Tree removal rattles Camp Sherman

 

Last updated 3/23/2022 at Noon

Bill Bartlett

Blaster-in-Charge Mike Karr from Umpqua National Forest shows tools of the trade, explosive material to the left and blasting cord in hands.

With military-like precision 15 personnel from three national forests removed a dangerous tree along the west bank of the Metolius last Thursday. The precariously perched ponderosa pine was uprooted and looming at a 45-degree angle over the popular hiking trail, one mile downstream from “downtown” Camp Sherman.

High winds were the cause, and another tree immediately next to it had been fully knocked down and lay blocking the trail. The danger tree, as such trees are called, was leaning, roots exposed to the bank, against another ponderosa. The second tree was all that stood in the way of it crashing onto the trail. By all appearances it looked like something the Forest Service would routinely deal with, sending in a crew to fell the tree with a chainsaw.

Foresters decided it was too risky to use conventional removal techniques, so they called for ordnance. The explosive type. Sixteen pounds of it, in fact, seven sausage-shaped tubes attached to the side of the “support tree,” the one holding the leaning tree from crashing onto the trail.

Detonation cord stretched for several hundred feet, ending at the controls of certified Blaster In Charge Mike Karr from the Umpqua National Forest. He was teamed with Shane Kamrath from the Willamette National Forest. In the river itself, two Forest Service wildlife biologists using pole nets scoured for bull trout and gently nudged them out of harm’s way.

On the opposing bank, a worker placed a protective plywood shield in front of the river gauge station. The explosion was planned to cause the least possible disturbance to habitat, although one wonders if the presence of so many humans in brightly covered vests wasn’t disturbance enough.

Methodically, yet nonchalantly, the blasters went about their work while 13 other Forest Service staff cordoned off a full square mile of access to civilians, including and especially hikers and anglers. The entire operation lasted three hours.

It was over in a thunderous second.

“I undercharged the blast,” Karr told The Nugget. “I needed to keep the decibels to no more than 120 so as not to unduly disturb the neighbors or cause sound blast damage to nearby weak trees.”

One hundred twenty decibels is a big bang: rock concert level. Sound is measured in decibels (dB). A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a lawn mower running is about 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.

No doubt most of Camp Sherman heard it. Black Butte School had been prewarned so that children would understand. Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid was taking no chances. His team included a trained paramedic and a provisional standby for air evacuation, in the remote event that injury occur.

“We’re not so much worried for our own personnel,” Reid said. “We’re prepared just in case a wandering hiker slips past us.”

It might have appeared to the uninformed that it was a bit of overkill for one leaning tree but Reid articulated the unique situation and need for extreme measures to protect the public and forest workers.

The Nugget asked Reid if the Forest Service ever gets sued for injury to public land users. His short answer was yes, and Reid explained at length the complicated nature of liability for recreational use. It was clear that public safety is a major component of the agency’s mission and one Reid takes seriously with usage of public lands increasing every year.

The tree was not blown up as in the movies, blasted to smithereens. It was a controlled charge designed with success to cut the tree and let gravity do its thing. Crews will come in now to clear the downed timber in a conventional manner. The trail will be uninterrupted in a matter of days, with no evidence that explosives were involved.

 

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