October 11, 2001 11:00 pm
GOLD RUSH: The larches are turning color in the Blue Mountains. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).
GOLD RUSH: The larches are turning color in the Blue Mountains. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A light dusting of snow softened the sharp edges of burned trees as a community forest committee hiked into the forest.

The destination for the Community Forest Restoration Board was the 53 acres burned last month during the Boulevard Fire, which threatened the Beaver Creek Watershed. Retardant drops by air and a quick mobilization of fire crews kept the fire small.

Committee members climbed over branches and small logs that have been placed to cover a temporary trail dug from the permanent Boulevard Trail into the fire. Several types of native grass seed have been planted among the branches.

The committee heard about the Forest Service's dilemma of controlling catastrophic fire within the area that houses the Beaver Creek Reservoir, an alternative source of drinking water for La Grande. The standing dead trees, downed logs and heavy brush make good fuel to feed a fire.

Several years ago, the La Grande Ranger District presented a proposal to log and remove much of the debris and dead trees, but the plan, which required building a road into the old-growth forest, was halted by the Clinton Administrations roadless policy.

Ranger Kurt Wiedenmann said during the trip Thursday that the public for the most part supports the roadless policy.

The plan is not dead; its on the shelf, Wiedenmann told the committee as they stood in the chilly damp air in a safe area surrounded by burned trees.

Fire specialist Jay Rasmussen said that in the event of a fire, the safe area will provide firefighters a place to organize.

Local Forest Service people agree that future fires are almost a certainty within the watershed area. Small fires have burned in recent years, Rasmussen said, but they have always been spotted early and extinguished.

The problem, officials have said, is keeping the fires small, in a place that is loaded with dead material. A careless bow hunter is suspected to have caused the Boulevard Fire.

The watershed is located within the Starkey hunting unit, which has grown fourfold in popularity for bow hunters in recent years, said Jim Cadwell of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The cost of fighting the fire has been estimated at $1.7 million, which Forest Service officials said was comparable to the cost of a thinning program on 1,000 acres in the Baker Ranger District.

If nature were to have her way, a massive stand replacement fire would occur in the watershed area about once every 80 years. Tom Burry, a forester with the Forest Service, said that the last stand replacement fire probably took place about 150 years ago.

We are overdue for a fire, he said.


They shine through the drizzle, the pale green-yellow of their needles contrasting with the darker green of the conifers.

The larch trees are turning color in the forests throughout Union County. Some have turned to bright yellow, while others shine with an almost chartreuse


Interspersed along the rivers and streams are the reddish-pink shrubs, some aspens turning yellow, and a range of natures palette.

Its a good time to get out and drive through your forest, said Kurt Wiedenmann, La Grande District ranger.

Wiedenmann suggests driving the 51 road, but there are many other routes that will yield a feast for the eyes. To find a route that suits, visit the La Grande Ranger District office on Highway 30 just outside

La Grande.