Thursday, October 6, 2011

Objection period open on Cove II WUI Project

The Cove II Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Project Environmental Assessment has been released for public comment beginning the “Objection Period.” This project is a little different than others because it’s a Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) project, which is executed under a streamlined process. These projects are supposed to follow the Forest Plan while reducing fuels in ecologically appropriate areas in order to protect at-risk communities. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has taken a rogue approach with the Cove II WUI project, which proposes no less than four amendments to the Forest Plan for 1) logging in Late Old Structure (old growth) that is below historic range of variability, 2) logging in allocated old growth, 3) Relocation of Research Natural Area Boundary, 4) Logging in Management Area 6, Backcountry. In addition to these well-known extremely controversial aspects of the Cove II WUI proposal, the proposal would log in more roadless forests than any proposal I have seen over the past 3 years of monitoring timber sales across Northeast Oregon.

HCPC has gone above and beyond our duty to communicate with the Forest Service about these concerns, sending numerous correspondences to the Agency based on sophisticated GIS analysis, field work, and extensive review of the proposal in light of the peer-reviewed literature, in addition to our official comments. So far these comments have resulted in very little changes to the proposed action. In addition HCPC has hosted two public presentations on this project, one in La Grande and one in Cove. Local concerns are very high regarding logging in old growth and roadless forests for the purpose of extending backcountry fire suppression tactics further across the landscape than they have ever been, in contradiction to the best available science in numerous ways.

Presentation on Cove II WUI, Sept. 2011, Cove Oregon.

Whereas the original Cove WUI project was focused in the lower to mid-elevation forests of Mill Creek, near the community of Cove, the Cove II WUI proposal extends across a much larger landscape threatening National Forest resources at an alarming scale. Allen et al. (2002) states that restoration should be aimed at resetting ecosystem trends toward an envelope of “natural variability.” They caution that “impatience, overreaction to crown fire risks, extractive economics, or hubris could lead to widespread application of highly intrusive treatments that may further damage forest ecosystems.” This is exactly what the Cove II WUI proposed action threatens to do.

On a recent field trip to the Cove II WUI project area, we visited two timber sale units. One was a moist old growth forest with a closed canopy providing unique wildlife habitat for species such as marten, goshawk, and pileated woodpecker. This forest type is below its historic range of variability in the project area due to previous logging. The old growth unit is contiguous with the Castle Ridge Roadless Area and within potential Wilderness. The proposed action would commercially thin this unit, and also log heavily in patches, punching holes into the this multi-layered closed forest canopy. In these areas the Forest Service will plant their "desired species."

Cool moist old growth grand fir forest that is contiguous with the Castle Ridge Inventoried Roadless Area and designated as potential wilderness by the Forest Service slated for commercial thinning, and patch cut openings under Cove II WUI.

Tractors will be used to log in some of these rare old growth stands causing long-term soil damage, risking spread of invasive weeds, and the feeling of primeval forest, lost. Commercial logging will ruin potential wilderness quality. The Forest Service uses arm-waving regarding fire suppression tactics to attempt to justify these actions. Meanwhile the peer-reviewed science has pounded nails so tight into the coffin of these outdated ideas of commercially logging our last remaining old growth that these actions must be viewed as an excuse to log. Next we visited another moist forest unit that was previously heavily logged. HCPC did not have issues with the proposed logging in this previously logged area, which comprises the majority of the Cove II WUI project area units.

The Cove WUI II Project should protect the community and firefighters and also protect the areas outstanding natural values, especially the moist old growth forests that are rare due to extensive previous logging, the roadless forests that provide high quality wildlife habitat, and the Eagle Cap Wilderness that should be buffered from any logging activities. The proposed action does not achieve this balance and threatens old growth moist forests and roadless forests with tractors and logging, and road building directly adjacent to Oregon's largest Wilderness area. The Forest Service should respect the key conservation issue shared by the vast majority of Oregonians, to protect our last remaining old growth and roadless forests, while moving forward with the fuels reduction in previously logged forested areas.

by David Mildrexler
Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator
Hells Canyon Preservation Council

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