Every year, Dan Story says, it seems the natural forces that conspire to turn forests into a mess of snapped trunks and jackstrawed limbs target a different section of the Wallowa-Whitman.
The crosshairs for 2016 fell on the southeastern corner of the forest near Halfway.
“In driving around it looks like a pretty typical winter, with the exception of the area from the 66 Road to the 39 Road,” said Story, road maintenance engineer for the Whitman Ranger District, which covers the southern half of the 2.3-million-acre national forest.
“Something happened out there this late winter, and it knocked over a bunch of trees,” Story said.
Wind, of course, was the specific culprit.
What Story means when he says “something” is that he’s not sure whether the gusts that toppled all the trees were aided by a fall of wet snow that weighed the trees’ branches, or saturated soil that left their roots vulnerable.
Both are factors that can transform otherwise benign winds into a malevolent weapon that wreaks havoc on stands of conifers.
“Every year it seems we have an area that we go through this,” Story said. “In that regard, it’s not uncommon.”
Story said Wallowa-Whitman officials are working to cut trees blocking roads.
The two roads Story named by number are the Fish Lake Road (66) and the Wallowa Loop Road (39). Both are popular routes during the summer.
The former is a graded gravel route that runs north from Halfway into the Wallowas, passing, as its name implies, Fish Lake.
Road 39 is a paved route that runs between state Highway 86 and the Joseph-Imnaha Highway and connects Baker and Wallowa counties. Neither Road 66 nor 39 is maintained during winte r (except for snowmobiles) and both remain snowbound at higher elevations, Story said.
Road 39 will not be maintained until June 15. Matt Burks, a public information officer for the Wallowa-Whitman, said engineers don’t recommend driving the road until June 15.
Farther west, the Empire Gulch Road, Forest Road 7015 north of Richland, is open to Eagle Creek, and the main Eagle Creek Road, No. 77, is open north to just beyond Tamarack Campground, Story said.
Snow still blocks the 77 Road both to the east, leading to McBride Campground and Halfway, and to the west, connecting to Highway 203 at Catherine Creek Summit.
South of Baker City, snowdrifts still block a short section of the Skyline Road, Road 11, about two miles west of Dooley Mountain Summit.
Elsewhere on the Wallowa-Whitman:
Granite/North Fork John Day/Starkey
• The Elkhorn Drive Byway, Road 73, is open from Granite to the North Fork John Day River, and Road 51 is open to Starkey.
Road 52 to Ukiah and Road 73 to Anthony Lakes remain blocked by snow.
La Grande area
• Spring Creek, Road 21, snow melted between Interstate 84 and Dark Canyon. From Highway 244, snow melted to the breaks of Meadow Creek.
• Blue Springs, Road 5155, clear of snow