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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Service has made no attempt, nor offer, to compensate
these landowners for their losses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon… no one