Hazard Trees: When and Where Are They Controversial and Why? The White River Forest-Wide Hazard Tree EA

Straight Creek, with Interstate 70 in the background, is pictured on Aug. 3, 2022. Luke Vidic/Summit Daily News

I think it would be interesting for a student to look into why it is so controversial some places, and not so much others. I’m sure part of it is size-related, and part living vs. dead and hazard tree criteria. Perhaps commercialness and species? Or just cultural history of the Forest (in this case, no Timber Wars background that I know of) and its relationship with neighbors? Are hazard tree projects a big concern where you live, or not, or somewhere in-between?

Here’s a story from the Summit Daily News about some current hazard tree/fuel reduction activities near Dillon, Colorado.

Apparently the White River has been working from a forest-wide 2009 hazard tree decision (EA, 92 pages) that also involves removing dead and downed trees for fuel reduction purposes. In 2022, they did a Supplemental Information Report, adjusted some things and kept going. Interesting that no specific areas were identified in advance (condition-based management?), and it doesn’t seem like it has been controversial.

Scheduling of individual hazardous tree removal projects will occur based upon a variety of indicators. The first indicator that will be used to identify areas that will be scheduled for treatment is the presence of hazardous trees. Secondly, those areas will then be prioritized according to the intensity or frequency of hazardous tree occurrence. The third indicator will be identifying the frequency of use; areas identified as high-use will qualify as a priority for treatment over areas that are considered low-use. Access to and from private landholdings as well as the protection of historic features and administrative sites will also be considered when project sites are scheduled for treatment.

Hazardous Tree Definition

Hazardous trees are defined in reference to the Forestwide Hazardous Tree Removal and Fuels Reduction Project as:
Any tree that may fail due to a structural defect and, as a result, may cause property damage or personal injury. Tree failure is difficult to predict with certainty due to the complex interaction between a tree and its environment. Every tree would eventually fail; therefore, knowledge of tree species, site characteristics, and local weather conditions and patterns are essential when evaluating tree hazards. A defective tree is hazardous only when its failure could result in damage to something of value. The following tree specific criteria would be used to identify defective trees.
Any one or more of these criteria would qualify a tree as defective:
1. Dead trees of any species
2. Trees with significant defects
a. Canker rots
b. Root rots
c. Trunk injuries (mechanical damage, stem decay, etc.)
d. Crown defects (broken or damaged branches, forked tops, dead tops, etc.)
e. Exposed damaged roots in cut banks of roads/trails
3. Dying trees
a. About 1/3 + dead limbs and branches
b. Foliage transparency 40% + (thin crown, off-color or dwarfed foliage)
c. Borer attacks obvious and abundant – the presence of insect activity, such as bark beetles or mountain pine beetles, may indicate that a tree has been weakened by other agents.

7 thoughts on “Hazard Trees: When and Where Are They Controversial and Why? The White River Forest-Wide Hazard Tree EA”

  1. Hazard trees were not really a problem in Oregon until the 2020 Labor Day fires. The high severity/high tree mortality along hundreds of miles of road (both state highways and Forest Service roads) was off the charts compared to what had been experienced before. And it added up to a lot of commercial volume and a lot of acres – more than most “green” timber sales. So the potential impacts were much greater as well.

    • Whereas dead LPP is kind of “business as usual” and mostly not commercial. And folks in Colorado have been working on it since before I retired.. so it’s more of an ongoing process.

    • I did see some dead insect-killed trees felled and left by the side of the highway, west of John Day. It looked like it was up to the public to cut firewood out of it, before DOT was to clean up the rest. There wasn’t a lot, but it was good size. It looked very messy.

      • A few times in recent years the Barlow District on the Mt. Hood National Forest has cut hazard trees along a state highway and USFS roads, decked the logs in a large open area, and invited firewood cutters to get the wood. I cut several loads of Doug-fir and ponderosa. This was a nice public service. I wish other districts would do the same.

  2. “A defective tree is hazardous only when its failure could result in damage to something of value. The following tree specific criteria would be used to identify defective trees.”
    I couldn’t find anything about criteria that would be used to identify what would be considered “something of value.” That would be necessary to understand the scope of effects and inform the public.

  3. On the Wenatchee, we had the environmental groups go after hazard tree removal in our developed campgrounds.

    We already had the Wenatchee Forestry Sciences Lab produce a handbook on identifying hazard trees that was written by a PhD Forest Entomologist and a PhD Forest Pathologist. They also went through several campgrounds and identified hazard trees.

    The Forest Supervisor and District Ranger asked myself and the Resource Assistant to negotiate changes to standards developed by the Forestry Sciences lab with the environmental group.

    Both myself and the Resource Assistant turned down the assignment. There was no way, that I was going to accept the “moral” risk of having somebody die as a result of my negotiations to leave more hazard trees in a campground.

    The Forest Supervisor and District Ranger decided to negotiate with them, and it went on for year before they had enough. At which, point the issue was dropped.

    As to hazard trees on highways. Highways are sacred in America!!! Never had an issue with hazard trees along highways.

    I was working on the Adaptive Management Plan for the I-90 corridor. The interstate was killing spotted owls at a rapid clip. The WADOT cleared the trees along the corridor and between the two east/west bound segments converting the adjacent area into “meadow” and mouse habitat.

    The Interstate was under two different “permits” from the Forest Service, so I suggested that we drop the speed limit for a portion of the interstate to 35 mph and save the spotted owls.

    There are a lot of things Americans are willing to do to save the planet. Driving 35 miles an hour is NOT one of them.

    I could not even get ONE wildlife biologist to even CONSIDER the suggestion and carry forward with it.

    Jon, in our case something of value was a human life or a spotted owl. Everything else was just related to those two items.

    The Europeans are dropping speed limits to lower CO2 emissions significantly. Do you see any AMERICANS discussing lower speed limits to save the planet??

    Highways are sacred in America.

    • I usually went by the rule of thumb that says, “Will it die or fall within the next 10 years?”. Many trees along roads have physical damage and rot, at the base of the tree. Old fire scars usually have associated rot with them, too. On one project, one of our marking guidelines had to do with how wide and how tall the old fire scars are. Since those guidelines were ‘baked into’ the contract, we had to mark the trees that met the guidelines, regardless of whether we thought the tree was really hazardous. The only situation where we could not mark such a tree is if it was leaning away from the road/powerline/canal.

      On the Eldorado, most of the developed campgrounds were built on archaeological sites. Since harvesting the trees were problematic, the campgrounds were left out of the insect salvage sales, back in the early 90s. They ended up just felling, limbing and bucking up the trees, leaving the large diameter logs to sit in the campground. We just didn’t have the time to do a proper survey, when we had the rest of the Ranger District covered in salvage sales (as well as existing open green sales). We had at least 16 ‘Archys’ surveying vast parts of the RD.


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