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Comments on Bandit forest management plan sought

Public comment on plans to improve nearly 40,000 acres in the Marks Creek area will be taken until late June
The US Forest Service is asking for public input on management activities on about 39,200 acres in the Marks Creek Watershed. The proposed activities would include timber harvest, commercial thinning, and improvement cutting among other work.
   The purpose of the proposed action, according to the forest supervisor's report, is to "improve forest vegetation and move toward conditions that are sustainable and provide habitat diversity."
   Riparian management objectives also list increasing the number of acres with potential for non-lethal fire and maintaining the visual character along the Highway 26 corridor. A further purpose, the report says, is to provide wood products to the economy.
   The proposed action would include a harvest of an estimated 13.3 million board feet of timber. About 4,000 acres would be done using tractor equipment, 25 acres using helicopter logging, and slightly more than 2,500 acres using skyline logging systems. Other work would set 7,850 acres for precommercial thinning and approximately 14,000 acres being treated by underburning.
   The current abundance and distribution in the Marks Creek and Veazie Creek watersheds have been analyzed and it was been determined that the distribution of forested vegetation is outside the historic range of variability. Natural processes, including fire and insect infestations, have been interrupted past management practices. Fire suppression, timber harvest, road construction and livestock grazing is the cause cited.
   The risk of catastrophic fire has increased because of fuel loading, the Forest Service report states; there is a need to increase the amount of forested area dominated by fire-tolerant species. Additionally, there is a need, Forest Service experts agree, to maintain and enhance stand dominated by late and old growth characteristics and to move closer towards levels of historic abundance.
   The project, which is located about 20 northeast of Prineville, is primarily within the Marks Creek watershed. Marks Creek flows into Ochoco Creek about six miles above Ochoco Reservoir. About 2,300 acres within the project boundary are in private ownership.
   Public involvement in the project is an ongoing process. The scoping process started in Dec. 1999 and letters were sent to individual, organization and various governmental agencies. The letters outlined the description of the proposed action and the purpose and need for the project.
   The response was fairly light, with 16 letters and three telephone calls being received. In the spring of 2000, letters were sent to landowners in the Marks Creek area and a meeting was held to discuss the proposal.
   From the meeting and letters, two issues surfaced. These were incorporated when the various alternatives to the proposal were developed. The two issues were water quality and wildlife habitat. Other issues that did not drive alternative development ranged from air quality, noxious weeds, fish habitat, recreation to visual quality.
   Five alternatives evolved, with one being no action and others requiring no new road construction to limiting activities in certain areas. The Forest Service's preferred alternative, Alternative 5, would put the "emphasis on active management to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat."
   The assessment is available for reading at the District Ranger's office, 3160 NE Third Street. Comments will be accepted until late June. For more information, contact the District Ranger at 416-6645.