The promise in the purchase of Zena Forest


Originally published in the Collegian on November 5, 2008

I won’t disguise my bias toward scientific research; I believe that if a project discovers anything about the world, it is worth funding. Of course, in the real world funding is limited and its holders must prioritize. This is why I applaud the university’s administration, especially Dr. Bowersox and President Pelton, for their work on Willamette’s purchase of Zena Forest. It is one of the greatest opportunities in Willamette’s history to foster work not only between departments, but also between the College of Liberal Arts, the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, the College of Law, and the School of Education. And, almost as important, it represents the obvious culmination of Willamette’s relationship with Oregon’s forests.

I did a quick poll of my friends who haven’t been involved in sustainability on campus to find out what they thought about our acquisition of a whopping 305 acres. The almost universal response was “cool, but why spend that much money to benefit one department?” and I imagine that many of you reading this are asking the same question. To answer it, I turn to the goal of a liberal arts college: integration of art, science, and philosophy.

In a world where specialization is omnipresent, there is often little conversation between biologists and lawyers, environmentalists and economic theorists, or geologists and novelists. This is a loss for both the specialists and society as a whole, as tunnel vision sets in and each person forgets the impacts of their work on others’ fields of study. Willamette has done an excellent job of countering this by requiring both science and art credits to graduate, but that is not enough. Mere exposure to multiple disciplines is not enough to make one a rounded student, any more than taking Spanish classes qualifies one as an expert on Hispanic culture. It is the collaboration with students and faculty of other subjects that rounds out education and life.

And therein lies Zena’s promise. In addition to the obvious projects on habitat restoration, the small mill run by Sarah Deumling and her son offer the chance for business and economics students to explore the theory and practicality of running a profitable, eco-friendly business. The oak savannah, one of Oregon’s rarest habitats, offers Walden-like opportunities to writers and endless landscapes for artists that do not share our Arts editor’s aversion to en plein air painting. And, of course, Zena Forest’s beauty and proximity offer Willamette’s future teachers the opportunity to teach young students ecology and grow a new generation of environmentalists.

I will not lie, however, by saying that our purchase of Zena Forest does not center on forest restoration. But that is as it should be. One fact that few students today seem to know is that Willamette was built using money donated by loggers: Hallie Ford and her husband started Roseburg Lumber Company in the 1930s, and donated millions of dollars to Willamette. The Collins family (no relation), after whom the science building, the law building, Goudy commons, and a substantial scholarship are named, similarly made their fortune in lumber. Willamette owes its existence to Oregon’s forests, and now they are in trouble. Decades of poor management by timber companies and the state, local, and federal governments have left forests across the state vulnerable to disease, overcrowding, and fire. The only thing that can save them for future generations is protection informed by knowledge of natural forest ecology. This is what Willamette has, through the purchase of Zena Forest, to offer Oregon.

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