July 25, 2001 11:00 pm
STANDING DEAD: Insects have destroyed many of the trees in this wooded area near Spring Creek. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).
STANDING DEAD: Insects have destroyed many of the trees in this wooded area near Spring Creek. (The Observer/ALICE PERRY LINKER).

By The Observer

They stand like tired ghosts acres and acres of blackened trees near Spring Creek.

Victims of insect damage, the trees covering a few thousand acres were partly killed during the spruce budworm epidemic of the 1980s. Another eight years of drought finished them off.

The La Grande Ranger District hopes to begin logging and restoration next year on the Sprinkle Projects acreage about 12 miles west of La Grande. The public comment period ends

Aug. 6.

The high fire danger within and adjacent to the Sprinkle Project causes concern among forest officials, who have said they hope to thin the dead trees as well as the understory that has begun to crowd the larger living trees.

The mortality is high, said Kurt Wiedenmann, La Grande district ranger. Well thin from below, leave the overstory. Some areas have real heavy mortality with not much overstory.

The dead trees have some value as timber, but some smaller trees that have crowded into the forest will also be logged. The district hopes to use that value to help pay for restoration of stream banks and the planting of new trees where needed.

Wed like to get pilot authority to do a goods-for-services contract, Wiedenmann said.

Under a goods-for-services contract, the value of timber pays for restoration, allowing one contractor to do most of the work.

It has to be an economic benefit for the contractor, Wiedenmann said. It is a benefit for the Forest Service. We dont have to take appropriated money to do what can be done through the value of material.

The proposal calls for logging on 3,101 acres, mostly with tractor-skidder. Another 207 acres are slated for pre-commercial thinning. Additional land will be treated with prescription fire.

During a recent tour of the damaged trees, Cindy Whitlock, project manager, said one goal is to protect the larger trees. The Sprinkle Project has been left with few trees that have old-growth characteristics, she said.

As proposed, the project will require 11/2 miles of new roads and nearly two miles of road reconstruction. Another 7.65 miles of temporary roads will be built.

Conditions are poor along the banks of the several miles of streams that flow through the project area. Twenty-three miles of stream flow year around and carry fish. When the project is finished, in about four or five years, all stream banks will be improved, according to the environmental statement.