As of Tuesday, January 10, 2017
A tree-cutting project the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests sketched out during the course of about six years is being challenged in federal court, so the plan is on hold.
Known as the Orogrande Community Protection Project, the work would reduce fuels and harvest trees on about 300 acres about 40 miles southwest of Elk City. Citing the 2007 Rattlesnake and 2012 McGuire fires, project documents describe the work as a way to manage “high risk from wildfire” in an area that “has not burned or been managed for many years.”
“We believe the Orogrande Community Protection Project is the right thing to do to promote a healthy, fire-resistant forest and reduce extreme fire risk near homes and roads in an area known for frequent lightning and heavy fuel loads,” Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest supervisor Cheryl Probert said Monday, Jan. 9. “This project addresses needs identified in the Idaho County Community Wildfire Protection Plan and complements stewardship efforts by adjacent landowners who are doing their part to improve conditions on their property.”
Friends of the Clearwater ecosystem defense director Gary Macfarlane told the Free Press the Forest Service is wrong on two points: that “logging the backcountry doesn’t help protect homes or structures,” and that logging and fuel treatments do not help prevent large fires, such as the Hayman Fire, which burned more than 100 homes in 2002 in Colorado.
“There is research that also shows that logging may actually increase fire severity because it opens up the forest canopy, which helps dry out the site,” Macfarlane said.
In 2010, the Forest Service called for action in the area around Orogrande and in 2016 announced a decision. The decision calls for a mix of fuel breaks, shelterwood cutting, precommercial thinning and prescribed fire in a 3,100 acre area alongside Crooked River.
Crooked River’s west fork shares its name with a roadless area that borders the Gospel Hump Wilderness, and in November, Friends of the Clearwater complained, in federal court, that the project would “eliminate roadless characteristics of a portion of that inventoried roadless area (IRA).”
“The Forest Service claimed in this case that logging and road building don’t have a major impact on this part of the roadless area,” Macfarlane said. “Yet in another nearby area – the Middle Fork and Selway – the Forest Service claims that logging 15 years ago destroyed a roadless area even though there was no road building involved. We are asking the Forest Service to be honest and consistent in evaluating the impact on the roadless area.”
The plan that Probert approved calls for work on 280 acres in the West Fork Crooked River Inventoried Roadless area, or about 3 percent of the IRA.
Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said he is disgusted by the lawsuit.
“This just shows the difficulty the Forest Service has with performing good land management,” Brandt said. “No matter what the foresters say is good for a healthy forest, there are going to be anti-logging environmental terrorist radical environmentalists that will object.”
Shelterwood cuts – also known as establishment cuts – would leave 15-25 trees per acre. The project calls for shelterwood cuts in three main areas. One is located at Relief Creek, two miles north of Orogrande at the junction of Forest Road 233 (the Crooked River Road) and Forest Road 522 (which cuts across to Deadwood Creek, in the Red River drainage). Two other shelterwood cuts are both within one mile of Orogrande, where Quartz Creek flows into Crooked River, one of which is in the IRA.
The plan also calls for prescribed fire and fuel breaks alongside the Crooked River Road as well as precommercial thinning of five units totaling 75 acres. Probert’s decision dropped 150 acres that had been considered for timber cutting, including 45 acres considered for clearcut, 89 acres considered for precommercial thinning and 16 acres for shelterwood.
In August, the Forest Service had announced the project “got a jump start…when Idaho Department of Correction’s Red Shirt crew joined forces with forest personnel” cutting, brushing, and piling around the Orogrande community.