Logging interests now dominate forest collaboratives

Advocates worry they could lead to the loss of hundreds of acres of old-growth forests in eastern and northeastern Oregon

August 9, 2022 5:30 am

Environmental advocates discover logged old-growth areas in the Big Mosquito project in Malheur National Forest. (Paul Hood/Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project)

Mark Webb, director of the Blue Mountains Forest Partners collaborative, recently attacked a colleague who dared to shed light on what’s actually happening across public lands in eastern Oregon. 

Forest collaborative groups, such as the BMFP, were initially created to bring together diverse interests, such as loggers and environmentalists, to restore forests. Unfortunately, collaboratives no longer work towards common ground and are increasingly dominated by extractive interests. Collaborative groups have ample financial incentives to promote logging, with millions of dollars in government subsidies going to collaborative members, staff and intermediary groups. 

Regrettably, there is a tremendous disconnect between what the U.S. Forest Service and collaboratives put forth to the public and what is actually happening on the ground. Despite Webb’s claims that the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest no longer logs old growth, there are centuries-old fresh stumps that say otherwise. I know there are hundreds more acres of old-growth at risk in the Big Mosquito project on the Malheur. I’ve read documents that show the Umatilla is proposing logging up to 27,000 acres of pristine forests. I’ve been in meetings where the agency admitted they are developing proposals to log roadless forests while side-stepping standard environmental review.

 Collaboratives don’t want to hear inconvenient truths about climate change and carbon storage, or protecting clean water and wildlife. I spent years working in good faith at the BMFP. Unfortunately, it was all too clear that there is no place at the collaborative table for people who aren’t on board with logging more and bigger trees at an ever-increasing pace and scale, while scrapping previously agreed upon environmental sideboards.

 Folks can split hairs about how and why big trees continue to be cut down in timber sale after timber sale on National Forests in eastern Oregon. The fact of the matter is that they are being cut down. Ultimately, whether big trees are cut down to clear cable corridors for steep slope logging, because they’re designated ‘hazards’ or to simply get the cut out – at the end of the day, it doesn’t change the fact that those big trees are gone. 

 Collaboratives may have good intentions, but results matter. That’s why I raised alarm bells when I found dozens of big old trees cut down in the Big Mosquito Large Landscape Restoration Project in Malheur National Forest. In justifying the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken protections for big trees, the U.S. Forest Service and the BMFP collaborative said that Big Mosquito was a model for what we could look forward to across the region. With so little of our mature and old forests remaining, how much more can we afford to lose?

 Big trees greater than 20-inches in diameter comprise only about 3% of trees in our region, because most were logged over the past 150 years. They’re the foundations of mature and old forests, and critically important for wildlife, stream habitats and clean water. 

The reality we’re seeing on the ground is that logging is commonly heavy-handed and destructive. The U.S. Forest Service and collaboratives repeatedly gloss over and ignore the damage logging does to mature and old forests, wildlife, water quality and fish. 

Restoring our forests requires protecting what we have left. It doesn’t involve logging steep slopes, cutting down big old trees and arguing semantics while the world gets hotter.

My colleague Rob Klavins was right – the logging of 18 big trees near Bend was a big deal. However, in places obscure to many Oregonians, these things are happening on a much larger scale and without scrutiny. 

As we face a climate and biodiversity crisis, we can’t afford to take a single step in the wrong direction just to get along.


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Paula Hood
Paula Hood

Paula Hood is co-director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, a Fossil-based nonprofit that works to protect and restore the ecosystems of the Blue Mountains and eastern Oregon Cascades. With 18 years of experience, Hood often has on field surveys and on-the-ground research.