Wallowa-Whitman proposes logging project near Richland

By ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald December 24, 2008 02:31 pm

Project could lead to five timber sales


A project up for public comment in the Snow Basin north of Richland calls for cutting Douglas-fir and other trees to reduce the threat of wildfire and improve growing conditions for native ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine and western larch.

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest project is in the Little Eagle Creek and Eagle Creek Paddy subwatersheds.

The project area includes 27,680 acres of national forest lands, 281 acres owned by Baker County and 2,107 acres of private property, according to Steve Ellis, forest supervisor.

The Wallowa-Whitman plans to cut trees and do other work on 13,000 to 14,000 acres.

Snow Basin would be one of the larger logging projects on the Wallowa-Whitman in the past decade. The project could result in five separate timber sales, one per year starting in 2010, according to the notice the forest published in the Federal Register.

Those sales could produce an estimated 60 million to 70 million board-feet of timber, according to the notice.

The Wallowa-Whitman hasn’t sold more than 30 million board-feet, from all its timber sales, in any fiscal year since 2001.

The Wallowa-Whitman will accept comments about the Snow Basin project through Jan. 30, Ellis said.

Due to the size of the project, the Wallowa-Whitman is writing an environmental impact statement rather than the less-detailed environmental assessment which is typical for timber sales on the forest.

The project could also be controversial because the Wallowa-Whitman is proposing to amend its forest plan to allow loggers to cut live trees larger than 21 inches in diameter.

The Forest Service agreed in 1994 to stop cutting those larger trees in national forests in Eastern Oregon.

A draft environmental impact statement for Snow Basin is expected to be available for public review by May 2009, and a final EIS is scheduled for October.

“Fire suppression and some past timber management has led to proliferation of shade-tolerant tree species, multi-storied structure, overstocking and small average tree diameter,” said Joe Sciarrino, project manager. “It is this change in stand structure that has changed the potential fire behavior from characteristic low-intensity maintenance fire to high-intensity, uncharacteristic stand-replacing fire.”

He said the project will reduce the risk of a stand-replacing fire by thinning overgrown stands of shade-tolerant grand fir and Douglas-fir, which are crowding out ponderosa pine, western larch and lodgepole pine.

In a report on the project, Sciarrino said the overgrowth of the faster-growing grand fir and Douglas-fir trees has resulted in a major reduction in large-diameter and late-succession ponderosa pine trees. 

Sciarrino said the risk of uncharacteristic fire is measured by the degree of departure from historical fire regimes, as measured by alterations in key ecosystem components such as species composition, structural age of trees and other vegetation, stand age, canopy closure and fuel loadings.

“Simply put, this is a measure of how far off fire frequency and vegetative conditions are from historic conditions,” he said.

The risk of uncharacteristic, stand-replacing wildfire is lowest in forests rated Fire Regime Condition Class I. Such forests are dominated by fire-resistant, large-diameter trees, with little fuel on the ground, a combination that usually results in low-intensity ground fires rather than stand-replacing blazes that climb into the crowns of the tallest trees, Sciarrino said.

Due to decades of fire exclusion and regeneration in the Snow Basin, the shade-tolerant grand fir and Douglas-fir have expanded into areas once populated almost entirely by fire-resistant ponderosa pine and western larch. Sciarrino said firs are consuming moisture and soil nutrients, stunting growth of the shade-intolerant ponderosa pine, western larch and lodgepole pines.

Those conditions have left the ponderosa pine, western larch, lodgepole pine and native quaking aspen trees susceptible to future disturbance from insects, disease and large, stand-replacing wildfires, Sciarrino said.

The Wallowa-Whitman’s goal is to thin the firs and restore ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine and western larch as the dominant species, Sciarrino said.

The forest’s proposal includes commercial logging as well as cutting trees too small to be milled, and lighting prescribed fires.

Other objectives call for reducing tree stocking to a level that promotes larger diameter growth of selected tree species, and the removal of trees infested with bugs or disease, such as dwarf mistletoe.

Written comments may be mailed to Ken Anderson, Whitman District Ranger at P.O. Box 947, Baker City, OR 97814, by e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or by fax to 541-742-6705.

More information about the Snow Basin project is available on the Wallowa-Whitman’s Web site: www.fs.fed.us/r6/w-w/projects/Snow-Basin/Snow-Basin-EIS.shtml