Action Alert! Upper Touchet timber sale

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project Action Alert!

Upper Touchet Vegetation Management Project (timber sale) Proposes Heavy Logging Down to Only 50% of the Original Forest Cover in a Popular Recreation Area and Ski Resort Adjacent to the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness!

June 30th Deadline for Comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment

Please Help us Show Public Opposition!

We field surveyed the Upper Touchet timber sale and found magnificent high elevation moist mixed conifer forest with huge old growth Grand firs, old growth Englemann spruce (both tree species targeted for heavy removal by the Forest Service) , with many sale units never logged before or logged so long ago there is no longer any sign of logging. The sale units include magnificent old growth forest that appears to never have been logged along a popular hiking trail next to a creek leading to Bull trout habitat in the Upper Touchet River, intact mature and old growth forest cover in the last forest left between wide treeless clearcut downhill ski runs that fragmented the original forest, and mature and old growth forest all along the boundary of the Wenaha Tucannon Wilderness Area where recreationists come to camp, hunt, and hike in the Wilderness off the main access road and spur roads adjacent to the sale units. The ski resort alone attracts 30,000 skiers and snowboarders a year. Other recreation associated with natural forest scenery there includes ATV riding, snowmobiling, and forest product gathering such as mushroom picking. All of these recreational activities would be degraded by a heavily logged landscape within view of the two scenic route major roads, the ski runs, the ski lodge, the hiking trails, and the user-created camp sites. There is also a developed campground and an area with recreational cabins where access routes and nearby forest would be degraded by heavy logging.

This beautiful forest area is also home to Pileated woodpeckers, elk, marten, songbirds, possible lynx, possible wolverine and Pacific fisher, possible Gray wolves, and resident Steelhead trout, Bull trout, Chinook salmon, and Redband trout. The Upper Touchet Draft EA failed to even consider and analyze potential impacts to lynx, wolverine, Pacific fisher, and Gray wolf even though there is likely suitable habitat for them in the area, including within the adjacent Wilderness.

The Walla Walla Ranger District is planning to do heavy logging euphemistically called “commercial thinning” on about 1,150 acres in larger diameter tree stands under their proposed action, alternative A. They only acknowledge that they would remove 50% of the original existing forest cover near the end of the Environmental Assessment. Alternative B is about the same as alt. A except for not including about 1 mile of “temporary” new road construction and substituting more helicopter or cable yarding logging instead. Alt. D adds more commercial logging sale units and would log Grand fir trees up to 30” diameter at breast height (dbh) even though this would be in violation of the Forest Plan limit of logging live trees (except hazard trees) only up to 21” dbh and even though many Grand fir between 21” dbh and 30” dbh are old growth trees. The action alternatives would also open many closed roads, log on very steep slopes when about 80% or the soils in sale units are easily displaced ash soils, and do landscape scale prescribed burning even though this is a very high elevation moist forest naturally subject to infrequent stand replacement fires.

The purpose and need the Forest Service gives for this intensive logging timber sale in an area designated for developed recreation under the Forest Plan is to “enhance skiing opportunities by increasing accessibility of skiing terrain [by heavily logging the last forest left between ski runs], providing a wider variety of skiable terrain to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of ability levels, reduce safety hazards presented to snow recreationalists by height and abundance of down woody debris [the ski runs are completely clear of debris], maintain scenic integrity and stability for visitor enjoyment and 2) reduce potential wildland fire effects to recreation opportunities, infrastructure, and wildlands….” There are several reasons why the proposed action alternatives would be inconsistent with this stated purpose and need for the “project” timber sale. Heavy logging would degrade substantially the existing scenic integrity and “stability” for visitor enjoyment, as it would be visible from hiking trails, access routes, ski runs, the ski resort, spur roads, and user-created camp sites, and these drastic changes will last for decades. Wild fire risk reduction is given as the reason for logging outside the ski area but this ignores the fact that this moist high elevation forest naturally burns rarely (maybe historically once every hundred to two hundred years) at stand replacement severity. Thinning and prescribed burning are meant to mimic low intensity frequent fire and have not proven significantly effective at reducing the incidence, size, or severity of wild fires. Then there’s the fact that this is very heavy logging, not thinning, and such logging will likely dry out the already moist cool forest, leaving highly flammable slash and encouraging the in-growth of small young trees that are much more flammable than the mature and large trees that would be removed by commercial logging. Also the Bluewood Ski Resort is authorized on public lands under a special use permit and has already clearcut multiple massive ski run trails. There is no compelling reason to log throughout the last native forest left between the ski runs, which would greatly impair the scenic values even for skiing, as the heavy logging would be visible from the chair lifts and would be an obviously unnatural setting for skiing within the logged stands. The management emphasis for this area is developed recreation, not logging, so such heavy logging may violate the Forest Plan.

Other issues and talking points for your comments:

*There is an inadequate range of alternatives offered, as the action alternatives all propose very heavy logging in a recreation area-designated moist forest and all include the same forms of management with very little difference in the volume of timber that would be logged. The Forest Service also failed to analyze a “No Action” alternative as required under the National Environmental Policy Act to serve as a “no new management” baseline by which to compare the effects of the action alternatives. They also rejected our proposed alternative to not log in moist forest types. We can only support the “No Action” alternative that isn’t analyzed.

*The Forest Service needs to analyze these major proposed changes to a popular recreation area in an Environmental Impact Statement, not just an Environmental Assessment, and to do broad public outreach for public comment on the EIS that will reach recreationists and the general public in Dayton, Walla Walla, and the Tri-Cities, the main origins of people using the area.

*There should be no logging on steep slopes or sensitive soils, as 80% of the sale unit soils are ashy, which is easily displaced by heavy logging equipment and could result in loss of productive top soil and sedimentation of streams, which include habitat for Threatened Bull trout, Threatened Steelhead trout, Sensitive Redband trout, and Chinook salmon, as well as Designated Critical Habitat for Bull trout and Steelhead trout and designated Essential Fish habitat. Shallow top soils could take 50 years (or more) to recover from compaction.

*There should be no logging of Grand fir over the Forest Plan limit of 21” dbh as large trees are the most significant source of carbon sequestration and storage for slowing climate change. Grand fir are also critical components of the forest ecosystem as they readily decay and return nutrients to the soils (including carbon) and are heavily used for foraging by Pileated woodpeckers and Black bears. Grand fir also form large cavities that can be used by Pacific fisher for denning and broken tops that are used by Great Grey owls for nesting. Large and old trees are also highly valued by recreationists.

*The Draft Environmental Assessment has terribly inadequate analysis, including a false claim that this timber sale is in keeping with international climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies and failure to analyze environmental impacts to a long list of Sensitive species in the area, as well as to keystone predators including Gray wolf, Canada lynx, wolverine, and Pacific fisher. Cumulative effects analysis is also deeply flawed. For instance the EA does not consider the cumulative impacts of many timber sales across the Walla Walla District or the Umatilla National Forest.

* There are also Sensitive plants in the area such as the endemic Blue Mountain penstemon that may not be successfully avoided by the logging due to incomplete surveys and inadequate past Sensitive plant surveys.

* There would be many significant negative impacts to the Forest’s Management Indicator species, including Pileated woodpecker, primary cavity excavating woodpeckers, American marten, and Rocky Mountain elk. There would be loss of sufficient canopy closure in the logged areas for it to be suitable habitat for Pileated woodpecker and marten and loss of large tree structure and abundant snags needed by Pileated woodpecker, marten, and primary cavity excavators. Marten and Pileated woodpeckers are also dependent on abundant down logs for foraging (for under snow pockets of air in the winter for marten hunting.) Elk need dense forest security habitat that would be greatly reduced and are very sensitive to human and vehicle disturbance, that would be increased with the reconstruction of closed roads.

*The proposed actions would not meet the stated Purpose and Need of maintaining scenic integrity or reducing the severity of wild fire.

Please mail your comments by June 30th to:  District Ranger, Walla Walla Ranger District, Umatilla National Forest, 1415 W. Rose Street, Walla Walla, WA 99362

To submit comments electronically, go to the project web page, which directs comments to the public comment (CARA) website: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=53438

You can call the Forest Service for a copy of the Draft Environmental Assessment or for more information: (509) 522-6290 The project contact is Johnny Collin at (509) 843-4643.

Thank you for helping us show public opposition to the Upper Touchet timber sale Vegetation Management Project.

If you would like to know more about Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project or to donate to our ecological protection work click here, or write or send a donation to Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 27803 Williams Lane, Fossil, OR 97830.

To volunteer for field surveying, call (541) 385-9167.

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