A Northwest Filmmaker Is Standing Up to Oregon's Logging Industry

Peeling back the "emerald curtain"—strips of trees left around certain clearcuts—Shane Anderson wants to show Oregonians what's really going on in our forests.

By Emma Mannheimer November 24, 2015

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A still from the Behind the Emerald Curtain trailer. 

Growing up fishing in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Shane Anderson was shocked at the deteriorated state of those same rivers upon returning from an extended living stint in northern California. Anderson bought a camera and embarked on a quest for answers that led to his first film about the disappearance of wild steelhead called Wild Reverence. Now, the 37-year-old returns with a new film Behind the Emerald Curtain produced by Portland-based Pacific Rivers to educate Oregonians about the destructive practices of the timber industry and push for legislative action to reform Oregon’s logging laws before it is too late.

How did you first get involved with conservation efforts?
I got into fish conservation through fishing. I found out how poorly our salmon and steelhead populations are doing in the Northwest. I did a documentary on wild steelhead a couple of years ago and the filming really opened my eyes to the Oregon stuff. I became a board member of the Pacific Rivers council and started getting a lot more involved trying to really figure out what was happening to our salmon runs. Turns out, logging is one of the main limiting factors and what they are doing in Oregon is absolutely crazy. So, it was really the fish that introduced me to the ecosystem and scope of the forest, how everything works together.

What kind of changes were you first noticing?
A rapid decline over my whole lifetime. The whole genesis of my getting involved was returning to the Northwest after living in California for 15 years and realizing the fish runs were way worse than I had remembered as a kid. Naturally I wanted to find out why. 

Where did you begin with Behind the Emerald Curtain?
I started down in the Siletz River because I knew that was the worst place. I’d ride my mountain bike in past the closed gates and hide from the loggers. You don’t want to be caught with a camera up there.

Is it standard for a recreational fisherman to be involved in fish conservation?

The fish world is very divided. You’ve got people who are really interested in restoration and preserving the species. Then there is this whole other set who are in it strictly for harvest and personal reasons and could care less about what is happening to the habitat and the overarching picture of the whole Northwest ecosystem. 

Did you know where to start with your quest for the answer?
I really didn’t. I just kind of bought a camera and hit the road. Things just happened, doors opened. I met certain people who introduced me to other people and spent a lot of time with scientists reading scientific literature and digging deep into some of the issues we are facing in the Northwest. As far as resource extraction goes, things are usually pretty silent because it is so embedded into the culture here. The attitude is like, this is the way it’s supposed to be, this was how the land was developed and the towns built. Once you dig deeper the patterns emerging start to mimic all the natural resource extraction done be large corporations across the world. You start putting two and two together when all the local mills are closing and the log exports are going up.

All these towns that used to be dependent on timber are in complete financial ruin yet the industry is thriving and having record profits, cutting faster than they ever have. Oregon is really special to me because I used to go to the Oregon Coast a lot with my family as a kid. To see what the timber industry has done to that area in the past ten years, they’ve basically been on a cutting spree. I think it is part due to knowing that eventually the rules are going to change so it’s kind of cut as fast as you can mentality combined with a pretty big demand for international raw materials. 

How does the removal of trees directly affect the rivers?
All rivers and streams are made up of little rivers and streams, but in the logging world they are categorized as being fish-bearing or non-fish-bearing. Even though they are all equally important for providing clean water. In Oregon you can cut right through small non-fish-bearing bank streams which removes the possibility to filter out mud and provide shade. So now you look onto the landscape and where there used to be a beautiful waterfall is now in the middle of a clear-cut.

Why do you think Oregon logging laws are less environmentally aware than those in Washington and California?
The timber industry is a lot more powerful here; they have a lot more politicians that they pay off (chuckles). They are able to control the narrative a lot more in Oregon and one of the ways they do it is through the timber tax revenue. In Washington that revenue gets divided up and goes back into the schools and counties. In Oregon 28% of the timber tax revenue goes into this outfit called the Oregon Forest Resource Institute and they run TV ads, radio spots, billboards, and all kinds of propaganda telling everyone in Oregon that everything is okay and we have strong laws. 

What was the most shocking revelation you came across in the making of Behind the Emerald Curtain?
I found out that in addition to herbicides and pesticides they were applying rodenticides to some of the clear-cuts to kill the mountain beavers who were eating the tree saplings. This not only affects the drinking watersheds but the whole ecosystem. You kill a mountain beaver and then the hawk that usually eats the mountain beaver will suffer and so it goes down the food chain. 

Also the whole Rockaway Beach segment fascinates me. Here you have this whole community that gets notices from the city water district saying their water is unfit to drink yet they are paying $80 a month for water. You have a place like Portland that has pristine drinking water and then you go to some of these rural communities and they can’t even drink their water because of all the clear-cutting that muddies their watersheds.

Do you think people living in Portland will be able to see the affects of the logging industry in the near future? 
Oh, I think you can see it now. They are getting bolder with their cutting. I created the name for the film based off these little beauty strips or ‘emerald curtains’ that they have historically left along highways and byways to shield what is going on. Ironically they usually leave bigger buffers along roads than they do for the most important rivers and waterways. 

What do you see as the solution?
Well, short term is just to reform the Oregon Forest Practices Act and to at least meet the standard that Washington has for forests. I think the long-term solution is to keep small landowners in business. In the film I interview a private land-owning forester and he’s got a much more progressive way to look at harvesting timber and managing timberlands which doesn’t involve clear-cutting. If we are getting back to eating local, why can’t we get back to building local?

For more information about the film, visit pacificrivers.org.

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