Timber, Interrupted

Dozens of protesters interrupted a presentation from Freres Lumber Company executive Tyler Freres at the University of Oregon Knight School of Law, shouting, “Stop corporate lies,” “Quit your job” and “Forest defense is climate defense” 

Freres was participating in a two-part series about the environment by the UO law school. The Nov. 17 presentation by Freres discussed issues surrounding the timber industry, including wildfires before protesters interrupted him. The protest, organized by the campus organization Climate Justice League, occurred the day after Cascadia Forest Defenders announced that they are occupying a road in an attempt to stop logging and post-wildfire logging in the Willamette National Forest near Detroit, Oregon.

Freres spoke to a near-capacity classroom with 60 attendees. He discussed the timber industry, its staffing issues and why he thinks there have been increased wildfires in Oregon. 

Freres, who serves as the company’s vice president of sales, said that his company has staffing issues and is running at 50 percent of its capacity, which is why lumber prices were at historic highs earlier this year. Later in the presentation, he said that without access to log public forestlands, his company would likely have layoffs. 

The state’s increasing volatile wildfires, he said, are politically caused and are the product of the Northwest Forest Plan. “People can argue about science one way or the other, but my personal take is what we’re looking at is essentially a 30-year test since the Northwest Forest Plan,” he said. “We grow somewhere between 8 billion board feet in Oregon. Total harvest is 3 and a half [billion feet] over the past few years.” 

This has caused forestlands to be overgrown, he added. “We’re seeing 30 years of overgrowth, and Mother Nature is essentially putting a rebalance to things to say that if we don’t take into account as people and create usable forest products for the consumption of U.S. citizens, then Mother Nature will put that balance back in.” 

The timber plan was enacted nearly 30 years ago by the Clinton administration. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin were part of the team who developed the Northwest Plan and both of them were referred to by protesters in the press release from Cascadia Forest Defenders for opposing post-wildfire logging. 

Before the protest interrupted the presentation, an attendee commented that private timberlands are what causes wildfires to spread. 

Freres said statistics don’t prove that argument. 

Shortly after the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire, Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology Executive Director Tim Ingalsbee published research that suggested the fire spread mostly on commercially logged tree stands. Ingalsbee is scheduled to speak at the second part of the environmental series at the Knight Law Center noon Friday, Nov. 19. 

Minutes after Freres made the statement denying private timberland’s role in spreading wildfire, protesters began shouting comments about the effects of logging on public forestland. A couple of protesters then held a sign that said “Worth More Standing” in front of Freres. 

Climate Justice League’s Co-Director Courtney Kaltenbach said in a Nov. 17 press release that “We’re not going to let this deceitful propaganda be spewed on our campus when the science is clear: post-fire logging is a scourge on the landscape impacting community drinking water resources and contributing to the climate crisis. We are here to send a clear message to Freres Lumber and all of those who would profit from the destruction of our forests and our climate: We will fight you at every step.”

Freres Lumber Company actively supports political campaigns throughout Oregon, according to OreStar, the state’s campaign finance transparency website. The timber company contributed $205,000 to Republicans during the 2020 election, from former state Sen. Kim Thatcher’s failed secretary of state campaign to the Republican Party’s Evergreen Political Action Committee. In 2018, the company donated $100,000 to Knute Buehler’s failed gubernatorial campaign. 

And Tyler Freres recently gave $25,000 to Bridget Barton, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for the governor’s race. Barton is a romance novelist, political consultant and former board member of the anti-union Freedom Foundation organization. When Cascadia Forest Defenders occupied the Willamette National Forest in September 2021, Barton said on a Facebook post that, “As governor, I will remove these radicals from our forests and stop the assault on rural and blue-collar communities.” 

According to data from the Federal Election Committee, Tyler Freres also donated $2,800 to Alek Skarlatos’ 2020 congressional campaign. 

As protesters interrupted Freres’ speech at the Knight Law Center, Cascadia Forest Defenders were occupying a road leading to the Willamette National Forest near Detroit. In a Nov. 16 press release, the group said it was defying a closure order from the U.S. Forest Service and would risk arrest to protest the Highway 46 sale. 

Officially called the Highway 46 sale, it’s about six miles northeast of Detroit, Oregon, according to the USFS 2019 second record of decision. The USFS said in the report that it would cut down within a 2,000-acre area, and would yield about 23.1 million board feet of timber, ranging from 20 to 145 years in tree age. 

In Cascadia Forest Defenders’ Nov. 16 press release, an organizer of the occupation, referred to as Sequoia in the release, said, “While our politicians decry deforestation on the global stage at events like COP 26, they are conspicuously silent as our own rainforests are lost to industrial logging.” 

The group said the Detroit Reservoir relies on the Breitenbush River, the group said in the Nov. 16 press release, so the timber sale could affect Willamette Valley residents who depend on that drinking water source.