Until he saw the colored flags on the trees, Jerry Gilmour never knew there was going to be a logging operation practically in his backyard.
Gilmour, who has a weekend cabin he built himself in the woods near McKenzie Bridge, along Highway 126 between here and Eugene, made some phone calls and discovered none of his neighbors knew about the logging plans either.When the neighbors learned about the Goose Project - which, among other things, will result in the harvesting of more than 27 million board feet of timber, including trees up to seven feet in diameter, and involve building almost eight miles of temporary roads through the forest - they swung into action to try to block it.
The only trouble was they were two years too late.
The US Forest Service had run the project through the approval process quickly back in 2010, with only minimal notification to the locals. Two conservation groups, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands, appealed unsuccessfully. By the time Gilmour and his neighbors got the news, the 45-day public comment period was long gone.
The neighbors, who have organized themselves into a group called Save McKenzie Bridge, accuse the Forest Service of staging a "secret" logging project. Technically that's not true; the Forest Service followed the letter of the law. It ran a tiny ad in the local newspaper and notified a few residents.
But it fell far short of being open and honest with the community. Even Terry Baker, the present McKenzie River District ranger, has admitted that "we dropped the ball."
Not only was the notification process deeply flawed, but the project itself was wrong from the get-go. According to Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild, the plan calls for cutting mature trees in riparian reserve areas, threatening wildlife habitat and water quality.
It also means logging 900 acres of spotted owl habitat, which is even more critical to preserve because the barred owl, a competitor species, is moving into areas the spotted owl formerly had to itself.
Before approving the Goose Project in its present form the Forest Service considered an option that would have achieved many of the same objectives with less destruction, but rejected it because it was under pressure - as it always is - to meet congressionally mandated timber quotas.
"That alternative would not have been controversial; we would have supported that option," Heiken said. "But they were worried about getting the cut out."
Oregon Wild and the McKenzie Bridge community would like the Forest Service to start over and do the job right this time, including adequate public notification and comment and a proper environmental impact statement.
Whether that will happen is hard to say. The Forest Service has scheduled the first timber sale within the project for later this month; once the timber has been sold the agency would risk being sued if it tried to back out of the deal.
Here's hoping the Forest Service will see the light and give itself - and the community - a do-over on the Goose Project. In the meantime, here's THE BOOT for screwing things up so badly the first time.