Logging the Olympic Peninsula

In October of 2011, I made a couple of trips in a small fixed-wing plane over the Olympic Peninsula, Washington to photograph key rivers and watersheds for the Wild Salmon Center. The Wild Salmon Center is a Portland, Oregon based international NGO that works around the Pacific Rim to preserve healthy salmon habitats and to conserve wild salmon stocks. The flights were an adventure, complete with a breakdown on an abandoned air strip near Forks, Washington, the site of the Twilight series. In my next post, I will tell the tale of our adventure and post photos of the rivers from that shoot.

While flying above twisted rivers and forested mountains, I spotted several mountain-top logging operations. The Olympic Peninsula contains a number of state and national parks as well as major salmon rivers of the Pacific Northwest. It was one of the last unexplored and uncharted territories of the Lower 48 states, but became a major logging site in the 20th Century. Although the days of wide-spread intense clear-cutting are gone, shaved mountaintops and valleys are cut deep into the landscape.

With new technological innovations, the remnant logging is taking place on mountain tops, which were previously inaccessible to this activity. I was surprised at the efficiency and speed of trees being fallen. As I was flying past a logging camp, I saw the arm of a tractor grabbing a tree and carefully laying the tree trunk down, then reaching for the next tree and laying it  down within a minute.

Yet I still use paper napkins.

Cleaning Up

Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage is dotted with islands, large and small, many only a day of paddling from each other. Some of them are within an easy reach of Juneau, making kayaking a popular activity here. A number of locals have lobbied to get a few of the more popular islands protected from development, and on June 4, 2008, the governor added 14 islands around Juneau to the Channel Islands Marine Park, the state’s system of marine parks.

Although these islands require an effort to get to, they still see their share of junk and trash accumulated along their beaches. Tides, currents, waves and wind deposit remnants of commercial fishing and boating – nylon nets, rope, plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic containers – whatever floats, along their shorelines. People who flock to these beaches  sometimes leave their trash behind – cans, camping and picnicking leftovers, shotgun shells, tarps. Some trash makes me wonder how it even finds its way to these small islands – airplane tires, tractor engines.


In August, Carol Anderson of Turning The Tides, a Juneau-based non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about ocean issues and to promote ocean-friendly practices, clean-up efforts, waste reduction and sustainability, organized a beach cleanup of several of the nearby islands. About 10 volunteers on two boats spent a beautiful sunny, warm day collecting trash from beaches of Lincoln, North, and Benjamin Islands.


Of course, collecting other people’s trash might be a feel-good effort, but it wasn’t our treasure and is not a solution to littering. Plastics, even though they break down to smaller pieces, will theoretically linger forever, as there is no natural mechanism for them to decompose into basic elements. In the process, some release toxins that mimic or disrupt hormone pathways, among other negative effects, potentially leading to an increased chance of cancer. Avoiding use of disposable plastics – bags, water bottles, containers, forks and spoons – is one part of the solution. Not littering is another.