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.
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.