Craig Trulock is the new forest supervisor for the Malheur National Forest. Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa announced Trulock’s selection had been effective since June 23.
Trulock, who last served as deputy forest supervisor on the Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest for five years, became the acting forest supervisor at the Malheur National Forest in November 2018.
Steve Beverlin, the former forest supervisor on the Malheur National Forest, accepted the position of director of natural resources for the Intermountain Region in Ogden, Utah, in December 2018.
“Being a good neighbor and improving forest conditions are top priorities for the Malheur National Forest and the entire USDA Forest Service,” Casamassa said in a press release. “Craig’s commitment to these priorities will help strengthen and advance the work occurring on the Malheur National Forest and the many benefits this work provides to the public and communities we serve.”
While he hasn’t been at the job long enough to have developed resource goals, Trulock told the Eagle in an interview, his personal goals reflect closer relations with local communities.
“My goals are really to make sure that we’re transparent, we’re communicating well and we’re relevant to our local communities,” he said.
It’s easy for administrators of a national forest to not pay close enough attention to local communities, Trulock said. Administrators receive so much direction, policy and regulations that incorporating local interests becomes difficult, he said.
Trulock has been with the Forest Service for more than 28 years. His early career included positions in silviculture, timber and planning in Idaho, Montana and Alaska. He has extensive fire experience and has served as an advanced agency administrator, where he was the responsible official for all personnel involved on a wildland fire.
Trulock served as the Pinedale district ranger on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming beginning in 2002. He was the Lochsa-Powell district ranger on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho from 2007-2014.
While in Alaska, Trulock also served as a planning staff officer, a National Environmental Protection Act coordinator and a forester/silviculturist. The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest increased its timber target by 50% with extensive use of stewardship contracts.
In southwest Oregon, Trulock prioritized strengthening the collaborative partnership between the forest, community leaders, partners and stakeholders.
After 15 years of work and 120 public meetings, the revised Malheur National Forest Plan was withdrawn in March. Casamassa has said he will not make a decision on a path forward for the revision process until this fall, Trulock said.
Casamassa wants Forest Service personnel to use the time talking to stakeholders who helped develop the revised plan and objectors to develop a consensus on how to move forward, Trulock said.
Casamassa is also considering options such as changing from the 1982 planning rules to more streamlined 2012 rules for the revision, Trulock said. The definitions and data standards are different, with the 1982 rules being too “data heavy.”
One explanation for what went wrong with the Forest Plan Revision was that planners met with special interest groups one at a time and then made changes, Trulock said. When the draft plan was put together with all the changes, many interest groups were not happy with the changes.
It would have been better for all these groups to work together to incorporate all the proposed changes, he said. The Forest Service also needed to “tell the story” about how the plan changed so the public could track all the changes.
Trulock said he spoke with all three members of the Grant County Court about the recent Blue Ridge Fire southwest of John Day. While the fire was lightning-caused, still weather allowed the Forest Service to expand the burn area to 667 acres in order to reduce wildfire fuels.
The Blue Ridge Fire provided a good test for the new leadership at the Malheur National Forest. Trulock is the new forest supervisor, Lisa Cook is the new deputy supervisor, Robert Foxworth is the new Blue Mountain district ranger and Josh Giles is the new Emigrant district ranger.
While they all have wildfire experience, they hadn’t worked together as a group, Trulock said. Establishing lines of communication with each other and with the county court and the sheriff’s office ahead of time is better than waiting until the fire is coming over the hill, he said.
Trulock noted that Forest Service employees helped county crews deal with this year’s spring flood. Some of the employees have 30 years experience here and came back with “high praise” for the county’s organization.
Trulock noted that he’s not an attorney and didn’t know all the legal nuances of “coordination” in natural resource planning, but that the Forest Service supports engaging on projects such as the Bark Project in the Murderers Creek area and the Austin Project east of Prairie City where they have shared priorities around strengthening local economies, reducing wildfire risk, ensuring access and supporting healthier watersheds.
“We’re committed to working with the counties as early as possible, preferably before we even do our public scoping,” he said. Creating a Grant County Natural Resource Committee would be “a bump in their capacity to participate in these planning efforts,” he said.
Forest Service planners would welcome committee members to early planning meetings, when brainstorming was taking place before a single polygon had been placed on a GIS map, Trulock said.
That kind of participation would help shape how a project might move forward, the issues to consider and the alternatives to compare during the NEPA analysis. Forest Service guidance calls for a reasonable range of alternatives, he said.
Pointing to a binder on a shelf in his office containing a Harney County comprehensive plan, Trulock explained that county management plans inform the Forest Service “here are our values, here are the things we’re looking for on the landscape.”
Trulock said it would be “fantastic” if Grant County would craft an alternative for the Austin Project. Fuel reduction is the driver for the project, but road closures will be considered to provide elk security in order to get elk to move from private land to forest land. He said he would love to see more alternatives during analysis.
Grazing regulations on the north side of the Malheur National Forest are heavily influenced by fish habitat concerns, Trulock said. Portions of the forest are governed by a federal biological opinion that makes grazing regulations seem overly complicated.
“When I got here, I felt like we as a forest were not speaking with one voice regarding range management,” he said.
The position of range program manager had been vacant for a year but is now filled. Trulock felt insufficient transparency and “multiple conversations” affected Forest Service communication with grazing allotment holders.
The ultimate goal for federal agencies is to get endangered fish delisted, he said, and anything the Forest Service can do to attain that goal will reduce the complexity of managing public lands, he said.
Trulock cited recent training Forest Service personnel and local ranchers underwent to understand monitoring protocols. Many national forests have gone to cooperative permittee monitoring programs, he said. The data is needed to defend forest policies, he said.
The Forest Service wants to work with allotment holders as partners and to help them be successful, Trulock said. Ranching is also a traditional and cultural practice that should be allowed to continue.
“By and large, we as a forest are in an upward trend in our grazing and our rangeland health,” he said.
Critics of the 21-inch regulation limiting the harvest of large trees say revenue from the sale of merchantable timber could help pay for stewardship projects that improve forest health.
Trulock said large trees are being harvested in current projects, including dead or dying trees impacted by western pine beetle outbreaks, but a lengthy Forest Plan amendment process was needed. In those cases, large trees were harvested for landscape restoration purposes, such as fuel reduction or aspen restoration, but revenue from the timber sale also helped the forest.
“Every time we can ratchet up the economics that way, we get more acres treated of that non-commercial component, that understory of small trees that we’re trying to get off the landscape from a fuels standpoint, so making the economics better means we get more done out there,” he said.
About three more years remain for Iron Triangle’s 10-year stewardship contract. Trulock said the Forest Service is generally happy with the results and will want another stewardship contract. Improvements in the language need to be made based on what’s been learned, and the contract needs to be put out to public bid, he said.
With 9,600 miles of roads on the Malheur National Forest, a proposed Travel Management Plan became a major issue during the Forest Plan Revision, Trulock said. Some people believed land-use designations, standards and guidelines in the Forest Plan Revision were acting as de facto travel management planning, he said.
Casamassa has posed the question of whether the Travel Management Plan should be completed before the Forest Plan Revision, Trulock said. Under a travel plan, any road that is not designated open is by default closed.
“We’re one of only a couple forests that have not done travel management yet,” he said.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently told state Sen. Cliff Bentz the Forest Service hasn’t yet had time to consider a petition by the Eastern Oregon Counties Association to exempt the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman national forests from the travel management rule, but the petition was still in review.
In some cases, the Forest Service can’t just let roads “grow closed,” Trulock said, especially in steep country where a plugged culvert could blow out, damaging another road lower down or impacting a nearby stream with sediment. On the other hand, road maintenance is expensive.
Trulock hoped some kind of middle ground could be found between closing roads with berms or installing gates that could be opened during emergencies.
“If people would stop pulling out gates or damaging gates, then the road would be available for fire suppression, search and rescue, administrative use or permittees,” he said.