The aftermath of the 18,000 acre Hash Rock Fire which burned over much of the Mill Creek Wilderness and adjoining forests a year ago continues to resonate. One salvage sale of down or burned timber from the late summer fire has been completed, a challenge on a second sale overturned only to have another appeal filed, and a third sale is expected to be signed in the next few weeks.
>Well over a year after the huge fire in the Ochoco Mountains was contained, harvesting the down and burned timber is keeping a lot of people busy
From almost the moment Forest Service started planning salvage sales in the area burned over by the fire, conservation groups have been busy filing appeals. The first, and smallest of the proposed salvage operations consisted of 54 trees that had been cut down by fire fighters when fighting the big fire.
In the original documents outlining the harvest, officially known as the Pick-Up Salvage Harvest, the goal, as explained by District Ranger Art Currier in his Decision of Harvest was to salvage marketable trees that had been felled. However, a group of organizations filed an appeal on the grounds that "the large diameter trees ... were felled with a salvage timber sale specifically in mind and not for (firefighting purposes)"as claimed.
The appellants (identified as the League of Wilderness Defenders; Oregon Natural Resources Council Action (ONRC) and American Lands Alliance) asked that the Regional Forester conduct an investigation into why the trees were logged in the first place.
That appeal was overturned and the logs have been harvested. The next sale, officially called the Hash Rock Salvage Sale, lies adjacent to the Mill Creek Wilderness on the west side. The entire project area is 2,000 acres; however, harvest activity will take place on only 500 acres. Again, Currier)s decision and the preferred alternative was challenged by a number of environmental organizations. Although the ONRC originally joined in that appeal, that group later withdrew.
Earlier this month, on Dec. 5, the Forest Service)s Appeal Decision Officer found that the preferred alternative was legally acceptable and again overturned the appeal.
In a release from the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. the Western Environmental Law Center and the Juniper Group Sierra Club, it was announced that another appeal had been filed. Although the timber has been sold and plans to begin the harvest, using helicopter technology, was slated to begin next week, the appeal was filed before the end of the 15-day deadline.
"The Mill Creek watershed needs a rest," Asnate Riverwind, co-director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Projects said in the release, "not more logging. Dead or burned trees have tremendous benefit when they remain in the woods," another appellant explained.
Currier said he expects the next step will be the issuance of a restraining order stopping any of the harvest operation from beginning.
The third and last proposed sale in the area burned over by the Hash Rock fire, the Bandit Salvage Sale, is on the east side of Mill Creek Wilderness. The decision on that sale is expected to be signed in approximately 3 weeks.