Brian Kelly

My Voice

About the author

Brian Kelly is the restoration director for Greater Hells Canyon Council and a certified arborist. My Voice columns reflect the views of the author only. My Voice columns should be 500-700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships. We edit submissions for brevity, grammar, taste and legal reasons. We reject those published elsewhere. Send columns to La Grande Observer, 1406 5th St., La Grande, Ore., 97850, fax them to 541-963-7804 or email them to .

T he upper Imnaha River is a great place to be. Big old ponderosa pine trees grow tall above a wild river of cold, clear water. The rugged orange bark of old growth ponderosa pines contrasts beautifully with green pinegrass and elk sedge on the forest floor. This is the upper Imnaha forest that I’ve known and visited for more than 30 years.

Unfortunately, old growth ponderosa pines are being logged in this treasured part of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Some of these trees are 300 years old and three feet or more in diameter. The Forest Service broke a written agreement when they logged these trees, and the public has been shut out of the process.

The recent story “Safety risks, USFS harvests old forest stands at risk of collapse” (The Observer, Dec. 20) described a fearful situation in the upper Imnaha to be solved by logging these old growth pine trees. However, the article itself provided little evidence to back up this alarming claim, and important facts about what is actually happening in this forest were not included. I appreciate the opportunity to provide some perspective.

The Observer story quoted a 2004 report describing “overstocked, unmanaged” forest conditions that could lead to increased wildfire and western pine beetle activity. However, after this 2004 report was written, the upper Imnaha forest was actually treated by a Forest Service management project specifically designed to reduce fuels and stocking and to “improve the resistance of large-diameter pine trees to future beetle infestation.” The Imnaha Bugs Life Project was authorized in late 2006. It authorized logging and thinning as well as prescribed burning. I observed logging and slash pile burning activity in the upper Imnaha during the following years. These facts were not reported in the news story.

The Forest Service has also attempted to reduce western pine beetle impacts in the area by cutting down trees containing live beetles and removing them from the site through logging. However, it’s difficult to accurately identify these trees and log them off the site before the beetles mature and fly away from the affected trees. Logging trees that actually contain live beetles may somewhat reduce the number of beetles in the area, but it will not eliminate these insects from the upper Imnaha. These native beetles will continue to fly in from surrounding forests and affect other trees.

Unfortunately, logging the large standing dead pine trees also removes essential nesting habitat for native woodpeckers, which are an important natural control of western pine beetle.

Woodpeckers will not eliminate these insects from the forest, but they help keep the beetle population in balance. Big old growth pine trees contribute to forest health for many years to come by providing essential habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. Research science informs us that large standing dead trees like the Imnaha old growth pines are especially valuable for the habitat they provide.

The Greater Hells Canyon Council has long been concerned about the cutting of old growth pine trees in this area, and we have worked with the Forest Service for more than a decade to find collaborative solutions. The Forest Service formally agreed in writing to notify us in advance about plans to log these pine trees and to invite us to be present when trees are identified to be marked before logging. This would provide the public with an important opportunity to know if the trees to be logged actually contain live bark beetles.

We reached out to the Forest Service District Ranger and staff in mid-August to ask about potential plans to log any trees this year and to remind them of our mutual agreement.

We were assured there were no definite plans to do so and we would be notified in accordance with our agreement if they were to proceed. This did not happen.

Instead, the Forest Service proceeded to paint about 100 trees for logging and sell them for timber. We were not notified until just days before the timber sale was advertised. Our requests to halt the timber sale were ignored. The trees were cut down in November.

Photos taken in October, before the trees were cut, show pines with reddish-brown needles indicating the beetles had already left the trees. Cutting these trees had no benefit toward reducing the beetle population in these stands.

The Observer news story did not include information about the Forest Service’s failure to honor their written agreement with us. It did report that the agreement exists, however. We are concerned readers may have drawn the conclusion that we are in agreement with the logging of these old growth trees. We are not.

The Forest Service is logging old growth ponderosa pines in a treasured part of Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. They’ve broken a written agreement in order to do this. They are proceeding in a way that will not achieve control of a native insect. The news story that reported on this did not include important information, stokes fear in the public and promotes logging as the solution. We, the people of the American public, deserve better and so does our public forest.