The Lower Joseph Creek restoration project encompasses 90,000 acres, more than half forest and the remainder grass lands. Roughly 20,000 acres of timber are targeted for logging, thinning and prescribed burning to restore the forest’s health. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
Stakeholders get chance to see progress of Lower Joseph Creek restoration
Taking a discussion from the board room to the landscape is the only way to get proper perspective of a working forest, something the Wallowa-Whitman Collaborative put into practice Wednesday with a tour of Lower Joseph Creek in northern Wallowa-County.
Nearly five years ago, the Wallowa County Natural Resource Advisory Committee, a team composed of industry, agency and private interests, began developing a watershed assessment that would restore overstocked forests while making provisions for rangeland, fish and wildlife.
The area comprises more than 90,000 acres, a mix of forest and grassland with oversight from the U.S. Forest Service. The region is used recreationally by campers and hunters. The first stop on the tour was a meadow rife with wildflowers with a view of the Blue Mountains off in the distance.
Last year, the Wallowa-Whitman Collaborative adopted the Lower Joseph Creek Watershed assessment as a pilot project, putting the Forest Service’s accelerated pace and scale philosophy restoration to work. The Eastside Restoration Team started the environmental analysis work in September, and the plan is scheduled to have on-the-ground work begin in 2015.
Getting projects from the planning stage to implementation in a quicker fashion started on the Malheur National Forest, said John Laurence, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest supervisor. That process was extended to the Umatilla, Ochoco and Wallowa-Whitman to improve Eastern Oregon’s forest health. This summer, the team is working on a range of alternatives, Laurence said, and those options will soon go out for public comment.
“We are working to get the project going on a grand, ambitious timeline,” Laurence said. “There’s been a lot of work done by Wallowa County and the advisory
Ayn Shlisky said part of the accelerated focus is a regional emphasis to push forest restoration toward more resiliency. Fire suppression has altered the landscape and the plan calls for thinning, logging and using prescribed fire on almost half of the timbered land based on the forest’s highest needs.
The overall plan, Shlisky said, is to leave old-growth trees alone, while encouraging a multi-storied forest. A lot of the area has already been logged and existing roads will be used to remove harvested timber.
Nils Christoffersen, Wallowa Resources representative to the advisory committee, said promoting old-growth structure is consistent with the county’s watershed assessment.