Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion Proposal Is Risky

[As the Gnarl Ridge Fire [here] expands in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, causing closure of a large area during peak summer use, threatening Cloud Cap, Tilly Jane, Cold Springs Creek and the Hood River Valley watershed/water supply, Congress is considering the expansion of that Wilderness by 125,000 acres. You might think that some lesson was learned from the Bluegrass Ridge Fire (2006) [here], but apparently not.

Wilderness designation is a kiss of death to forests and forest protection, but you need not take my word for it. Hood River Valley orchardist John Marker has over 50 years of professional forest management experience, is a Director of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, and is one of the most respected foresters in this country. Here are his recent comments regarding the Mt. Hood Wilderness expansion, submitted to the Hood River County Commission last month.]

by John F. Marker, USFS Forester (ret.)

The goal of protecting Mt. Hood, a magnificent natural resource, is commendable, but proposed wilderness expansion will, I believe, place the mountain at greater risk of damage and increase risk of harm to neighboring lands and communities.

The proposal ignores the 1897 Organic Act’s mandate of sustained production of renewable natural resources from the national forests with water and wood priority. Wood may no longer be critical, since the U.S. now imports most of its lumber and wood products, but water is critical to our ability to live in the West. Recreation, wildlife, solitude and scenery are also important to our quality of life and the engines for a substantial part of our local economy.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 provides little protection for the land from impacts of fire, insects, disease, catastrophic storms, air pollution, or climate change. The Act severely limits the ability to control or prevent damage from such forces by strictly restricting management and treatment options. Wilderness constraints also jeopardize protection of adjacent non-wilderness areas such as Hood River County forests, Bull Run, Government Camp and other lands and communities adjacent to the national forest. And bad things can and do come into and out of Wilderness areas.

Currently many areas of forest inside the proposed Wilderness expansions are threatened by lethal insect and disease activity. Fire danger increases with declining forest health. If, as many scientists predict, the Northwest long term climate pattern continues to grow warmer and drier, the risk of destruction will worsen as ecosystems are weakened by climate changes. Burgeoning human use of the mountain raises the threat of damage to the land from overuse and abuse. To ignore these realities contradicts the stated goal of “protecting” and “saving” Mt. Hood.

An alternative for protecting Mt. Hood is available. It is development of the plan called for in the Walden-Blumenauer legislative proposal, starting with an acknowledgement of the biological and climatic forces constantly at work on the mountain, and an understanding that lines on a map will not save land or resources from damage. Mt. Hood’s critical role of providing clean and abundant water for more than a million people living in its shadow is a paramount consideration for this plan.

Rather than Wilderness, a hard-nosed plan for the mountain’s future can be built by establishing rules for protecting watershed values, recreation and other uses. This process can be expedited by using the existing congressionally-mandated national forest plan to start. If planning determines a specific need for protection beyond existing environmental protection laws, specific legislation can be written.

To my way of thinking, priority for Mt. Hood management is water; other uses come second. Locking up the land is not the way to save or protect against challenges from people and nature’s forces. To care for the mountain and the people depending upon on it requires management that can adapt to changing climate patterns and increasing public needs. Stretching and bending the intent of the Wilderness Act to “protect” and “save” this land does a disservice to Act and the memory of those who created it.

13 Aug 2008, 12:03pm
by Bob Zybach

I have never met John Marker, but was good friends and neighbors with Rex Wakefield, long-time Supervisor (and revolutionary silviculturist) of the Siuslaw National Forest on the Oregon Coast Range. Rex shared many of John’s views, particularly as they relate to the 1897 Organic Act and subsequent Multiple Use laws.

At one time I contracted with the Siuslaw NF and OSU College of Forestry to complete a comprehensive oral history with Rex, but the lengthy manuscript from that effort appears to be have been destroyed or misplaced. For some reason, little institutional effort has been made to relocate his transcribed memories and opinions, or to publish them, as originally planned (probably just incompetence rather than politics).

The history was completed in the early 1990s, and many of Rex’s ideas ran counter to the PC “science” that spawned the NW Forest Plan and related Spotted Owl “plans.” I now question the motivations of the “scientists” and politicians who engineered these policies; and at that time I also definitely questioned their proposed management methods. Their ideas were doomed to predictable failure: subsequent reduction of the spotted owl population is one proof; the current two-decade spate of western US catastrophic wildfires is another.

My research has been in the history of catastrophic (100,000+ acres) forest fires in western Oregon. Rex Wakefield was an expert in the topic, as well as being an expert in fighting wildfires. When you say that Wilderness designation is “the kiss of death” you are expressing a reality that is shared by knowledgeable and influential, long-time USFS employees, and also by historical research. The current conditions of the Kalmiopsis, Mt. Jefferson, and Three Sisters Wildernesses in western Oregon, and most Wilderness areas in northern California and Idaho bear witness to the truth of your statement.

Good luck to John Marker in making his ideas and opinions better known, and to you in your efforts to end the current mismanagement of federal lands and forest wildfires.



web site

leave a comment

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Follow me on Twitter

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Meta