Logging Road Dispute: The BLM Is Protecting (?) Your Land

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Closer view of the Thornfield Farm barn.
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John and Betsy Morris with their son on Thornfield Farm.
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The logging road would have passed over this creek, the farm's water supply.

The federal government owns over 765 million acres, or
one-third the total area (2.3 billion acres) of the United
States. About 500 million acres of this federally owned
land is classified as “forest and wildlife” and
approximately 100 million acres of the land so classified
is listed by the government as “commercial forest”.

The Bureau of Land Management — a division of
the Department of the Interior roughly parallel to the
Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture — has
exclusive responsibility for the 60% (460 million acres) of
the federally owned land. While over half of the BLM’s
domain is in Alaska and — like much of the
rest — contains little or no timber, the Bureau of Land
Management does control several million acres of prime
forest in the Pacific Northwest.

According to a Department of the Interior organization
chart, BLM land is managed for these multiple uses:

1) Fish and wildlife development
2) Domestic livestock grazing
3) Outdoor recreation
4) Occupancy
5) Mineral production
6) Timber production
7) Watershed protection
8) Preservation of public values on public land

Notice anything wrong with this description? But never mind the contradictions. If strictly adhered to, a logging road shouldn’t have priority over the interests of homesteaders. And yet ….


The spring of 1970 was a good time for John and Betsy
Morris. They’d just bought a sprawling 761 acres in the the
Windy Peak region of Oregon’s Coastal Range, only 40 miles’
drive from Eugene.

The young couple’s new farm was uncommonly
beautiful — wooded ridges rose steeply from pastures
watered by two forks of a clear, mountain stream — and
much of it was inaccessible except by foot or horseback.

John and Betsy had chosen Thornfield Farm partly
because of its seclusion. Refugees from the
city — John had been a department manager for
Montgomery Wards — they’d searched the pacific
Northwest for a quiet, natural setting in which to raise
their small children and launch an organic beef farm.
Thornfield’s narrow, Y-shaped valley at the end of the
county road was ideal for both purposes.

John and Betsy felt strongly about preserving Thornsfield
Farm’s wild beauty and they were pleased that their land
was bounded to the north and east by Bureau of Land
Management holdings. The Bureau of Land Management is the
Department of Interior agency charged with guarding the
public’s interests on over 400 million acres of U.S.
Government land. The adjacent BLM holdings seemed to
promise extra protection from commercial “development”.

But the Morrises’ faith in the benevolence of the BLM was
not to last. Toward the end of July, 1970 — little more
than a month after they’d moved to Thornfield — a
neighbor’s chance remark led them to the shocking discovery
that the BLM was planning two logging access roads through
their back-county retreat.

On August 14, John and Betsy met with the three BLM
officials at the Eugene District Office to learn the
government’s intention first-hand. They were shown a map
illustrating the planned access routes. One road was to
climb the ridge behind their house (cutting across their
gravity-fed, surface-water collection system) and then
follow the ridge northeast along their property to
ultimately collect with another BLM road, thus creating a
through logging trail across Thornfield Farm. The second
road — unbelievable as it sounds! — was to start
from their driveway, slice between their house and barn,
continue across their South Fork bottomland pasture, and
finally dead-end on BLM land.

Naturally, once they’d caught their breath, the
Morrises objected. They were wholeheartedly opposed to the
construction of ANY road through Thornfield Farm, let alone
logging roads. The three BLM
functionaries—Messrs. Von Domelan, Doren and
Schaffer—explained that although there were other
ways to get the Windy Peaks timber out, the proposed roads
were the easiest and cheapest routes for the logging
companies
. They said flatly that there was nothing
John and Betsy could do to prevent the roads from being
built.

A month later, on September 16, Von Domelan and Doren drove
up unannounced and said they wanted to check the final
points on the road construction maps they had with them.
John refused to let them on the farm when they told him
this was the last step before actual construction began.

That’s when the big guns were rolled out. Joseph Dose,
BLM’s Eugene District Director, sent the Morrises a letter
on October 19, stating that he’d “requested condemnation
action on your property for the right to enter, survey, and
mark on-the-ground the location of an easement for forest
access roads, to locate such an easement in relation to
established property corners, and to appraise the market
value of such an easement.”

On February 25, 1971 and again on March 25, John’s brother
David — now a business partner and also living at
Thornfield Farm — traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk
to Oregon Rep. John R. Dellenback and to national BLM
officials. David was told by Messrs. Lynd, Bowen and
Russell of the BLM that ALL responsibility for choosing
logging routes and implementing BLM policies in the Eugune
area lay in the hands of Dose, the district director.
Sorry, but nothing could be done at higher levels.

Meantime, the Morrises had hired an attorney, Michael
Schmeer, and Schmeer had written to various BLM officials
reminding them that they were bound by law to comply with
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (Public Law
91-190, 91st Congress, January 1,1970). NEPA specifically
provides that:

it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal
Government to use all practicable means, consistent with
other essential considerations of national policy, to
improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs,
and resources to the end that the Nation may (1) fulfill
the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the
environment for succeeding generations; (2) assure for all
Americans safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and
culturally pleasing surroundings; (3) attain the widest
range of beneficial uses of the environment without
degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable
and unintended consequences; (4) preserve important
historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national
heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment
which supports diversity and variety of individual
choices…

So when John and Betsy next met with a BLM
representative on March 22, 1971 with Mr. Zimmerman,
BLM assistant state director in Portland, they weren’t
surprised to learn that the BLM was suddenly concerned
about the environment. Zimmerman stressed the “fact” that
the planned road through Thornfield Farm were the most
ecologically sound routes. However, the bureaucrat fell
back on the logging company convenience theme. The through
road would open the Windy Peak region to loggers from the
Eugene area, he said, and the South Fork road was necessary
to “manage” 360 acres of forest in the upper valley.

On April 16, David Morris talked to Dose and his area
manager, Bill Bjorge. Dose said that the BLM was
investigating alternate passages and would continue to do
so even after winning access to Thornfield Farm through
court condemnation. Interestingly, Dose admitted that half
of the private property owners across whose land BLM want
to build roads object for reasons similar to the
Morrises’, but added that they all eventually come
around. Wonder why.

On May 18, John and Betsy were served notice that the
federal district court had granted the BLM temporary
possession of their farm to conduct all the activities
listed in Dose’s letter October 19, 1970. Authority was
also conferred for “the United States of America, acting
through the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of
Interior, its representatives, agents or contractors to
remove, sell, or otherwise dispose of any tree necessary to
such survey work.” Nothing was said of the BLM’s
environmental responsibilities or a search for alternate
routes.

Included in the court order was a clause informing the
Morrises that their “consent” would “constiture a waiver of
all defenses and objections” to the condemnation. So, of
course, they had to contest the decision. On June
7, 1971 Schmeer submitted an “Answer of Defendants.” After some legal maneuvering, a hearing was
set for July 12.

Meanwhile, the Morisses hadn’t been idle. They’d prepared a
carefully detailed summary of their struggle with the
BLM, including the bureau’s legal obligations under
NEPA, and on June 5 began mailing it to everyone they
could think of: old friends, relatives, former teachers and
employers, congressmen — anyone!

Apparently the Morrises’ action had some effect because
when David met with Dose on June 22, the district director
agreed to prepare an “Environmental Impact Statement” as required by NEPA. He promised to accept a
counterstatement from the Morisses and Jean and David
Eastman, Betsy’s siter and brother-in-law, who were also
living on Thornfield Farm at the time, and to include it
in his final report to the BLM. This from the man who in
March had told John and Betsy he wouldn’t let petitions,
letters, or any other form of public opinion sway him!

Back at the courthouse,
Schmeer—surprisingly—was able to get the court
order nullified on July 12. The court upheld the Morrises’
defense because, as Schmeer put it, the judge “was
reluctant to permit trees to be cut without some control.”
(Makes it pretty obvious who wrote that court order in the
first place, doesn’t it?) The assistant U.S. attorney who
was handling the government’s side was “somewhat
disturbed,” and threatened to take it to the Circuit Court
of Appeals. So far he hasn’t.

But Schmeer warned John and Betsy that they shouldn’t count
on continuing support from the courts. Once the BLM had an
Environmental Impact Statement on file — and providing
it isn’t a terribly blatant sham — the court will
probably feel that the bureau has fulfilled its
obligations. Even if the Morrises continue to object,
Schmeer believes, it won’t do any good. The court will
grant the BLM a permanent easement for the two logging
roads, and that will be the end of Thornfield Farm.

Still, John and Betsy wouldn’t give up. They were
discouraged and disillusioned, but they kept on fighting.
On August 2, the residents of Thornfield Farm submitted a
statement to District Director Dose outlining their
objections to the access roads and suggesting several
possible alternatives. About the only reaction they’ve
gotten to it was the comment from one BLM employee that it
was “kind of emotional, wasn’t it?” If you’re emotional
about having your home destroyed, apparently your arguments
don’t have to be answered.

Al Schaffer, one of the Eugene BLM officials the Morrises
first talked to way back August, 1970 — remember when
John and Betsy thought being next to BLM land would protect
them from the loggers? — came out to Thornfield in
mid-September. He asked permission for government “experts”
to come on the farm and gather data for the environmental
study, permission which the Morrises readily granted.

John and Betsy also recall with little real
amusement Schaffer’s mentioning how idealistic he was
about our government. The American government is truly
responsive to the individual, he said. A government agency
can’t just come in and build a road through someone’s
property. It has to go to some trouble first. Funny how
many idealists like that there are nowadays, isn’t it?

Since that mid-September day, perhaps a dozen men have
visited Thornfield Farm to study various aspects of the
area, water quality, stream bed conditions, fish life,
forestry (of course), geological conditions, and so on. The
Morrises know that those men are not just hiking up into
the hills for a picnic — on occasion John and Betsy have
gone along — but what happens to the information the
“experts” gather is another story that no one will tell the
residents of Thornfield Farm.

The BLM has apparently established no timetable for
completing the environmental study. When asked about this,
Schaffer explained that he didn’t want a deadline because
he was afraid the people working on the project might
become more concerned about the due date than the job at
hand. He did admit, however, that the basic resource data
wouldn’t be completely gathered until spring. At that time
an interdisciplinary team of government experts will
evaluate the field reports and determine what the Windy
Peak area is “best suited for.”

The recommendation of this team will then be discussed at a
public meeting of local citizens (suppose anyone besides
the Thornfield Farm folks will turn up?), before the matter
passes back into the hands of BLM Eugene District Director
Joe Dose.

From everything John and Betsy have been able to learn,
Dose still has the final say. No one in Portland or
Washington, D.C. has even so much as implied that his
decision might be overriden. Which says a lot in itself.
Consider: here we have a government official who is
admittedly basing his decision on what is “convenient” for
logging companies—to the detriment of the residents
of Thornfield Farm (who Dose is charged by law to
protect)—yet his superiors are prepared to
rubber-stamp whatever he does.

John and Betsy needless to say aren’t optimistic.
“We don’t think that we can sit back now, put the future of
Windy Peak in the BLM’s hands, and relax. They haven’t given
us much cause to trust them. For one thing, they termed
this about-face a ‘victory’ for us. When we think of a
victory we think of two opposing factions in a battle. Thus
it seems to us that, no matter what all their soil
scientists and fish biologists say, if the roads are not
built the BLM will consider it a defeat.”

And we all know how our government feels about defeat.


Excerpted from the statement submitted to Joseph Dose on August 2, 1971

A STATEMENT OF THE IMPACT ON THE THORNFIELD
FARM
HUMAN ENVIRONMENT OF TWO BLM FOREST ACCESS ROADS
IF CONSTRUCTED AS PROPOSED

This statement provide detailed response to the National
Environmental Policy Act, Section 102 (C) regarding:

(i) THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THE PROPOSED ACTION

NOISE A diesel truck at 50 feet emits 68 to 99 decibels of
noise. The danger level to humans is placed at 80 decibels.
One may be temporarily deafened by short exposures to 100
to 125 decibels and exposure to anything over 80 decibels
of noise for extended periods of time may cause permanent
deafness.

FILTH As we travel our driveway now, we see very little
traces of man’s contamination of the land. There is no
litter along the roadside. The nearby trees are fresh and
green. This is in very sharp contrast to public road used
by logging companies. We find most objectionable beer cans
along the roadsides and boughs of trees so heavily laden
with dirt and dust that they droop toward the ground. We
also find objectionable the thought of having our garden,
which supplies most of our food, so contaminated.

DANGER With two very small children (22 months and 5
weeks), the danger of living in the midst of logging trucks
is very great. We fail to be pacified by the assurances of
the carefulness of logging company drivers—we see
much too much evidence to the contrary as we travel
Deadwood Creek Road.

There is also danger to livestock and pets. There is danger
to any of us walking or driving to our mailbox or barns.
These roads will provide a constant threat to our family’s
safety.

VIOLATION OF PRIVACY These roads would open our land to
hunters (with added danger to our children and livestock),
fishermen and sightseers, thereby totally destroying the
privacy we have now and value so highly.

DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS ON CHOSEN LIVELIHOOD Should our
seclusion be destroyed, the continuation of our organic
beef operation would be jeopardized, as would be the base
for David Morris’s artistic career. The difficulties of
raising uncontaminated beef would be compounded. The added
traffic could bring in pests and diseases which are not
present in our valleys now. The poisonous fumes from such
traffic would contaminate the meat and the excessive noise
would disturb growth patterns, thereby damaging the
well-being of our stock. The beauty, peace and serenity of
our farm which provides the perfect background for
free-lance art work and fine art expression would be
destroyed.

(ii)ANY ADVERSE ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS WHICH CANNOT BE
AVOIDED SHOULD THE PROPOSAL BE IMPLEMENTED.

Any location of the two proposed roads within our valleys
will have the same essential effect as the presently
proposed route locations. Whether the road up South Fork
Bear Creek goes above John and Betsy’s home or below the
barn does not change the insult it imposes upon our style
of life and set of values. The adverse effects described in
(i) above therefore are unavoidable if either route, or
variations on either of them still within our valleys, is
carried out.

(iii) ALTERNATIVES TO THE PROPOSED ACTION

AIR LOGGING At numerous meetings and correspondence with
State and District BLM officials it has been pointed out
that the South Fork Bear Creek road is necessary to service
about 360 acres of timber. We question the economic wisdom
of expending public monies for easement purchases and road
construction to such a limited acreage. We believe such
money would be better spent in developing air logging
technology to a point where such permanent “improvements”
over private lands will no longer be “necessary”. This
seems to be a positive alternative, a good investment in
the future of forest management and an idea which the
Department of Defense would receive in a cooperative spirit
considering the pressure they are under to provide civilian
jobs for returning servicemen trained in helicopter
operation under severe conditions.

EXPERIMENTAL USES Since the area at the head of the South
Fork Bear Creek road is of limited acreage, contained
within a district watershed and has not yet been encroached
upon by man beyond our farm boundaries (this is also true
of the Main Fork) we suggest other Federal, Regional, State
or local (such as the University of Oregon) agencies might
possibly find these conditions favorable for research,
control studies or experimental stations involving no need
for heavy equipment access but yielding significant
contribution to man’s attempts to understand his
environment.

WILD AREA. A third alternative would to declare this
watershed a wild area, a wilderness preserve to be added to
the much needed wild reserves across the country,
unmolested and free from the marks of man’s hands.

POSTPONEMENT OF TIMBER EXPLOITATION Finally, if no other
solution can be found, we suggest that at the very least
the 360 acres would be held in its present state until
technology in forest management has a chance to catch up
with the uphill logging problems in the upper reaches of
South Fork Bear Creek.

We state forthrightly that we do not recognize as
legitimate nor justified the BLM’s inconveniencing our
families’ lives, safety and future security so severely in
order to provide a transportation convenience for logging
companies and management crews who hold no personal
investment in maintaining or improving the quality of life
of the environment.

ABANDONMENT Because of the above, our first suggested
alternative is the obvious one because from our points of
view; abandon the idea of a through road system altogether,
relying instead entirely on the Greenleaf Creek Road for
access to the Windy Peak area.

BUCK CREEK ROAD Our second suggestion, if a through road
system is deemed “essential” is to use the already
established Duck Creek Road and extend it to tie into the
Greenleaf Creek Road.

ACCESS THROUGH KELLER PROPERTY The third suggestion, again
if through transportation is all-important, is to ascend to
the ridge from the northwest side across our neighbor, Dan
Keller’s land since he is interested in having a BLM road
across his property and we most definitely are not.

(iv) THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LOCAL SHORT-TERM USES OF
MAN’S ENVIRONMENT AND THE MAINTENANCE OF ENHANCEMENT OF
LONG-TERM PRODUCTIVITY

We wonder if perhaps America’s lumber needs and the export
of lumber in order to maintain economic balance in
international trade for, say, the next twenty years might
not be viewed as a short-term issue and the existence of
life on this planet as the vital issue in the “maintenance
of long-term productivity” and what the implications of
such a larger view are on our self-indulgent, high standard
of living in this country.

(v) ANY IRREVERSIBLE AND IRRETRIEVABLE COMMITMENTS OF
RESOURCES WHICH WOULD BE INVOLVED IN THE PROPOSED ACTION
SHOULD IT BE IMPLEMENTED

We have heard much about sustained yield and modern forest
management techniques, all presented to assure us that care
is being taken to make the most of available forest lands
through intensive management. What we are more concerned
about is the changing of wild country into one large tree
farm operation without careful consideration of what is
being done in the process. We are concerned about what
happens to the wildlife patterns and inter-relationship in
an area as large as yet undisturbed as the Windy Peak area;
about what are the effects of logging operations and road
construction on run-off, stream silting and aquatic life;
about what other kinds of uses of such wild lands as these
might be needed in ten or twenty or fifty years for which
we might better plan this year while it still exist; about
these kinds of things we are concerned and we see no one in
this Federal agency actively and aggressively sharing these
concerns.