Winds of Fear

Who is responsible when a neighbor’s clearcut threatens your home and property?

By Jim Evangelista

We’re waiting for the winds.

When 54 acres of deeply wooded forest beside our homes off Lorane Highway were suddenly clearcut, our neighborhood feared the winds that would certainly come with the spring. 

We never feared the wind before, or the dense habitat of so many nesting, burrowing, crawling, climbing, slithering, darting, lumbering, prowling, blooming, soaring, galloping, vining, teeming residents of this adjoining woodland who are there no more. 

Of course, the owner of this property has the legal right to do what she wants with her property. She owns it and does not have to answer to anyone about her choice to harvest her timber to sell at the going market price. 

Not all laws may be ethical, and not all that is ethical may be part of the law.

We only asked her to consider our concerns over how the winds would come, threatening our homes if there was no buffer of trees left standing. We only asked to hear out our concerns. 

The laws written by timber companies didn’t force her to discuss her plans to clearcut her property with her neighbors. She wasn’t required to mitigate the impacts of the wind and leave a buffer of safety to keep previously protected trees still standing. No one could make her care that trees on her neighbor’s properties would be exposed to winds and the effects of drought and global warming and the increased stress that would expose these trees to invasive species causing them to have root failure and fall. 

Winds are an “act of God,” after all, but that wasn’t any of her concern. The trees were hers and she could cut them down if, how and when she wanted and nothing, by God, would change her mind.

So, my wife and I lay awake in our bed all night, waiting for the winds to come.

It was early March when 65 mph wind gusts ripped through the valley from the northwest, taking down countless previously protected 100-foot tall firs on both sides of the property line. Winds came ripping through, uprooting thickly trunked trees with root balls 15 feet across. Trees came crashing down onto fences and pastures and lawns and trails and driveways and gardens and sheds, narrowly missing the homes of her neighbors, thank God, the homes and properties of neighbors whom she wasn’t required by Oregon laws to be responsible to consider when she took down her trees. 

For most of us neighbors, the clean up continues, and so does our fear for what happens when the winds come again.

And so when we woke on a recent Sunday morning to warnings of high winds forecast to blow throughout the Willamette Valley, we re-lived that night all over again. We spent the day worrying about which trees might fall when the winds came that night, this time from the south/southwest. Looking up at the 40 or more 100-foot trees still standing 50 feet from our home, we wondered which one or three might come down on us when the winds would come, and what could we do to stop it? 

We had already been told by one local tree service that we were looking at many tens of thousands of dollars that we don’t have to remove our trees that we don’t want to take down, but now they are exposed to the winds we could not stop from coming. 

So, we parked our cars down the driveway pointed away from our home so we could drive away fast if we needed to. We positioned flashlights and got food ready for our dogs and took pictures of our home and its contents, just in case, and we held each other, awake and afraid in our bed all night, praying that angels would protect us and our trees. 

And the winds did come, with the rain, whipping the trees around until morning. 

Gratefully, there was no damage that night, and we were able to leave home safely the next morning. But the trees remain and the winds will return and our fears are real for what happens next time the winds come. 

How can we protect our home with money we don’t have from trees that we love but now threaten our safety because they aren’t protected from winds that will come because trees were cut down by a neighbor who couldn’t be made to care and wouldn’t hear our concerns ?

And we’re waiting for the winds to come, again.

Jim Evangelista lives with his wife in a small neighborhood on five acres just south of the Spencer Creek Grange.