Action Alert! Speak up for forests and wildlife in the Elbow timber sale!

Healthy green crowns on large old fir in Elbow sale unit

Action Alert! Protest the Elbow Insect and Disease Project Timber Sale!

Please contact the Forest Service to oppose misleading logging of healthy green forest, magnificent old growth, and never logged forest under the guise of reducing insects and disease through an expedited process.

The Walla Walla District of the Umatilla National Forest is proposing commercial logging over 2,600 acres under the Farm Bill Insect and Disease Categorical Exclusion authority. The timber sale is called the Elbow Insect and Disease Project. The stated goal for the sale is to “reduce insect and disease occurrence and spread in the project area”. Yet, when we field surveyed most of the sale units over six days with seven people, we discovered that the great majority of the sale units are very healthy green old growth forest and many of these were apparently never logged before.

Mountain goat with her kid in Elbow sale
Mountain goat kid in Elbow timber sale

The old growth stands contain legacy big old trees of various species, including Ponderosa pine, Grand fir, Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and Western larch. The sale area is just south of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness and has an extraordinary abundance of relatively uncommon wildlife species, including our sightings of black bear adults and a cub, a moose (as well as moose scat and tracks), a Northern goshawk, a White-headed woodpecker, Columbia white-tailed deer, a Golden eagle, and a Mountain goat and her kid, who visited our camp.

Mountain goat with her kid in Elbow timber sale

The Forest Service did not disclose the presence of high quality old growth forest, never logged forest, and a great diversity of wildlife and plants in the sale area as unique values in the area that could be significantly degraded or destroyed by the proposed logging. The Forest Service also failed to disclose in their cursory 3 page scoping letter that this area includes two trailheads for trails leading into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness and attracts recreational use such as camping, hunting, ATV riding, mushroom and huckleberry gathering, hiking, and scenic view and wildlife photography.

Further, the scoping letter failed to specify what particular insects or disease are affecting the specific sale unit areas and to what degree. Misleading wording in the scoping letter includes: “In the project area all species of trees are dying as well as a mix of age classes. In many cases the mortality is occurring to the desirable, older, fire-resistant Ponderosa pine and Douglas firs.”

Moose in Elbow timber sale

Instead, we found that the sale unit boundaries included some of the healthiest, most magnificent old growth and never logged forest left in the area, which is otherwise mostly dense young Pine plantations that were imposed by clearcutting more diverse old growth forest, including moist mixed-conifer stands. Some of the sale units have young dense defoliated trees only by the roadside or only in a very small portion of the sale unit, while others have no exceptional or evident defoliation that would indicate an insect or disease epidemic. The majority of the older fire-resistant Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir are doing well, with full green crowns in most of the sale units. The presence of old growth large snags (standing dead trees) and logs is normal in old growth forest and adds tot he wildlife value of the stand for nesting, foraging, and denning. Many of the “sale unit” areas were noteworthy for exceptionally high old growth counts per acre of live large trees and old growth snags and logs, indicating never logged status and high value for wildlife.

Black bear adjacent to Elbow sale

The Categorical Exclusion (CE) authority used is supposed to be for expedited public process for insect and disease epidemics, not for logging of high public value areas with extraordinary or unique values such as green flourishing old growth forests, never logged areas, high recreational use areas, and areas of significant wildlife habitat value for uncommon species. The Forest Service is using a Categorical Exclusion to get away with not having to fully disclose the special values of the area and analyze and disclose potential impacts of the proposed logging. The CE authority allows the Forest Service to use only a scoping letter before moving straight to a decision, with no other opportunity for more informed public comment for filing an objection and negotiating a better outcome with the Forest Service.

Although there is a rash of other CE sales under the Farm Bill on other Districts and Forests, the Elbow Insect and Disease Project is so far the most egregious use of a CE that we have field surveyed, although we are concerned about other sales as well. The Walla Walla District staff have also failed to have the required collaboration with the public.

Saprophyte in Elbow sale unit

Please call District Ranger Michael Rassbach to protest this sale, including the rushed and misleading public process involved. Leave a message at 509-522-6290; send emails to mrassbach@fs.fed.us, or mail your protest to: Michael Rassbach, 1415 W. Rose St., Walla Walla, WA 99362. (Please be polite!)

You can also check their website for more information at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57017.

Healthy green crowns on large old fir in Elbow sale unit

Thank you for your help in showing public opposition to this sale and the use of a CE to hide values at stake from the public. You can support our work by volunteering or donating to Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.

Healthy green crowns on large old fir in Elbow sale unit
White-headed woodpecker in Elbow sale unit
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