From this article on OPB (note the reference to “so-called danger trees”):
The U.S. Forest Service has abandoned a plan to log along more than 400 miles of roads in burnt areas of the Willamette National Forest.
In a written statement issued Wednesday, Willamette National Forest supervisor Dave Warnack said mounting legal costs influenced his decision to withdraw the plan.
“Our work to safely restore public access to areas burned in the 2020 Labor Day fires continues to be top priority,” Warnack said. “Upon withdrawal of this decision, my staff will conduct another review of the purpose and need of this project and will consider a new approach to addressing this important issue.”
The federal agency crafted the plan following the Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Holiday Farm fires of 2020, saying roadside trees killed or injured in the fires posed a safety risk to recreators and motorists.
The plan drew a legal challenge from environmental groups Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Willamette Riverkeeper, who argued the plan was a thinly veiled attempt at commercial salvage logging of some 20,000 acres of public lands, and that carrying it out would degrade water quality and wildlife habitat.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in November ordered an immediate stop to the roadside logging just days before cutting was set to begin, indicating the environmental groups were likely to win their case.
McShane wrote in his order that the Forest Service could cut trees at imminent risk of falling onto roads, but noted that most of the trees slated for felling didn’t fit that description.
Areas within the Willamette National Forest that burned in recent wildfires, such as the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, Opal Creek and Breitenbush, will remain closed to the public until further notice while the Forest Service develops a new plan.
It seems to me that this approach (the usual proposal- litigation hamster wheel) is not working for cases like these. And with the idea that fires will become more frequent, larger and more intense, what we see now could be just the tip of the iceberg (to mix metaphors). Plus concerns about climate change via bark beetles or directly killing trees, plus non-native insects and pathogens .. there could be many reason for dead trees.
1. Having observed many roadside hazard tree projects, I note that cutting roadside hazard trees doesn’t seem to be (as) controversial elsewhere (except in Region 5 perhaps). The discussion seems to be about “how far from the road” “how dead or likely to become dead how soon” and “which roads”.
2. It seems to me (but perhaps not) that the FS would be following R-6 roadside hazard tree guidance, developed by their own technical experts, who don’t stand anything to gain from more trees or fewer trees. Is the judge overruling that “expert guidance” ” latest science” or “agency discretion”?
3. It seems like it would be fairly easy to achieve some kind of common ground because there are so many variables to consider… distance from the road, which roads, how likely to die and so on. So… let’s get creative and think of easier, less costly ways to arrive at future decisions, considering the environmental, recreation, products and equity consequences. It’s probably the recreationists (equity) who suffer while all this is taking too long to decide (and taxpayers of course, and the opportunity costs of having employees involved instead of other work.. and so on)
I’m not sure the timber industry is waiting on unexpected fire salvage from the Williamette, but perhaps they are.
A. A Hazard Tree GMR approach, round up all the best information via PNW/PSW. Would future judges consider that? What is the track record on current GMRs?
B. A Regional (or national?) Hazard Tree Programmatic from which forest decisions can be tiered. I recall having used those for certain pesticides back in the old days.
C. The latest science for peace-making… get a variety of experts in conflict resolution to suggest methods of resolving the issue (how much, where, how far from roads, what characteristics?).
D. Congressional Help. Round up info and make recommendations for contents of a legislative CE. While this is the best solution from the finality perspective, often Congressional staff don’t analyze in depth and have little public involvement. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. They could put one or more proposals online and get analysis and engagement from interest groups, agencies, and the public to reduce the “behind closed doors” or “doing our buddies favors” aspect.