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Oregon Forest Mismanagement

Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Phone: 503-986-1728 900 Court St. NE, S-303, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
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E-Newsletter 9/16/11

Two years ago, I traveled with state forestry personnel to an area on the Fremont-Winema National Forest that they called the “Red Zone”. I went there to witness first-hand the devastation caused by a 350 thousand acre Pine Bark Beetle infestation. At that time, the more than 500 square miles of dead and dying trees, located between Lakeview, Paisley and Gilcrest, was called the “Red Zone” because the beetle infestation was spreading so rapidly that the red colored needles remained on most of the dead and dying trees.

The “Red Zone” includes the areas surrounding Campbell and Dead Horse Lakes, Lee Thomas Meadows, and much of the Gearhart Wilderness Area. What once was among the most beautiful mountain terrain imaginable is now ruined for future generations.


Little has changed during the past two years.


Last week, I travelled back to the area with the State Forester, five members of the Oregon Board of Forestry, the Regional Supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service and about forty other private and government foresters. The infestation is still enlarging, but the rate of spread has slowed. It is now being called the “Dead Zone”, because most of the red needles are gone except for the trees that are still being killed around the edges of the vast area. What is left is an area of nearly 600 square miles mostly dominated by standing, gray, dead snags. A number of the dead trees are beginning to fall, leaving the forest littered with tangled layers of dead, dry logs and limbs.


Virtually no effort has been made to salvage this timber for any use. The Forest Service has allowed wood cutting on a few hundred acres, but the infestation is spreading much faster than that meager harvest. Dead trees, along corridors on both sides of some of the major forest roads, have been cut for safety reasons to prevent them from falling across the roads and to provide escape routes in case of wildfire.


Most of these trees on public land lay where fallen. Conversely, trees and slash on adjacent private lands are generally stacked and piled in efforts to create defensible fire breaks. In fact, the stark difference in the stewardship of the private and public lands is obvious to the most casual observer.


The potential for catastrophic wildfire is enormous. Experienced firefighters view the area with dismay. They know that their only hope to prevent a disastrous wildfire is through rapid and concentrated initial strike. They understand that when the inevitable wildfire occurs in the “Dead Zone”, there will be no way on earth to top it. In fact, they believe that it will be much too dangerous to even allow the deployment of ground crews. Their only option will be to attempt to protect the edges of the vast area, and let it burn until the snow flies.


Currently the Winema-Fremont National Forest maintains fire dispatch centers in both Lakeview and Klamath Falls. The agency is now studying the potential cost savings of combining the two facilities. I share the opinion of many of the professional foresters on the tour that this action would be a penny wise and a pound foolish. Their ability to initiate and direct initial fire strike response is critical to the prevention of a catastrophic wildfire in the area.


All this did not have to happen. Appropriate and timely forest management could have prevented much of the devastation and salvaged most of the timber resources.


The Forest Service failed to salvage the dead and dying trees in the aftermath of the Winter Rim and Tool Box fires. Pine Bark Beetle infested those weakened and dying trees killing virtually every living tree left standing. Then, with no living trees left to attack, huge numbers of beetles migrated into the adjacent green stands, where they spread unchecked. The Forest Service did nothing to curtail the epidemic, and made no effort to allow the timber to be salvaged.


The epidemic spread unchecked onto adjacent private forest land. Those private forest landowners were able to slow the spread, and reduce the damage on some of their forests, by proactively and selectively logging their timber out in front of the epidemic. These private entrepreneurs were able to find markets for virtually all of their logs.

The Forest Service rewarded those efforts by charging the landowners tens of thousands of dollars to haul their logs over Forest Service roads. We were told that the Forest Service “road toll” was as much as $500 to $700 per load!


The Pine Bark Beetle epidemic was so intense that it killed virtually everything in its path. As the infestation spread off Forest Service land, thousands of acres of twenty and thirty year old tree plantations on private land were totally wiped out. There was no market for these small plantation trees. Losses are in the millions of dollars.


The Forest Service has made no attempt, nor offer, to compensate these landowners for their losses.


A representative of a Central Oregon timber mill explained that his company could have, and would have, harvested and marketed the trees on the entire 350 thousand acres of public land, had they been allowed the opportunity. Of course, two or more years after being killed, those trees no longer have marketable value, other than potential biomass. I am unaware of any Forest Service plans to mass market the trees for biomass. Further, the cost of hauling the logs over the Forest Service “toll roads” for biomass use would be prohibitive.


The general demeanor of many of the government employees in attendance on the tour, was that the epidemic was a natural occurrence, and that it was neither preventable nor any ones’ fault. They do not appear to have learned from their mismanagement of this epidemic and do not appear to have made any plans to address future epidemics any differently.


The public foresters’ opinion was generally not supported by the professional foresters employed by private land owners. They do agree that the infestation is part of a natural cycle in predominantly lodge pole forests. However, they understand, and have demonstrated, that the epidemics can be controlled and the resources can be salvaged.


In my opinion, this massive infestation would have been controlled and significantly limited had these forests been managed by private interests. Much of the widespread destruction of the beauty and recreational value of our public lands could have been prevented. Much of the value of the damaged timber could have been salvaged. The potential for a catastrophic wildfire that will destroy habitat and watersheds for generations could have been avoided.


Disease and wildfire are ravaging our national forest lands all across the Western United States. We cannot, as a nation, continue to allow our public timber resources to die and rot in the forests. We cannot allow the continuation of public forest mismanagement that result in catastrophic wildfires. We cannot allow the continuation of management practices that waste our resources, and threaten the public health and safety of our people.


In my opinion, it is time to place the supervision of the public forests into the trust of more accountable private administration. It is time to implement Congressman Walden’s concepts of long term public-private trust management of our public lands.


Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon… no one will.


Best Regards,



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