Lava Restoration: Sound science and collaboration

ANOTHER VOICE

As a forester, I want and need to see and understand the reasons for cutting trees, before I can agree and/or recommend a forest restoration project on National Forest System Lands. That’s why, when I retired a few years ago, I began to attend and participate in the Hood River Collaborative Stewardship Crew meetings and field trips.

The Collaborative, established in 2011 by the Forest Service and the Hood River Watershed Group, is a community-based partnership that participates in the development and facilitation of projects that enhance forest health. This includes restoring tree densities to a level consistent with historic conditions and removing dead or dying trees in some stands.

These treatments help our forests be more resistant to catastrophic fire, promote increased growth and vigor, and increase structural and species diversity.

The Collaborative consists of members with a diversity of backgrounds including conservationists, environmental groups, residents, state and local governments, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Hood River Watershed Group, and the forest products industry. The Forest Service’s role, in the Collaborative is to share resource information/data/maps, share technical resources and expertise, and commit to the collaborative process.

District Ranger Janeen Tervo has made it clear that she greatly values the Collaborative’s recommendations and strongly supports a community dialogue about forest health.

The “Lava Restoration Project” was introduced, by the Forest Service, to the Collaborative in the summer of 2012. The Collaborative, with assistance from the Forest Service, conducted a field trip to the area and held office meetings where the collaborative members could raise project issues, concerns, and discuss (as a group) what they saw and thought of the proposed restoration project. In the end, the Collaborate issued a Recommendation Report (July 2013) to the Forest Service.

The Lava Restoration Project consists of vegetative treatments on approximately 1,908 acres, including plantation thinning, sapling thinning, tree planting, firewood removal, and huckleberry enhancement within a landscape of 13,800 acres of forests. The Collaborative recommendations for the Lava Restoration Project were:

Plantation Thinning Areas (40-75-year-old stands): Variable density thin from below with skips (leave islands) and gaps (openings up to 3 acres in size). Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation wanted larger gaps and Oregon Wild wanted smaller gaps.

Riparian Enhancement Areas: Some thinning in the Riparian Reserves, but not in the true riparian zone located directly adjacent to the water body. Some skips and no gaps within the treatment portion of the riparian reserve. Thinning in the Riparian Reserve should not increase water temperature or measured sedimentation.

Forest Health Treatment: Majority of members agreed with treating Unit 54 (81 acres) to improve forest health. Utilize variable density thinning with skips and gaps. Incorporate areas of downed logs and legacy trees into skips. BARK and Oregon Wild advocated no cutting in this unit.

Huckleberry Enhancement: Treat two units (103 acres) for huckleberry enhancement according to silvicultural treatment prescription. Defer treatment for two other units. BARK and Oregon Wild did not support treatment of any of the units.

Roads: For roads not projected to be used in the next 10 years, storm-proofing the road, at a minimum, should be done to improve the hydrologic function. Sight lines from major roads should be obliterated to minimize improper use.

In reviewing the Forest Service’s preliminary assessment of the Lava Restoration Project, issued in December of 2013, I wholeheartedly support the proposed action and the scientific reasons that are given to justify the restoration project. The proposed design criteria and mitigation measures, listed within the assessment, are also based on sound science and experience which will help reduce project impacts to the land.

The Hood River Collaborate Stewardship Crew is currently working with the Forest Service on the Pollalie/Cooper Project. It is our third collaborative effort with the Forest Service.

We would all benefit from more people becoming involved with us and joining in on the conversation. Your input makes a difference, so email Anne Saxby at anne@hoodriverswcd.org to get on the mailing list for future meetings, field trips, and correspondence. See you there!

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Bruce Holmson is a retired federal forester and lives in Hood River.

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