Oakridge Thinning Project Observations

My name is Roy Keene. I have over 30 years experience in timber cruising and forest operations and restoration. During the 90's, as director of the Public Forestry Foundation, I supervised a crew of OSU trained foresters who worked with federal agencies, conservationists, progressive industry, and many publics throughout seven western states to encourage and empower true forestry. My designs include an ecosystem management strategy for the Army's 57,000 acre Fort Lewis Forest with forest types and age classes similar to the Oakridge Project.

 

I have physically reviewed extensive parts of the Warner Creek and Shady Beach post-fire forests. My cabin site in the Siskiyou NF survived a Forest Service backfire lit during the Biscuit blaze due largely to years of careful thinning, understory fuel reduction and burning, and a large pond accessible with pump and hoses. I support prudently honest thinning and fuel reduction projects.

Below, based on my experience and site observations, are my opinions and comments on this proposed project. Please enter them in the record.

On October 15, 2007 I toured the proposed Oakridge Thinning and Fuel Reduction

Project by car and foot with a project map as a guide. Mostly homogeneous, potential target stands were relatively easy for me to assess with just a day's overview. I took core samples to fix age, growth, and log quality; basal area and height measurements; and did some volume per acre calculations using standard VBAR tables.

Given the present political culture, I think honesty is an important part of presenting a forest project to the public. Particularly if a key purpose is to reduce fire danger. From my own successful experience with reducing fuels and fire danger in the forests, one must work first (humbly) from below rather than beginning with logging from above. This implies long overdue investment of resources in our forests instead of continuing to remove them.

 

By forestry and operational definitions, this project, as proposed, is not an honest "thinning". Considering proposed leave tree spacing, existing density, and harvest tree ages and diameters, it will be more of a shelter wood harvest. Especially after operational mortality and blow down through the freshly opened stands is tallied. Logged as proposed, it will not reduce fuels, ignitions, or fire potential. Instead, logging will generate an order of magnitude increase in flammable fuels and ignition opportunities. Surrounding forests and human dwellings will be at greater fire risk than they are now.

The Forest Service has a poor record for the timely and effective treatment of post logging slash and fall down. Given the increase in untreated and suspended fuels from logging (particularly with aerial systems) and the drying up and warming of soil and fuels (along with an inevitable "biomass bloom") from dramatically increased vertical and horizontal opening, post logging stands will be more flammable and less resistant to disease, insects, and exotic plant invasion.

Many of the older stands slated for "thinning" have already kicked out their surplus stems. Their crowns, having reached maximum productivity (full closure), are now differentiating, letting easily enough light in to encourage the moist and diverse understory. Resilient and reasonably fire resistant, these stands need little or no management to continue toward early old growth conditions. And old growth is a scarce forest commodity around Oakridge.

In logging high site, well stocked, smaller diameter yet maturing timber stands like these, the Forest Service typically underestimates volumes and values. I measured over 400 feet of basal area and 100MBF to the acre in some stands. I've heard estimates of the current logging proposal producing 15 MBF per acre. Logging to 27 foot centers will produce two to three times as much volume in most stands. By underestimating volume per acre, this project will log more acres than necessary to fill the "quota".

The tall, tight grained trees that dominate these stands are suitable for high value poles and export quality beams. Logs cut from these trees will often bring over $800 per MBF, even in today's soft market. This kind of timber typically ends up sold at below real market value, minimally processed, then shipped overseas. If the agency wants to stimulate the economy with value added wood processing and domestic lumber, this is the wrong timber and time.

The way this timber harvest is proposed, purchasers will enjoy windfall profits while the public subsidizes helicopter yarding, pays for cleanup (when and if it does occur) and looses more forest capital. To maintain "truth in advertising", this project might better be called the Oakridge Timber Harvest and Fuel Production Project.

If there is an honest desire to thin and reduce fuel, why not open up and release the younger, overcrowded plantations within the project area, where, as Gifford Pinchot said, thinning will "Enhance and encourage the value of the stand"? Given the reported history of human ignition, it's the understory and it's fine fuels that need treatment and moisture retention. Focus on these coarser and crowded understories and leave overstories alone to provide and hold moisture. Fact is, if a "large east wind driven wildfire", blows into these woods, overstories logged to 27 foot centers probably won't prevent a crown fire. The trick is to drop or reduce a blaze before it builds up and gets into canopies to start with.

 

To accomplish this and build more fire resistance into the project area, consider creating and cultivating DFPZs along the road systems, now heavily encroached with brush and seedlings. Build and maintain shaded fuel breaks along ridges and between forest stands and homes. Dig strategic ponds in the uplands and keep them filled. Put local labor to work cutting, pruning, lopping, scattering, scarifying, and jackpot piling and burning.

 

In my opinion, there's nothing beneficial for the forest or even benign about the proposed logging operation. I hope the Forest Service will have the integrity to simply present this project as a timber harvest and sale; or the courage to do something better for this forest and today’s public: non-commercial thinning from below and realistic fuel reductions.

 

This comment submitted electronically by Roy Keene on October 19,2007