Oregon Logging Conference
Biography on
Mike McMurray

featured in the Oregon Logging Conference Program in 1995

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Mike McMurray-- Forest / Eco-system -Wildlife Photographer


Imagine the scene; a winter wonderland. It is here that the subject is chosen after countless hours of looking at a variety of winter scenes--glistening white a managed second- growth, Ponderosa pine among the frost and snow-covered grass. The image is composed, the focus and lighting are checked and rechecked as an itinerant cloud hides the sun... and the shutter clicks. The subject is checked again for any missing or extraneous element that might detract from the scene or draw the attention away from the central theme, the message if you will, of this powerful and significant image. And then off to the next shot.

Mike McMurray's training as a commercial advertising photographer comes into view in almost every image he photographs. "How can I best illustrate this message? How can I simplify the scene so that the viewer can best understand what is going on in this photograph? Is there a better angle? Is the lighting correct? Would there be a better time of day or season of the year? What would help enhance this scene and give it better understanding, naturally?" All of these things and many more help compose each image McMurray photographs. "I can't begin to tell you how many different times I have gone to hundreds of different forest locations to photograph a particular scene, only to be disappointed because the lighting was wrong, or it was sunny, or it was cloudy, or the understory foliage was wrong. Without even getting a camera out, I merely get back in my truck and drive to another spot that I have logged in a journal that is close by, that might be better in this light or with today's climate conditions."

Much more than a snapshot 'shooter', photographer Mike McMurray has been a commercial/advertising and wildlife/nature photographer for more than (45 years now), taking photos of the grandness and simple beauty of nature. But more than for aesthetic purposes these photos go into the making of a calendar, slide presentations as well as industry magazines, that tell a story of wise-use management of our renewable resource--- trees.

McMurray is a native Northwesterner, born and raised in Portland, Oregon he acquired a revered regard for our natural surroundings while growing up on outings with his parents, hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking, skiing and animal watching. "It seems that almost every weekend we were out in the woods doing something. As an Eagle scout or with my family, the forest was where we always recreatted, and I still do with my wife and children."

After graduating from Franklin High School in Portland, McMurray attended Oregon State University, earning his Bachelor of Science degree and post graduate studies in Applied Physical Education (Exercise Physiology). After college Mike worked several years with the Y.M.C.A. and eventually moved into his fathers foundry business. After a couple of years he went to work on loan with another foundry as a technical sales representative working with the mining industry in Salt Lake City. A couple of years later he purchased one of his fathers businesses in Portland and managed that for a couple - three years before selling it and starting Mountain Mac Photography. "I had become very interested in photography as a hobby 30 years ago, and made the decision to pursue it as a full time occupation."

After a year or so he and his family decided to move to Bend, Oregon to open a commercial studio, where Mike could offer photography/advertising and video production that Mike had been studying at Portland State and Portland Community College ever since graduating from Oregon State in 1973. From this beginning Mountain Mac Photography has grown to M.E.I. Communications which now offers photography, video production, print production and web design to corporate and commercial accounts all over North America.

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Internationally respected photographer, McMurray is probably best known for a calendar which he produces each year on America's Forests -or Western Forests - Managed Forests • Sustainable Eco-Systems. "The idea behind the calendar--- was to tell the truth about issues of forest management," McMurray said, "why foresters do what they do, and what are the benefits to the forest as a result." It was also a way to address issues like the Spotted owl, marbled murrelet, water issues, the salmon, etc., and attempt to show the truth via real 'science' instead of emotionalized agendas, and environmental hype.

This personal quest for the truth behind some of these issues began more than thirteen years ago for McMurray. Before this time McMurray would have termed himself an environmentalist. Receiving literature and magazines from major environmentalist groups over the years and responding with yearly minimal donations to 'save this or save that, remember "save the whales"? "Well I suppose I wasn't much different than most middle class America in my beliefs, after all they had been developed carefully over the last 40 years by our environmental vanquards over corporate greed and degradation; the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy and oh, don't forget our most humble and noble.... Audobon Society. We'll like most, I had grown up believing much of what they preached, but somehow some of the literature that I was receiving from them and others, like the Oregon Natural Resource Council wasn't making sense. After spending a lifetime outdoors I knew that some of what I was hearing particularly about old-growth was not quite right. But I didn't know who or what to believe. So I decided to play 'investigative reporter/photographer'. Actually I was quite amazed at how much information was available from research and scientific facts, figures, etc., with only a few phone calls, let alone libraries, and websites, but interestingly, none of this, was what I was reading in the newspapers or seeing on the six o'clock news or the Discovery channel. All they were telling me was what the environmental groups were telling them and what I was reading in the Sierra Club and other enviro literature. One particular piece I recall showed a map of the entire United States all in green, prior to 1492 representing the whole country covered in old-growth and than as white man progressed across the county, the subsequent removal of all forest land. Until now there is scarcely 5% of the old-growth left and it's all up for sale to the highest bidder, supposedly.

"Well to be honest I didn't know how much there was, however I also remembered my high school history and geography. Hadn't these people ever heard of forest fires or the great plains or the huge southwestern deserts? They were there long before white man and certainly were not covered in Old-growth forests.

"So I began questioning the information we all get in the mail and via the media. This led me to investigate just how much old-growth there really was in Oregon in our 13 National Forests. Much to my surprise, the individual National forests didn't know either... within their own forests. A few foresters had some idea where some might be but there was no inventory. So I began going to organizations like the Northwest Forestry Association, Evergreen Foundation and many, many others including professors at Oregon State, University of Washington, Humboldt State and others who had made a life of studying foresty and related sciences. What I found was a wealth of information, far more factual, accurate and scientifically based than any of the major environmental organizations offered (for good reason). Yes, I even checked these items with them. The only thing that I did get from the enviros was the almost memorized rhetoric, over and over dispelling facts and science as so much political hogwash only designed to cloud the issues."

What McMurray learned was that not only is there a substantial amount of old-growth, but millions of acres of old-growth are already preserved or at least set aside from production in our National and State parks and Wilderness lands. And in the National forestlands of the Pacific Northwest, the greatest majority of land over 80% of 23 million acres of forest land is hands off to timber harvesting. And is no longer really being considered for multiple-use as it was intended when it was established. But rather is set-aside as some form of preserve or for recreational activities and the real multiple-use designation of our forest has been slowly, insidiously eroded without the benefit of law, but through environmental special interests. Which has been dwindled down even further by HCP's for owls, salmon and a host of other species to less than 4%, of manageble National forestland.

"Not only did the wood products industry, willingly supply all of the information they had, but I found them very willing to spend time to help educate me and anyone else who wished to find out more. As a matter of fact I have learned more 'true science' from knowledgeable professionals in the last few years 'free' than I did in five years of college, which I paid dearly for."

McMurray tells the story of photographing forests in Arcata, California and being asked if he would like to photograph Spotted owls, (prior to their being listed as an endangered species). "The forest land I was in was all second growth redwood, not an old-growth tree for miles. Yet here was the owl, by the hundreds, many close to clear cuts. I was told by the foresters I was with, that would make sense, since a reliable food source of wood rats could always be found in the new re-generated forests which emerge after a clear cut. Since that time I have photographed over 226 nesting pairs of Spotted owls, throughout the Northwest, interestingly, all in second or third growth managed forests. I have finally photographed one pair in old-growth. (not that there is a shortage of Old-growth- but a shortage of people looking for them in second growth. Perhaps Jack Ward Thomas was looking for them in the wrong place. Instead of conferring with the study of 'crows' in England, he should have checked with the PhD researchers who were studying the owls in managed forests."

This got McMurray again wondering about the rhetoric of groups such as the Sierra Club, ONRC and the Audobon Society that the owl is an indicator species and is declining due to the 'reduction' of old growth forest stands. If this is so, McMurray thought why am I taking photos of all these owls in second growth? (In many cases the owls were in easy access to old-growth stands but seemed to prefer the 50-80 year old second growth stands to nest and hunt in.)

As a result of these two issues in which McMurray was finding the 'facts' were quite different from the 'created' public sentiment, he began investigating other issues surrounding land use and forest issues, the water issues, the salmon, etc.. He has become horrified to learn of the outbreak of "land grabs" of private land by public agencies and officials that now see their role as a 'save the environment at all costs' hysteria spurred on by environmentalists hungry for power and eager to exercise their newly found friends in circuit and district courts and the then new Clinton administration.

"The lack of timber sales on public forests is causing very real human and community wide catastrophes of epic proportions. Unfortunately those that live in the larger cities and metropolitans aren't feeling the crunch yet, so they don't perceive a problem." This is not to say that the Forest Service or BLM are doing a bad job necessarily, says McMurray, but rather it is becoming almost impossible for them to manage forest lands due to both internal and external 'green' objectives and conflicts. "Even before a timber sale is made public, it must pass a gamut of analysis by, biologists, botanists, fisheries, hydrologists, archeologists, foresters, recreationists, etc., -- a minimum of three years-- any of which could block a sale (many based on philosophies from the 'green movement') And then if it does make it to the auction, it's then open to public scrutiny and 'appeals'. Virtually every timber sale has been appealed by some environmental group over the last several years. Many times the same rhetoric is used as a catch all just to halt timber sales, with no specific basis or real 'truth'. However, the appeals do halt a sale and require another set of expensive processes to commence before a sale can go forward. And if the appeal doesn't work, well there's always a lawsuit. Which invariably will halt a sale. The Forest Service just doesn't have the money to fight sales in court. And the enviros know it."

"The idea has been to starve the wood products industry out. To block their supply even in fire damaged salvage sales or high-wind blown-downs. And if that doesn't work then they'll find or 'invent' an endangered species. This will effect not only public lands but private lands as well."

According to McMurray, since 1991 approximately 300 wood products companies and suppliers have gone out of business in the Pacific Northwest and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. A primary cause of which has been the loss of a timber supply. Something that was guaranteed by our government when they encouraged us to establish communities and invest money in businesses in our public forested areas to assure the country of a supply of finished wood products, just a few decades ago.

To combat this, we need to inform people of the truth and that is just what McMurray is trying to do with his calendar; America's Forests-or Western Forests - Managed Forests • Sustainable Eco-Systems. "In and of itself, a calendar isn't going to convince anybody, but maybe it will make someone begin to question the media and the preservationists, and it supports the same information that many groups and responsible associations and wood products companies have been saying for quite some time now."

Photos are taken throughout the West for the Western calendar: Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Arizona and Idaho. America's calendar covers all of America's forestland focusing on comparrisons of well managed, private and state lands to those un-managed lands in need of attention usually found on National forestlands. Along with each picture is a description of the scene and also interesting facts on forest management, eco-systems or pertinent issues. Looking at November 1994 tells us that 1/3 of the nation is covered by forests 725 million acres and of that, 1/3 or 245 million acres is already set-aside for preserves where no commercial harvesting can occur. In March 1994 we see that Marbled Murrelet like the spotted owl was listed as a threatened species, yet there are over 12,000 of them in Washington, Oregon and California and over 300,000 in British Columbia and Alaska, yet enviros have sued to block important timber sales involving large chucks of land and tieing up millions and millions of board feet of timber, claiming it's important for their habitat. None of which has been scientifically proven or established. In fact recent evidence shows the murrelets are probably more tied to fluctuating food supplies in the ocean than to any particular nesting conditions.

McMurray says that accuracy is important that's why he enlists the help of the American Forest Resource Council, The Evergreen Foundation, California Forestry Association, NE Forest Foundation ,Oregon Dept. of Forestry, Black Hills Forest Resources, as well as wood products company professionals and numerous professors and Ph.D.'s to help keep the information factual and scientifically based. In developing the calendar McMurray travels between 20,000 and 40,000 miles of forests each year - taking over 4,000 photos, just for consideration by a committee for use in the calendar. Produced for 22 years now, McMurray is hard at work on next years calendars.

McMurray said that he really got educated at the Timber Summit in 1994 in Portland. "I always knew that the enviros were masters of media control, however I wasn't quite aware at how completely they controlled it until the summit. The Timber Summit was basically about a timber supply crisis, and releasing timber to be sold to a "starving" wood products industry in the northwest and short stepping or curtailing the 'appeal' process. Yes there was some discussion about old-growth issues, however that was a mute and irrelevant issue to the wood products contingency. However, via the media, the public opinion about the summit was, that it was to save the 'Old-growth' from the ax. And the Hollywood entertainers and other media hounds came out in force to save our last remaining ancient forests. That wasn't 2% of the issue, however again, a public relations bonanza for the environmentalist groups, and about a million miles away from the truth. (As usual).

Managing our forests.... provides for it all," McMurray says in the introduction to his 1993 calendar. "It allows for old-growth, for wildlife, for wood products, healthy forests and for jobs. Let's keep responsibility in our forests and manage for the greatest good for the greatest number of benefits."

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