News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Spotted owls in focus on Green Ridge

In August of 2020, 4,338 acres 12 miles north-northwest of Sisters burned in the lightning-sparked Green Ridge fire. The ensuing smoke drove folks in Sisters to the Coast and farther. It made for a few depressing weeks in town, stunting tourism, and limiting outdoor enjoyment.

Green Ridge, perched above Camp Sherman and looking down upon the Metolius River, is popular with bikers and hikers.

It is also home to a unique government-owned facility. Green Ridge Lookout is set on a ridge more than 2,000 feet above the Metolius River. It offers guests a unique lodging experience in Deschutes National Forest. The lookout, a 20-foot-tall fire lookout with stunning views of Mt. Jefferson and the Metolius River basin, was built in the 1960s. Green Ridge Lookout is available for rent early May - June and mid-September to mid-November. During the summer months, the lookout is staffed with Forest Service volunteers who help with forest fire detection.

Green Ridge, parts of which provide habitat for the federally protected northern spotted owl, which is somewhat of a rarity in this locale, is being noticed. The Forest Service says years of clear-cutting, heavy logging, and fire exclusion and suppression have left the forest at Green Ridge overly dense and at high risk of fire that could obliterate tree stands the owl relies on and threaten nearby communities.

“A lot of it was previously either high-grade logged, where some of the largest, most fire-resistant trees were logged, or it was clear-cut and then replanted in pretty dense plantations,” said Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid.

The agency is proposing a large-scale restoration that would halve the amount of forested area at moderate or high risk of fire. Excessive logging is assumed to be the source of habitat loss for the northern spotted owl, ultimately leading to its protective status under the Endangered Species Act. Ornithologists say spotted owls require mature, undisturbed, old-growth forests for survival.

The draft plan calls for prescribed fires to remove shade-tolerant trees such as grand fir and white fir, accelerating the development of large, fire-resistant trees.

The northern spotted owl has long been a flash point for environmental groups such as Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, which is expressing concern with the Forest Service’s proposal at Green Ridge. By naming it “Green Ridge Timber Sale,” they hope to attract more attention to the topic and increase citizen input.

The group’s position is that the Forest Service’s proposed logging of understory fuels will degrade rather than protect habitat for the owls, deer and other species.

Last week the Forest Service published a draft environmental assessment for the proposal, which says in part that nearly a quarter of the project area is at moderate or high risk of a potentially devastating fire. Roughly a third of it already burned in the Eyerly Fire in 2002 and more in the Bridge 99 fire of 2014 and Green Ridge fire last year.

The Forest Service lists six priorities for the project including bolstering habitat for northern spotted owls and mule deer. Deschutes National Forest also outlines goals to perform selective thinning that could include prescribed burns to lessen fuel loads.

Forest Service Fuels Specialist Andrew Myrha reports that what we see today is a lot of shade-tolerant species, a lot of continuity in the stand vertically from the ground all the way to the over-story canopy. Proposed treatments would vary in different areas, based on site-specific conditions and wildlife needs.

The Forest Service says that, ideally, good owl habitat needs grand fir and white fir that’s going to fall down and provide that large structure on the ground. John DeLuca, a Forest Service wildlife biologist said, “The intention is to maintain the canopy cover for spotted owls to persist in those stands for purposes of dispersal.”

Public comment is now being accepted, till November 19. If the plan is approved, expect some road closures and trail rerouting.

Comments may be submitted electronically to [email protected] Comments must be submitted as part of the actual email message, or as an attachment in Microsoft Word, rich text format (rtf), or portable document format (pdf) only.

If using an electronic message, a scanned signature is one way to provide verification.

Emails submitted to email addresses other than the one listed above, in formats other than those listed or containing viruses will be rejected.

Written comments may also be submitted via mail, fax, or in person (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., excluding holidays) to: Ian Reid (District Ranger) c/o Lauren DuRocher P.O. Box 249, Hwy.

20 and Pine St., Sisters, OR 97759.

 

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