In response to recent banner hangings in Bend protesting old growth forest liquidation by the EXF timber sale on Lookout Mountain in the Pringle Falls Experimental Forest of the Deschutes National Forest, the Forest Service made many false claims.
The EXF experimental study design is a pretext for allowing large-scale, old growth forest logging when there are few large blocks of old growth forest left on the National Forest outside roadless and Wilderness areas. Scientists have known for decades that thinning trees increases the radial growth of remaining trees. There is no need to demonstrate this in one of the last blocks of relatively undisturbed old growth Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forest on the Deschutes.
The Forest Service claims that these are not old growth trees, yet they meet the standard definition of old growth used by the Forest Service for Central Oregon forests: they are over 21 inches in diameter at breast height and are acknowledged to be mostly 165 years old—older than the 150 year benchmark for determining an old growth tree in the region. The EXF area also has old growth snags and logs and other structures that characterize old growth forest. Contrary to Forest Service claims that the logging is being done to reduce the risk of wild fire, insects, and disease to existing research plots and to improve forest health, they admit in the EXF Environmental Impact Statement that the 165-year-old Ponderosa pines had “grown exceptionally well.” Our field surveys of all the EXF sale units found very little evidence of pine bark beetle. [What we found was] healthy, green tree crowns, and no uncharacteristic fire risk.
The Forest Service rejected alternatives proposed by the public, including scaling down the project, conducting less intrusive research, conducting the proposed study somewhere else, limiting management to the minimum needed to protect existing research, not using timber sales in the Experimental Forest, and using the standard 21” diameter limit. By rejecting these reasonable alternatives, the Forest Service artificially narrowed the project’s purpose and need to only allow for their planned lucrative timber sale, which is acknowledged in their EIS to be removing 72% of the old growth trees in sale units over two-thirds of the Lookout Mountain section of the Experimental Forest. Even the “control” units for this study would later be logged. Such logging would preclude many far more valuable future research options, such as the chance to study wildlife in a more natural setting; observe the resilience of unmanaged forest to wild fire, insects, and disease; and document the effects of climate change in less disturbed forest.
We are concerned that current logging of the EXF sale area is actually increasing the risk of wild fire through removal of many of the most fire-resistant trees, drying out of the forest floor, increasing wind speeds through opened stands, and leaving huge, flammable slash piles.
The EXF timber sales will also eliminate suitable habitat for Northern Spotted owls in the area and degrade or eliminate habitat for other species such as pileated woodpecker, northern goshawk, black-backed woodpecker, white-headed woodpecker, neotropical songbirds, and elk. Having field-checked, commented on, appealed, and litigated this timber sale plan, we want the public to know that the EXF timber sales use an unnecessary science experiment as a guise to justify old growth logging contrary to stated Forest Service goals.
The court ruling on EXF granted extraordinary deference to the agency because the timber sales are on an experimental forest and did not otherwise address our legal claims regarding the wrongful use of a unique intact block of old growth forest on public lands.
Editor’s note: The writer is the director of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, an environmental advocacy organization based in Fossil, Ore.