The USDA Forest Service announced plans to cut trees in the Willamette National Forest along 404 miles of roads in the areas burned by the Holiday Farm, Beachie Creek, and Lionshead fires in 2020. The clearing of damaged trees at risk for falling across the roads is said to be the first step in reopening the huge areas primarily in the McKenzie and Santiam rivers canyons, so work can begin on “restoration and repair and [to] help the landscape recover,” said Dave Warnack, Willamette National Forest supervisor in a news release.
Environmental groups oppose the plan on the grounds that it will allow over-harvesting without an appropriate analysis and oversight. Earlier this year, a similar project in the Eugene area was halted by state order because of aggressive and unnecessary tree removal.
The current plan calls for removal of trees as far as 250 feet from the roadways. While agreeing with the concept of removing potential travel dangers and selling the timber to offset the cost of the operation, Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands, raised concerns.
“The problem is that they’ve authorized commercial logging extremely broadly across a huge area with limited oversight, including on a ton of roads that are rarely traveled,” said Cady. “They should focus on only the most traveled roads and then look carefully at whether the other roads even make sense. Instead, they’re rushing to get as many trees as possible in a way that could damage rivers, habitat and drinking water. And we’re talking about critical areas for the environment — the Opal Creek, Breitenbush and McKenzie rivers areas.”
Forest Service Spokesperson Tammy Robinson is confident that the program is sound and that it will prioritize removal of trees from major routes.
“If there are no danger trees along the road, it will not be treated,” she said in an email to The Register Guard. “Danger tree removal which is accomplished by timber sale will be monitored by our timber sale administrators. Our interdisciplinary team will also monitor project implementation as we proceed.”
Nick Smith, spokesperson for American Forest Resource Council which represents the timber industry, argues that the concerns of the environmental groups are exaggerated and counters: “We oppose efforts to scale back roadside removal, which directly threatens access to public lands for firefighting, recreation and forest management.”
Kevin Cameron, Marion County Commissioner, points out that the USDA Forest Service action to clear the trees is much awaited.“Specifically in the city of Detroit and other areas, there are many residents who have cleaned their property while their ‘neighbor,’ the Forest Service, hasn’t done a thing to this point. These areas should be top priority.”