March 12, 2002 11:00 pm

Oregons congressional delegation should strive to restore the $1.1 million in federal funds proposed to be cut next year from the Starkey Experimental Forest southwest of La Grande. The budget reduction would result in the closure of a unique and significant outdoor research facility.

The $1.1 million represents only a small portion of the $36 million that is being proposed by the Bush administration to be cut from Forest Service research and development projects across the nation. Given the significance of some of the research that has been conducted at Starkey over the past decade and some of the studies that are in their infancy, the Forest Service and Bush administration should look elsewhere to make cuts.

The Starkey Experimental Forest includes a 25,000-acre section that was enclosed by a fence in 1989 to allow controlled studies involving forest practices and wildlife. The enclosure allowed biologists to research the impact that roads and logging had on deer and elk. Other research demonstrated that older, branched bull elk produce stronger, healthier calves. Much of the research has been completed and results have been published.

other studies are under way or about to begin, including one this spring that would measure the impacts of ATVs, mountain bikes, hiking and horseback riding on deer and elk. The study could bring some scientific findings to a highly controversial subject. Another research project planned this year would look at the long-range effects of wildlife and livestock grazing on forest and range vegetation, another key concern.

It would not be right to start these research projects, only to have them come to a halt on Sept. 30 with the closure of the Starkey Project. A few months of research would be incomplete. The grazing project, for example, would require at least five to 10 years of study to achieve valid results.

The Starkey Project has shown how public and private agencies and groups, including the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State University, the Bureau of Land Management and Boise Cascade Corp., can cooperate on research projects to obtain information that can be beneficial to many.

Congress should consider just how important and unique the Starkey Experimental Forest is and should not halt funding just because some other priorities have surfaced. The research possibilities at Starkey are almost endless. Funding must be maintained to keep this valuable forest laboratory in place.

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