Forest collaboratives in Oregon that bring together various interests are working

Contrary to claims, national forest practices that heed collaborative work are not all about logging

June 20, 2022 5:30 am

A collaborative forest restoration known as the Big Mosquito Project improved the Malheur National Forest. (Mark Webb/Blue Mountain Forest Partners)

In a recent opinion piece, Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild cites five different restoration projects as evidence that collaborative efforts across eastern Oregon are eroding environmental protections, decimating forests, and silencing environmental dissent as “extractive interests” take over collaborative groups.

Klavins is not telling the truth about forests or collaborative groups.

Klavins claims the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest “invoked collaboration to get away with logging centuries-old trees in the Lostine ‘safety’ project” that resulted in “lawsuits and an increased fire risk.”  But this project does exactly what years of scientific research in eastern Oregon has shown to be effective in reducing fire risk:  reduce stand density and shift species composition from fire intolerant grand fir to fire tolerant larch and ponderosa pine.

Moreover, the harvest prescription retains all trees 21” in diameter and larger. The Wallowa-Whitman is not logging “centuries-old trees.”

This project did result in a lawsuit filed by Oregon Wild. But the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling that the Wallowa-Whitman developed the project in accordance with federal law and that its public and collaborative engagement process was open, inclusive, and transparent.

Klavins claims the Wallowa-Whitman is now “doubling down with the Morgan Nesbit Project which would nearly clear-cut virgin forests from the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness into the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.” But this project is in the early stages of development and no decisions have been made about what management actions will occur in the Morgan Nesbit area.

Next, Klavins claims the Umatilla National Forest has “proposed logging over 27,000 acres of pristine forests and some of the biggest trees in eastern Oregon on the Ellis Project.” Again, he misrepresents the facts.  No decision has been made about what management actions will occur as part of this project.  A draft environmental impact statement which analyzes five alternatives has been released for public comment.  But no alternative does what Klavins claims.

Klavins also claims the Umatilla is, without any “environmental analysis…developing Parkers Mill, which would allow more logging of roadless forests than has occurred across the lower 48 in the last two decades combined.”  But the Forest Forest cannot undertake any kind of action that will have environmental impacts unless it performs an environmental analysis. There is no environmental analysis for Parkers Mill because formal development of the project hasn’t started yet.

Next, Klavins claims the Big Mosquito Project on the Malheur National Forest was supposed “to thin small trees to protect old growth from fire.”  But “once the logging equipment rolled in, the big old trees were considered a danger, splashed with blue paint, and cut down.” His tacit claim here is that loggers ignored unit prescriptions and treated “big old trees” as danger trees simply to log them.

His claim is misleading.  The unit he references is a unit for steep-slope logging which uses a mechanical tower anchored by cables to nearby trees for stability as it pulls cut trees uphill to the landing. Anchor trees and trees near the landing are treated as work hazards and cut down per Oregon’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration regulations.

Apart from these trees, you won’t find “big old trees splashed with blue paint and cut down” inside Big Mosquito units.  In fact, this project was designed to increase survivability of old-growth trees in the face of fire and drought by thinning young trees. The “big old trees” are still standing throughout this project area

Finally, Klavins claims that “long-standing protections for big and old trees called ‘the [Eastside] Screens’ were eliminated” during the Trump administration.  This is utterly false. The Eastside Screens were amended to better reflect current science and prioritize the protection of old trees, facilitate the recruitment of old and large fire tolerant species like larch and ponderosa pine, and adaptively monitor this effort in the face of climate change.

All of Klavins’ claims are part of a larger pattern: ignore important details and misrepresent the facts as needed to support his view.

Collaborative efforts across eastern Oregon have enriched public engagement, improved environmental protections, and enhanced forest health. They embody the best way forward for those who truly care about fire adapted landscapes and rural communities in eastern Oregon.


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Mark Webb

Mark Webb believes that strong, vibrant communities and healthy landscapes are inseparably linked. He is currently executive director for Blue Mountains Forest Partners, a diverse group of stakeholders who utilize best available science and work collaboratively to increase the pace and scale of restoration on the Malheur National Forest. He is a former Grant County judge.