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Home arrow Opinion arrow County off-track on roadless watershed

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County off-track on roadless watershed

There is plenty of room to criticize the roadless policy adopted by the Forest Service under former President Bill Clinton. We just dont think it is a profitable use of the Baker County Commissions time and energy.

Better yet, the commissioners could identify progressive forest policies and management strategies that matter to Baker County instead of dwelling on a policy that is major at the national level, but of only minor impact here the new roadless areas in Baker County werent slated for road development under pre-roadless policy criteria.

In a draft of a letter to President George W. Bush, the commissioners wrote: One need look no further than the Baker City watershed to observe how roadlessness has created a catastrophe waiting to happen. Years of non-management have created a fuel load that is unmanageable without the expenditure of millions of dollars.

The problem is, there is absolutely no connection between Clintons roadless policy and the situation in the Baker City watershed.

Actually, the main reason for the unhealthy fuel load in the watershed is that the Forest Service and city have managed the watershed specifically, theyve prevented fire from fulfilling its natural role of periodically clearing forests of burnable debris.

Of course, the agency and the city had quite a legitimate reason for keeping fire out of the watershed: protecting the water supply for 10,000 people.

Thats also the reason for the paucity of roads in the watershed. But the decision to not build a bunch of roads in the watershed was made many decades ago by Baker City officials, not by Bill Clinton.

Its only been in the past 20 years or so that foresters have recognized the Smokey Bear attitude toward fire isnt always the right one.

Certainly, the lack of roads made a logging project last summer in the watershed more difficult.

But it was an effort worth undertaking, creating shaded fire breaks along the south boundary of the watershed. We believe the logging contract model used in the watershed should be repeated elsewhere in Baker County.

Here was the challenge: The value of the timber alone wouldnt compensate the logging contractor for the time spent felling and ferrying the trees from the watershed.

So Congress appropriated money to subsidize the contract. The successful bidder not only got the right to sell the timber, but another $1.45 million to fund the operation and make it profitable.

This had the additional benefit of allowing the Forest Service to direct the contractor to remove trees and material that wouldnt fetch much of a price on the open market.

That kind of debris accumulated over the years due to the Forest Services success in putting out fires fast. A traditional logging operation would have removed the merchantable parts of trees but left some of the fire hazard behind.

We think creating jobs and reducing the fire danger is a model for future timber jobs on the Wallowa-Whitman and other forests.

The commissioners should join us in inviting the Bush Administration to make the Wallowa-Whitman a positive example of forest management.

That means rising above the traditional timber sale paradigm and seeing the forest for the trees. The roadless policy is a battle for Idaho and Montana, not Baker County.

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