When it came to timber and vegetation, objections to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan raised at the Nov. 27 meeting at the Grant County Fairgrounds were technical and detailed, but the objectors appeared well informed and clear about their disagreements.
Allen Rowley, from the Forest Service office in Washington, D.C., served as the reviewing officer for the meeting, and Earl Stewart, from the Tongass National Forest, facilitated the meeting.
Based on what he had read, Rowley noted that many comments were for or against increasing the allowable sale quantity for commercial timber harvesting or choosing more aggressive forest management over an ecological approach. This meeting offered objectors an opportunity to speak in person to explain their case, he said.
Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens noted that timber harvest numbers had increased very little from the 2014 draft forest plan, which the county opposed, to the 2018 revised plan. More timber management was needed to help prevent wildfires, he said.
Regional Forester Jim Peña had described 60 percent of the Malheur National Forest as being in fire condition, Owens said, but that situation will not improve at the rate of forest management called for in the forest plan.
Owens wanted accelerated forest management without additional National Environmental Policy Act review, adding if timber managers didn’t do it, nature would. He also wanted the rule limiting the harvest of trees measuring 21 inches at breast height replaced by common sense.
Timber harvesting is the economic engine that enables other multiple uses, said Rex Storm, representing Associated Oregon Loggers. The myriad requirements in the forest plan prevent forest managers from achieving the goals stated in the plan, he said.
Mark Webb, the executive director of Blue Mountains Forest Partners, noted that forest plan requirements limited the types of vegetation treatments allowed. The result was some areas were treated and some were not.
The focus on achieving desirable conditions will be the downfall of the forest plan, said King Williams, representing Iron Triangle Logging. Too much emphasis was on ecosystem management instead of socioeconomic benefits, he said.
In order to address forest conditions, the Forest Service needs to treat 3.5 percent of the Malheur National Forest annually, Williams said. But not enough suitable land for forest projects was being made available, he said.
Susan Doverspike, a rancher from Burns, described how the conditions of one grazing allotment dramatically improved following a thinning project, including more streamflow from a spring that had dried up.
Blowdown at an allotment that had not been treated was so thick horses and cattle couldn’t get through, Doverspike said. Her crews used chainsaws to clear a path linking one pasture to another. She noted it was not a question of if a wildfire would occur there but when.
Cici Brooks, a rancher from Fox, described a forest project near her grazing allotment that went through a NEPA process long ago with no follow-up work. She also described a thinning project where the slash was never burned and the logs left on the ground prevented horse travel.
The spread of lodgepole pine impacts grass for cattle grazing, horse travel and elk habitat, said Alec Oliver, representing Grant County Stockgrowers Association. He described the management differences between private and public land, and he recommended the Forest Service mimic private practices.
The Forest Service needs to be more proactive about preventing wildfire, Jim Sproul said. Citing the destruction of Paradise, California, by the recent Camp Fire, Sproul noted the only thing that saved Canyon City from the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex fire was a change in wind direction.