The Forest Service is working on an environmental analysis that will provide timber harvest and firewood opportunities while improving forest health near Salt Creek Summit in Wallowa County. The decision is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2014. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
by KATY NESBITT / The Observer
As summer approaches, the U.S. Forest Service is ramping up for timber and range improvement projects in the Wallowa Mountains. The 36,000-acre Lower Joseph Creek Watershed Assessment, completed this winter by Wallowa County’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee, is set for a forestry survey this spring.
Nils Christoffersen said in a Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative meeting last week that a forestry analysis to evaluate 9,000 acres is scheduled for this spring. He said if funding is granted by mid-April as planned, foresters should be able to survey the stands beginning in May. The survey will take approximately a month to complete.
The natural resources committee is targeting acres in the northern part of the county for thinning, prescribed burning, rebuilding fences, and improving ponds and springs for livestock and wildlife.
In a natural resource committee meeting last week Christoffersen said, “Clearly the NRAC would like to see the largest extent of treatment possible within recommendations. Whatever challenges we can overcome up front will lessen the amount of time on the ground by the specialists.”
District Ranger Ken Gebhardt said the Forest Service is ready to focus on the timber stand data and agreed that work would help direct other surveys needed.
“It makes sense to get a few people on the ground this summer to help us determine stand condition,” said Gebhardt. “I want that ground to tell us what we need to do. We don’t want to survey 500 miles of streams if it’s not needed.”
The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative began meeting last June and adopted the Lower Joseph Creek assessment as a project area to help accelerate work by gathering input from a variety of the region’s stakeholders. Forest collaboratives are taking hold all over Oregon and are supported by both Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Pacific Northwest Region’s Forester Kent Connaughton.
In a March 13 letter to the governor, Connaughton said, “Improving the health and resilience of fire-prone forests and associated communities and economies in Oregon will require a departure from ‘business as usual’ given the scope of effort needed, available federal funding and market conditions for forest products. Community-based collaborative groups have built a common ground for moving forward at a landscape level.”
Wallowa County has practiced community-based collaboration since the late 1990s with industry, agencies and environmental organizations working together to address natural resource needs on public and private land. Lower Joseph Creek is the second assessment completed by the county, following the Upper Joseph Creek assessment, to help the Forest Service identify on-the-ground needs and provide some of the scientific data collection and analysis.
Gebhardt said, “The success of Upper Joseph Creek is the projects we’ve done. They are a direct result of a larger collaborative process and that spurred multiple NEPA (environmental analysis) opportunities, some of which we are still implementing.”
These include commercial thinning and prescribed fire, creating both summer and winter work for local contractors.
“The projects from Upper Joseph Creek continue to have impact with active work on the ground,” said Gebhardt.
While Lower Joseph Creek’s environmental analysis work and the practicality of getting it done, including funding, is the focus of not only the county, the district and the forest-wide collaborative, the Forest Service is working on several other areas to restore the ecosystem and provide jobs.
The Muddy Sled decision was signed in 2012, and Gebhardt said a contract to thin 882 acres was sold to a local contractor. The work is being done near the Sled Springs administrative site, which houses firefighters in the summer months and is considered historic. Protection of Sled Springs was included in the decision to remove trees around the perimeter to protect it from wildfire.
The Puderbaugh project covers a corridor of the Upper Imnaha River and the ridgetops above. Kevin Keown, acting ranger for the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon districts, said it covers roughly 1,400 acres and will produce 3 million to 5 million board feet of timber.
“It is dependent on which alternative is chosen,” said Keown.
Offering firewood for the local communities will be included as well, he said.
In addition, 13,000 to 15,000 acres are targeted for prescribed burning to maintain what he called “late and old structure” timber stands and promote ponderosa pine and western larch. The plan calls for thinning around campgrounds and continuing efforts to trap mountain pine beetle that put large ponderosas along the Imnaha River at risk.
Keown said the district has a goal of a signed decision on Puderbaugh by early to mid-summer.
Cold Canal can be easily seen by anyone who recreates around Salt Creek Summit at the top of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road. In 1989, the Canal Fire burned nearly 25,000 acres. Since then, lodgepole pine have grown into what was once a predominantly Douglas fir and western larch forest.
This area is of particular fuels reduction interest because it borders private land, said Gebhardt. He said he sees ample timber harvest and firewood collection opportunities and expects a decision by spring 2014.
John Laurence, the newly appointed supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman, said he, too, sees a need to accelerate treating the forest.
“We’ve got a lot of forest land out there that isn’t resilient anymore. The mission of the Forest Service is providing a supply of timber, water and recreation. The way I think about it is what Gifford Pinchot said we need to do, ‘The greatest good for the greatest number for the long haul.’”