Walton Lake ‘hazard trees’ are not the issue

The Forest Service used the guise of public safety and hazard trees for both of their proposals to log in the Walton Lake recreation area, despite the fact that the Forest Service continues to be free to deal with hazard trees. Below is our Director, Karen Coulter’s rebuttal letter speaking to the issues of public safety and hazard trees around the lake is below.

Initially, the Walton Lake timber sale was proposed under a “Categorical Exclusion” by the Forest Service. Categorical Exclusions circumvent environmental analyses and shut out public review. You can read BMBP’s press release from October of 2016 about the initial Walton Lake project HERE. BMBP’s statement about stopping the Walton Lake logging project (again!) in 2017 is HERE.

10/11/2016 Karen Coulter’s Rebuttal to the letter: “Walton Lake project was carefully studied” by Andris Eglitis

The Forest Service is still free to deal with real hazard trees—that’s not what the Walton Lake timber sale is really about. Although the Forest Service has repeatedly told the public they are just “thinning” the forests around Walton Lake, the visual affects of the planned logging would be that of a virtual clearcut, as the Forest Service admits in its internal documents, and includes removal of some of the biggest old trees around the lake.

The Forest Service did not fully inform the public that the proposed logging would completely transform the Walton Lake area and remove the many big old fir trees around the lake, including many not affected by root rot, or that root rot is spread by logging. As many of your readers know, mandatory restrictions called the Eastside Screens prohibit the Forest Service from logging trees over 21 inches in diameter in the Ochoco National Forest. The Forest Service also did not tell the public that it is using what is a narrow exception in the Eastside Screens for addressing real hazard trees to authorize logging hundreds of big fir trees over 21 inches in diameter. This is an unprecedented misuse of that narrow exception.

While I cannot always personally attend every Forest Service field trip since we monitor four National Forests and a BLM District, we also have a summer-long volunteer internship program by which we field survey almost every planned commercial logging sale unit in major timber sales in the forests we monitor. A volunteer and I spent three days intensively field surveying every commercial sale unit in the Walton Lake project on the ground—much more than the Forest Service field tour would have shown us. Further, as the current Forest Service staff knows well, we sent them our detailed survey sheets and photos of conditions on the ground along with our comments, probably reflecting far more time spent looking through all of the sale units than most other comments.

Marilyn Miller, a forest activist and supporter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, attended the Forest Service field trip at Walton Lake and was not impressed or supportive of the planned Walton Lake timber sale. We communicated about the details of the Forest Service trip afterwards since I was not able to attend.

I did not miss the ostensible “key point” of the project. Human safety concerns in this case appear to be public relations propaganda to justify virtual clearcutting of the most popular recreational site on the Ochoco National Forest, and engage in highly profitable old growth large tree logging that the majority of the public would not otherwise support. Visitor safety is not the real reason for this project, as the Forest Service has the ongoing ability to fell legitimate hazard trees in the Walton Lake area. Our lawsuit would not affect that. The Walton Lake area forest sale units do include numerous large old growth trees–Grand fir, Douglas fir, Western larch, and Ponderosa pine—and the main area targeted for old growth fir removal would definitely qualify as an old growth stand.

For the record, I am fully informed about the issues at stake, including admissions by the Forest Service in their project record that were not discussed in their scoping letter. We have not done anything insulting to the people committed to the process, as we have fully followed the public process, or we would not have standing to litigate. I am not the least embarrassed by our commitment to protecting forest ecosystems and the broader public interest in eastern and central Oregon National Forests and we certainly represent the interests of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project’s supporters by doing so with the Walton Lake case.

Karen Coulter, Director, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project