John Larison grew up outside Philomath, Oregon – timber town USA, as he calls it. He went to school with children from several prominent logging families. His parents made films for National Geographic.
When they made a film about Alaska’s ancient forest – the Tongass – in the early 1990s, the spotted owl war was raging. “And we started getting death threats from our neighbors. That’s when my eyes were opened to how contentious everything was,” he said.
John is interested in balance. “Here we were, living in a wood house and using paper. And it wasn’t that I’ve ever been anti logging. It was more like, why do we need to be cutting like we’re cutting?” he said.
At that time, the early 1990s, the rotation for cutting timber was still 60 or 70 years. Now it’s 37.
Since then, he has only become more passionate about the issue, because he has seen some of the places he loves destroyed. “Every time I go to the river, I see a new big cut above a spawning tributary,” Larison said.
Just a few years ago – Larison thinks it was 2009 – a large timber corporation built a new road along the 2nd most important spawning tributary to his local river, the Siletz. Immediately there were landslides, similar to the ones seen in Pacific Rivers’ new film, Behind the Emerald Curtain. When the rains came, the river ran brown and fish suffocated. Few steelhead returned to spawn.
“It was one data point, but it seemed pretty obvious to us that that road and the landslides affected the success of the spawning that year. And you sort of magnify that on a bigger scale, look at all the private land owners on Oregon’s most important salmon streams, it’s no wonder that our fish are in such trouble,” he said.
John is a fishing guide turned novelist and professor. He’s also a father of three children. As a kid he assumed the 1990s were as bad as it was going to get. But now, they are worse.
Nevertheless, Larison is optimistic. “I feel like Oregon has more people now who value healthy wild places and sustainable harvest. We finally have momentum,” he said. “And having kids makes it easier to keep fighting for what’s right, because we’re fighting for the environment for our children, not just for us,” he said.
“This film is part of a bigger wave of momentum that is going to change things. I’m stoked for the future. I think it’s going to get bloody for a little while, but I think we’re gonna win,” he said.