountable number of maples, Douglas firs, Western Red Cedars, Red Alders and Western Hemlocks--all of which are playing host to more than 100 species of what are called epiphytes, or "air plants."

The park's information panels just call the epiphytes "the upholstery of the rain forest."

That's because at nearly every level, from the ground on up to several hundred feet, is the most brilliantly green, most lush and most mossy plant life imaginable. Indeed, it looks like something straight out of "Lord of the Rings" or "the Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

But it's real, and it's right there for the viewing, and, sometimes, the touching.

In the high crowns of the trees, there are what are called Foliose lichen, in the middle parts, Fruticose lichens. Down in the lower areas, often on the low branches or the trunk, are plentiful club mosses.

One tree may host as many as 40 different species of epiphytes.

And this is all the result of an average yearly rainfall of 142 inches. By comparison, San Francisco gets 21 inches.

And because of the heavy rainfall, in addition to the area's high humidity, deep, well-drained soil and mild temperatures, the trees here are some of the largest in the world.

Which is all to say that walking through the Hoh Rain Forest is one of the most magical, peaceful experiences I've had in a long time. To be sure, there were screaming children to break the reverie, but for the most part, I found myself alone, wandering through the forest, stopping every few feet to stare, awe-struck, at another incredible sight.

It was almost enough to make me forget the ecological disaster waiting for me upon my return to the highway and my journey north. Almost, but not quite.

See more CNET content tagged:
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It's sad when your faced with the truth
I'm always amazed how people react when they are faced with the reality of the impact that humanity is having on the planet. Unfortunately, few of us get the opportunity to witness the majesty of the wilderness. We're all so caught up in our lives and like any good consumer, we want everything to be as cheap as possible... unfortunately, devastation of the environment is often a direct or indirect result of market efficiency. Society can't have it all... if we want to protect the wilderness on the planet, we must curb our insatiable consumerism.
Posted by pra9ma (1 comment )
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America & conservation
America has a bad reputation for conservation. Everything is big (supersize me) including the bad stuff such as disasters and lack of conservation. But a lack of conservation is linked to ecological disasters.

You need to look at country's with good conservation to show you the way.

New Zealand, Australia, Norway, to name a few. They put you to shame.
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
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Germany clear cuts
I just returned from Germany- and I guess America isn't so bad- since they clear cut in Germany as well. I saw it from the train.
Posted by jfoxbox2 (2 comments )
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I just came across this article and I had to add my comments, sorry. I hate to brust you bubble but America spends more on enviromental clean up than just about any other nation. If you want a platform, go to China or the former Soviet Union. There are cesspools there for you to trumpet.
Posted by hostilelifeform (4 comments )
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What does this drivel have to do with Technology?
Would this not be better suited material for the Sierra Club newsletter?

Posted by ecovillain (2 comments )
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Levels of technology
I can see where someone might think this sort of thing doesn't belong in a technology news site, but so often I only get to see one side of technology. The side where things are being manufactured or new ways to do things. Overlooked is the other side of things, which is how that affects nature. I've been reading stories which discuss working conditions for people in China. Is that technology? I guess so because they are people who work in the technology area.
Recycling is often considered technological and part of that is just not making the stuff in the first place.
Posted by mhurwicz (4 comments )
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Is there a better news site?
I'm getting quite tired of these "news" articles that having nothing to do with technology news. It seems the editors at Cnet are bent on driving the same left-wing political agenda that is pervasive throughout much of the other mainstream news outlets.

Does anybody know of a good tech news web site that can be used as an alternative? I like having the ability to find tech news in one place to keep (somewhat) current but I can't keep using this site.
Posted by (9 comments )
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You can't be serious
Are you really trying to say that this article was written to push a liberal agenda? Somehow, natural life has suddenly become left-wing politics.. editors aren't allowed to have opinions.. and vacations by cnet editors must be bound to technology-oriented discussions only?

I recommend people of your stature to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.foxnews.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.foxnews.com/</a>
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
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Welcome to Washington!
I thought it was awesome that you were visiting my area (though I live in Tacoma).. it is certainly a beautiful area - you should visit Mount Rainier sometime.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
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more to this story
This Olympic Peninsula resident has been baited by your article... You are right, the clearcuts are stark in contrast to the park... but please consider that the highway takes you thru the working forests, not thru the park. It has been state law in Washington since 1957 that harvested forests must be replanted.
Look closer, you passed timber stands of all ages being grown, planted, thinned and harvested for our benefit. The real ugly part is short-lived.
Learn more on the free logging and mill tour that the Forks Chamber of Commerce offers in season, and bring your laptop - this little town has free wi-fi at their visitor center.
Posted by rubybeach (1 comment )
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You mean to tell me that the evil logging industry is not so evil after all. Not even the diet coke of evil.

The Wi-Fi at the visitors center would have been a worthy addition to the article. But then the writer would have had a journalistic obligation to tell the whole story, and that's just not sensational.

Kudos to rubybeach for the post.
Posted by ecovillain (2 comments )
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Washington IS unique!
I grew up in the Seattle area and as much of the US as I have seen during the last 40+ years, it is unique! It is the only state that, within you can find ocean, a rain forest a mountain range, inland saltwater ways, another mountain range, and a desert, all within a few hours drive (though it would take many days (weeks?) to properly experience the varied terrain. It is a great place to vacation, summer OR winter!

The clear cutting the author describes has been an eyesore for decades in the NW. I can only hope that the relatively new selective logging technologies will reduce the aesthetically and ecologically damaging aspects of logging.

Let's hear it for technology! :D

Posted by STS (47 comments )
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While I have only lived in Washington for 8 years, I grew up in the
Great Land up north. Alaska. I have seen thousands of people
pushed onto the unemployment line through the mass anguish
over cutting trees. Here's a news story for you.. they grow back.
Some of the most beautiful landscape I've seen has been 2nd
growth. Yes, forested hills and mountains are "prettier" than those
logged off, but logging serves a purpose. Accept it and get over it.
Posted by gbenner (11 comments )
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clear cutting - can be good
While I agree that forests are beautiful, clear cutting is very similar to a forest fire which cleans and refreshes. It allows new healthy growth, and if it would burn it would not burn nearly as hot as a forest that has been prevented from burning for hundreds of years. That Scores the earth and there is no life. Clear cutting allows life in the forest to be more natural in either beautiful Washington, or in the dry hills of southern California. Clear cut or burn- forests need to be renewed. PS- I am a teacher, love the outdoors, and no ties to any logging type business.
Posted by jfoxbox2 (2 comments )
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pls tell me good things about clear cutting
Posted by dabomd (1 comment )
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