July 11, 2001 11:00 pm
IN THE FOREST: Kurt Wiedenmann, center, discusses a proposed forest restoration project during Tuesday's tour. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).
IN THE FOREST: Kurt Wiedenmann, center, discusses a proposed forest restoration project during Tuesday's tour. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Efforts between Union County residents and local Forest Service officials to work cooperatively toward forest management received kudos Tuesday from some Washington, D.C., officials.

During Tuesdays daylong tour of the Spring Creek area of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Dinah Bear, general counsel to the Presidents Council for Environmental Quality, and Joe Carbone of the Forest Services Washington office praised the La Grande Ranger District and county elected officials for planning new cooperative approaches.

John Howard is the first county commissioner in the country to ask me to visit, Bear said.

When the group stopped to discuss a planned forest restoration project in an insect-infested stand, one participant asked about proposed forest practices changes expected from the Bush administration.

Carbone answered.

Change will roll through; thats going to happen, he said. We need a process to deal with the changes.

The Endangered Species Act is expected to stand as it is, however, Bear said.

(Some top officials are saying) theres no way youll get anything through Congress, she said.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has said he will introduce legislation to modify the Endangered Species Act, but Bear said such efforts are often begun with no results.

The Bush Administration has indicated it will look more favorably on logging in national forests than did the Clinton administration.

Therell always be changes at the top, Howard said. We need sustainable leadership at the local level.

La Grande District Ranger Kurt Wiedenmann said that public opinion favors current management practices.

I dont think the majority of the public will let us go back to where we were (in the 1980s and early 90s), he said. Were now looking at restoration thinning from below. Out of that we get wood products.

Howard and a working committee of county residents have been meeting to discuss ways to work cooperatively with the ranger district in the planning and management of forest treatment.

The county will receive $147,002 in new federal safety net money for forest restoration projects.

The committee has developed a list of priorities, including new contract methods, for forest restoration. Howard said earlier this week that some ideas may require changes in federal law.

A lot of your ideas Im not convinced they need legislation, Bear said. Almost everything here is covered by law. Theres no law that you cant try something new.

Carbone praised the committees plan to develop a conflict resolution process to help streamline the implementation of projects and head off appeals.

The effort here to bring the parties together before appeals is a good one, he said. Dispute resolution doesnt need a legislative fix.

Wiedenmann said that very few district projects are appealed.

Brett Branscombe of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council stressed the importance of trust as people with various viewpoints attempt to work together in forest issues.

He said that the preservation council is not willing to give up right of litigation.

By putting the work up front, you can remove some obstacles, he said.

The trust issue is most lacking, he said. If we build that early, this could be good for resolving some frustrations.

About 23 people toured the Spring Creek area and heard a discussion of plans for thinning, prescription fire and other treatments.