Forest Service's Hash Rock Fire salvage harvest is back
Consisting of 54 trees cut down by fire fighters when fighting the big fire of 1998, the harvest was appealed, but the sale has been reworked and is up once againAfter being stopped on appeal, the US Forest Service's plan to salvage 54 large trees cut down during the Hash Rock Fire is back on track.
In the original documents outlining the harvest, officially known as the Pick-Up Salvage Harvest, a number of alternatives were looked at by Forest Service officials. Those officials were attempting to set up a series of salvage harvests of trees cut down during fire suppression efforts in 1999. The Hash Rock Salvage Harvest was among the first of the proposed harvests to be appealed.
The goal, as explained by District Range Art Currier in his Decision of Harvest was to salvage marketable trees that had been felled ... all 55 of them. 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 and American Lands Alliance) asked that the Regional Forester conduct an investigation into why the trees were logged in the first place.
Currier, citing the fact that the economic assessment of recovering the downed trees had been inadvertently omitted from the original environmental assessment, withdrew his notice of decision in May. Now a second EA has been prepared and sent to all interested parties.
Since the withdrawal and reopening of the proposed harvest to public comment, a number of new concerns have been raised. These are mostly related to economics, Chinook salmon habitat and unnecessary cutting of old-growth trees during fire suppression activities.
As part of the latest decision, Currier responded to the list of concerns. Basing his findings on the original EA, as well as the National Environmental Protection Act, information provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Forest Management Act and other sources, the District Ranger answered the appellant comments.
On the issue of salmon habitat, the cumulative effects analysis, Currier said, disclosed that "these activities are expected to have a long-term beneficial effect to fish habitat, even though some activities will produce short-term localized effects."
The economic value of the harvest, also questioned in the appeal, stating that "The communities in Crook County are no longer timber dependent. The Forest Service has failed to support its contention the proposed project is necessary for local economies."
Currier disagreed. The proposed sale would recover the economic value of downed timber, provide some wood products to the local economy and meet the purpose of the harvest. The lumber and wood products sector, he wrote in his response, "including secondary wood products, is a large contribute to the economic well being of the Crook County area."
Wildlife concerns of those appealing the harvest included lynx - "Lynx has been removed from the list of threatened wildlife species," Currier's response stated, because "there is no information to suggest that lynx have ever been a resident, reproducing species in the state of Oregon."
Salmon habitat - "... these activities are expected to have a long-term beneficial effect to fish habitat, even though some activities will produce short-term localized effects."
On the topic of whether the trees were actually cut down as part of the fire suppression efforts, the report says that "the fire suppression operations for the Hash Rock Fire included specific objectives for establishing , securing and mopping up fire control lines. First priority for all actions was for firefighter and public safety."
In making their appeal, the charge was made that "there is sufficient evidence of blatant fraud, either on the part of the agency or those who felled the trees." The request, Currier's response said, for and investigation has been passed on to the Regional Forester. It is up to that official to determine whether to conduct such an investigation.
"As stated, the trees were felled as part of fire suppression activities during a wildfire emergency," Currier wrote.
The decision to implement the latest alternative is still subject to appeal. Any appeal must be filed within the next 45 days or so. The latest EA and Currier's 13 page response report is available for review at the Prineville Ranger District office.