Suttle Lake Recreational Area Threatened by Heavy Logging

Suttle Lake Recreational Area Threatened by Heavy Logging

Update as of November 2019: The Forest Service has issued a decision notice to log the Suttle Lake recreational area without further public comment or environmental review. Even though the public comment period is closed, we are encouraging people to continue to contact the Forest Service to let them know that the public is opposed to this sale.

The Forest Service is now targeting one of the most popular recreation areas for heavy logging under the guise of needing to preemptively fell potential future hazard trees before they are hazards and to achieve the timber industry desired conversion of natural cool moist mixed conifer mature shady forest to predominantly even-age young planted Ponderosa pine and Western larch.

The Deschutes Forest Service admits that the greater Suttle Lake area, which includes Scout Lake and Dark Lake, receives some of the highest recreational use on the Sisters Ranger District, with an estimated 100,000 people annually recreating within the area. There are two organizational camps, Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp and Camp Tamarack; four campgrounds; four day use areas; the Suttle Lake Resort and Lodge; and numerous non-motorized trails connecting the lakes in the greater Suttle Lake area. Recreational use includes swimming, boating, waterskiing, fishing, running, hiking, mountain biking, youth events, retreats, and social gatherings. Environmental education opportunities for youth are provided by the Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp, including outdoor education, and Camp Tamarack specializes in “providing children of all socioeconomic levels with an opportunity to have an ‘authentic camp experience’” while also partnering with organizations to provide outdoor education programs for primary and secondary education. All these recreational and outdoor education programs for youth are based on the natural forested setting of the greater Suttle Lake area, which would be sacrificed by the Forest Service for short-term timber industry profits. Suttle Lake is located right off highway 20 not far from the Metolius River area and the small city of Sisters, which attract many tourists and local recreationists.

The Forest Service already has the authority to fell legitimate hazard trees in the area and does so annually. Yet the agency is using naturally occurring mistletoe and root rot, which self-thin the forest and provide habitat elements for a variety of wildlife, as a guise for conducting a standard timber sale throughout the greater Suttle Lake area that will be intense enough to require “reforestation, seeding, and transplanting of disease resistant trees” “to provide future visual screening between campsites and other recreation areas.” This means that there would be little “visual screening” (i.e. trees and shrubs) left after logging even between campsites and throughout the area. The logging ground disturbance would be so severe that the Forest Service finds it necessary to also plant native shrubs, grasses and forbs after logging “to aid in the short-term recovery and improve the visual quality of campgrounds and special use areas over the long-term.” In other words, the visual and ecological impacts of the proposed logging would be long-term.

The Forest Service claims to be doing all this logging beyond hazard tree removal in order to “provide for long-term forest health”, which is almost always their vague rationale to justify “Vegetation Management Projects” (i.e. timber sales) such as the “Greater Suttle Lake Vegetation Management Project” now proposed. As the Forest Service puts it in their scoping letter, “—additional removal of selected individual trees and areas of trees [i.e. all the trees in an area, or clearcuts] would be conducted proactively to address forest health issues in the project area….Tree felling and removal would focus on tree species that have higher susceptibility to root and stem decays as well as Douglas fir and white fir dwarf mistletoe. As a general rule, trees selected for removal would include white fir [Grand fir], Englemann spruce, and mountain hemlock due to their higher susceptibility to root and stem decays and the presence of root and stem diseases.” (Scoping letter, p. 4) It’s important to note that all trees are “susceptible” to root and stem diseases and so the trees prioritized for logging removal would include many sound and currently healthy trees. Further, there is scientific evidence that logging spreads both root disease and mistletoe, so it doesn’t make sense to log to reduce them. Thus, as with the Walton Lake proposed logging of all fir trees in portions of the recreation area on the Ochoco National Forest, the Forest Service is again planning to log most “host” trees for these natural disturbance mechanisms. There is no guarantee given that the Forest Service would not also log some Ponderosa pine and Western larch.

The Forest Service does not discuss any proposed mitigations to protect recreational values, scenic views, or ecological integrity and wildlife habitat as part of this proposed timber sale except after the fact restoration efforts such as tree seedling, shrub, forb, and grass planting. The Forest Service would be causing the need for such restoration by logging and burning. There are apparently no size limits on the trees to be cut either, so old growth and large mature trees could be eliminated. The only mention of tree size in the scoping letter is: “All trees, regardless of species and diameter class, would be evaluated for incidence and severity of dwarf mistletoe.” (Scoping letter, p.4) Then they go on to say: “In general, white fir and Douglas fir that have a Hawksworth dwarf mistletoe severity rating (DMR) of 4 or greater would be considered for falling and removal. Trees with a DMR < 4, but have >10% top kill (measured as a proportion of total tree height) would also be felled.” (Scoping letter, p.5) All of this allows for a lot of heavy logging, to the point of clearcutting. The Forest Service is planning to implement “sanitation harvest, thinning, and pruning” (Scoping letter, p.3). “Sanitation harvest” often resembles a clearcut. The logging proposal also includes extensive hazard tree removal in campgrounds, organizational camps, and along roads up to 250 feet from the edge of a developed recreation site.

We are very concerned that after all this intensive and extensive logging throughout the greater Suttle Lake recreation area, the area would be unrecognizable compared to the current natural forest setting there now.   Recreational appeal could be expected to plummet, along with revenue for many associated local businesses, including recreational gear stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. The ability of the Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp to offer environmental education opportunities for youth, including outdoor education, and for Camp Tamarack to provide outdoor education programs for young students and to provide children with an opportunity to have “an authentic camp experience” would be severely degraded or destroyed.

Likely because the Forest Service wants to avoid public opposition and prevent anyone from stopping this logging destruction, they are planning to rush this proposal through under a Categorical Exclusion, which means there would be no opportunity to file objections and negotiate, and that logging would be done very quickly, requiring a legal injunction to stop it. Such intense and extensive logging planned for an area prioritized under the Forest Plan for recreation should warrant the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to fully advise the public of potential environmental impacts and give the public a longer period in which to comment and the opportunity to file objections. Either that, or the timber sale should be scrapped, leaving only legitimate hazard tree felling.

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project staff hope to be able to stop this horrible plan, but we need a lot of public outcry—including your comments, and hopefully letters to the editors of local papers—right away.

The Forest Service has issued a decision notice to log the Suttle Lake recreational area without further public comment or environmental review. Even though the public comment period is closed, we are encouraging people to continue to contact the Forest Service to let them know that the public is opposed to this sale. You can still speak up for the forests around the Suttle Lake area by writing, emailing, or calling the Forest Service at: Michael Keown, Environmental Coordinator, Greater Suttle Lake Vegetation Management Project, or P.O. Box 249, Sisters, OR 97759. You can also call (541) 549-7735 (Forest Service) to express concerns. Comments which are submitted outside of an official public comment period will not become part of the record. However, it is important to keep the pressure up on the Forest Service, and let them know that the public is against logging of old growth, large trees, and where logging is unnecessary for public safety. 

Thank you!


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Call us at (541) 385-9167 if you want to volunteer with us by helping us field-survey proposed timber sales this summer.

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