Green Ridge project under scrutiny
Last updated 5/16/2023 at 4:02pm
Green Ridge looms over Camp Sherman, its treed slopes and burn scars home to populations of wildlife and a destination for hikers and hunters. It's also the site of a Forest Service project - six years in the making - that is drawing intense scrutiny as a final decision approaches.
According to the Forest Service, a draft decision on the Green Ridge Landscape Restoration Project envisions a project that "includes up to 19,437 acres of thinning, mowing, and prescribed fire treatments. It also authorizes restoration of aspen and cottonwood stands and 268 acres of hand thinning of small trees around meadow edges in prime mule deer habitat."
The project includes cutting of approximately 5.25 million board feet of timber.
Logging of trees - especially large trees - is a significant area of concern from people and groups that have formally filed objections to the project. Several objections focused on lack of clarity as to where trees larger than 21 inches in diameter would be cut.
Friends of the Metolius said: "The recent hullabaloo in Bend arising from cutting very large trees at Phil's Trail illustrates the importance of this standard to the public. If the Forest Service chooses to abandon the 21-inch standard in sectors of the Project, it needs to be transparent about why the standard would be abandoned, what tree species would be harvested outside of the standard, the number of acres of the Project to which the nonstandard would apply, (and) the basis for not applying the 21-inch ... standard."
Retired Forest Service biologist Maret Pajutee urged the Sisters Ranger District to "offer public field review and discussion opportunity of a typical example of a marked unit where trees over 21 inches are marked for removal to further trust, reinforce social license, and educate the public."
Trust is an issue for Adam Bronstein, the Oregon/Nevada director for the Western Watersheds Project, an objector on the project.
"The Forest Service has not specified specifically whether they're going to preserve old growth and large trees," he told The Nugget, arguing that the draft decision allows "a lot of wiggle room" for the agency.
"They're managing for timber," he said. "That's what they do. That's what they've always done."
Bronstein said tree cutting will have adverse effects on ungulate populations (deer and elk), dispersal habitat for spotted owl, and on riparian areas.
"They frame these projects as forest restoration," Bronstein said. "You don't destroy something you're trying to protect. Why can't we just call it what it is? It's a logging project, and we can go from there."
Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid acknowledged the concerns raised in the formal objections and said that the project will be refined to account for some of their concerns.
"We're going to go back to objectors," he said. "We're going to make tweaks."
He declined to state what those "tweaks" will consist of until he and his staff have discussed them with objectors.
He strongly disagrees that the project is a "logging project" and that the agency is "managing for timber."
He acknowledged that 5.25 million board feet sounds like a big number, but he says that it is not when broken down on a per-acre basis - and it is far less than what the timber industry would prefer.
"We're not in this area to get timber production," he said. "That would not be a good, efficient place to go for timber."
Reid told The Nugget that "no old growth will be removed." He defined old growth as trees 150 years old and older. He also said that there would not be logging in riparian areas.
"We can't do that under the Northwest Forest Plan," he said.
Bronstein, who is helping to organize a "re-wilding" conference in Camp Sherman next month, wants to see major changes in the way the Forest Service approaches the Green Ridge Project - and others like it.
"I would like to see the project vacated - the final decision pulled," he told The Nugget. "I want to see the Forest Service work with members of the conservation community to develop a project that is a true restoration and re-wilding project for Green Ridge."
Such a project, he says, would "focus on the recreation experience, along with focusing on wildlife."
"I just think we can do better here in Sisters," he said. "We can lead by example in our special places like Green Ridge."
Reid believes that the project can accomplish at least some goals compatible with "re-wilding." The draft decision authorizes 35 miles of road closures and 20 miles of road decommissioning, including unauthorized roads. That represents about 26 percent of the roads in the project area. Reid believes that action will improve conditions for mule deer and other wildlife species.
"That's going to be a win for wildlife - for rewilding - let's call it that," Reid said.
Reid says he has hiked and hunted turkeys on Green Ridge and appreciates the same values that members of the conservation community care about.
"It's wild," he said. "It's not 'Big W' wilderness, so it doesn't get the human activity," he said.
Reid says he expects to have a modified final decision this summer.
"Hopefully, it will be something everybody can live with," he said. "Nobody will get exactly what they want. It's a decision that will put that landscape on the right trajectory."
Information on the Green Ridge Landscape Restoration Project, including the testimony of objectors, may be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48454.