HOOD RIVER — U.S. Rep. Greg Walden last week urged the Forest Service to make changes in its Blue Mountains Forest Plan revision – adding his voice to a chorus of critics.
Walden noted strong concerns he’d heard at town hall meetings in Eastern Oregon in August, including a session in Grant County.
In a letter to Regional Forester Jim Peña, Walden wrote that the federally managed forests not only are an economic factor for local communities, but a way of life.
“However, these forests are in poor condition and dire need of proper management that will restore forest health, reduce catastrophic wildfire, and sustain the economies in these rural communities,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems that this plan falls short of meeting these needs of the forest and the communities.”
The plan revision, unveiled last spring, has proven controversial, sparking criticism from industry, community, collaborative groups, and environmental activists – although for different reasons.
The Eastern Oregon Counties Association, including Grant County officials, voted in August to reject all the alternatives posed by the plan revision.
Walden noted that constituents and local elected officials feel the proposal fails to achieve the desired conditions for the forest and the communities.
He urged the agency to work with local communities to make changes to the plan, and invited the regional forester to Eastern Oregon to discuss the plan.
The public comment period for the proposed plan revision and draft environmental impact statement ended in mid-August.
At a Grant County Court meeting last week, citizens urged the county to take an active role in whatever happens next.
Grant County Public Forest Commission member Dave Traylor told the Court it must take “a leadership role” in the process.
Commissioner Boyd Britton said the Public Forest Commission might be the perfect choice to advocate for the county.
He said the county had been involved but not all of its suggestions were heeded. He said he wants the Forest Service to scrap the proposed revision, work off the existing 1990 forest plan with amendments, an d focus on planning for each forest – not the three combined.
Others voiced frustration with what they see as a history of mismanagement of the forest.
“It’s time to take back the management of the Malheur National Forest, the crown jewel of our county,” rancher Sharon Livingston told the Court.
In a recent visit with the East Oregonian editorial board, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Supervisor John Laurence said he doesn’t think the eventual plan will please everyone, but he’s optimistic there will be a solution “we can all live with.”
“We’ve been working with the counties for years on a daily basis,” he said. “I hope they continue to work with us. We’re perfectly willing to make new considerations.”
Lawrence told the editorial board the agency can adopt their six alternatives, craft new ones, and amend the plan over time.