A roomful of people surrounded Glenn Casamassa, the new U.S. Forest Service regional forester for Region 6, on Thursday as representatives from multiple Eastern Oregon counties talked about their concerns with the newest Blue Mountain Forest Plan revision.
Casamassa — a longtime Forest Service employee and former supervisor of the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests and the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado — works out of Portland, according to an article by the Capital Press.
A 30-year veteran of the Forest Service, Casamassa will oversee 16 national forests, two national scenic areas, the Crooked River National Grassland in Oregon and two national volcanic monuments, according to the article.
On Thursday, though, he was listening to county commissioners, Rep. Greg Barreto, Sen. Bill Hansell, staff from Boise Cascade and other representatives who raised objections to the Blue Mountain plan.
Also in attendance was Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who said when the newest revised plan came out, the process came to a halt.
“People didn’t feel like they were listened to,” Walden said of the revision.
Union County Commissioner Steve McClure, who said he was commissioner when the project began, said he was frustrated that the plan didn’t fix the basic problem — which is the fire dangers.
“It doesn’t need to be the communities against the Forest Service, but we need to recognize there is a problem,” McClure said. “We need to address the issues so we don’t spend all our money on forest fires.”
McClure said 48 percent of Union County is owned by the Forest Service. Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts, who was also in attendance, said the USFS owns 68 percent of Wallowa County.
The group was largely concerned with not being able to thin trees due to regulations, which increases the risk and magnitude of forest fires.
Casamassa told the group that when he stepped into the position, he wanted to meet personally with the counties who would be affected by this plan.
“The record of decision went out and then the objections started to come in — and come in, and come in,” he said.
He said he ultimately will make the final decision on what’s going in the plan, so the meetings he’s having with the communities are not falling on deaf ears.
The next step in this process is forest service employees coming out to the individual communities to conduct resolution meetings.
“I hear what you’re saying,” he said. “A big part of the Forest Service is the ‘service.’ Public service is what we bring to the table. That’s what we want to provide.”
The group at Thursday’s gathering had compiled a list of their personal concerns, which they gave to Casamassa and officially submitted as an objection to go into the record.
Among them were: no additional wilderness or other special designation areas.
“No net loss in general forest acreage and to maintain access to national forest lands and retain open forest designation,” the document submitted to the record listed.
See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.