31 Aug 2008, 10:47am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Forest Service Retirees Question Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion Plan

Note: We post most news stories we find interesting at W.I.S.E. Forest, Fire, and Wildlife News [here]. This article, however, is more than a news clipping. The voices and positions expressed are extremely important. These commentaries regarding our forests deserve our attention here at SOS Forests.

by Raelyn Ricarte, Hood River News,August 27, 2008 [here]

Two former high-ranking officials from the U.S. Forest Service contend that expanding Wilderness areas on Mount Hood will create numerous management challenges.

Linda Goodman and George Leonard believe that retirement has afforded them the opportunity to speak freely and so they can represent the views of many employees with the federal agency.

Goodman was the Region 6 Regional Forester until this spring and supervised activities in 17 national forests — more than 25 million acres — in Oregon and Washington. Leonard served as associate chief for the federal agency until 1993 and is the current president of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees.

Both administrators have many concerns about the latest Wilderness bill, known as Oregon Treasures. That proposal by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., seeks to add 132,000 acres of Wilderness to the existing 186,200 acres. The legislation is awaiting review by the House when Congress reconvenes in September. A similar plan — calling for 127,000 more acres of Wilderness — has been stalled in the Senate since 2007.

Goodman said 4.5 million people visit Mount Hood each year because of its proximity to the Portland metro area. She said a visitor study undertaken by the forest service within the last several years revealed that 67,000 people each year came to the mountain solely for the Wilderness experience.

The remainder of respondents pursued other recreational interests, such as skiing, mountain biking and camping in developed sites, some of which would be eliminated under Oregon Treasures.

“I think this proposal could be doing an economic disservice to the public and communities around the mountain,” said Goodman.

She said it would be more appropriate for Congress to impose a National Recreation Area designation rather than Wilderness.

She said NRAs provide protection for natural resources but leave camp sites open, accommodate mountain biking, which is prohibited in Wilderness, and allow greater efficiency in maintaining hiking trails. She said chain saws could still be used to clear away trees that fall across pathways. Mechanized equipment is prohibited in Wilderness so cross-cut saws are used to clean up trails.

Goodman said the task of sawing up a downed tree then becomes so laborious that Forest Service employees can’t keep up with the workload. She said there are not enough volunteers to make up for the lack of manpower.

“They don’t have enough funding to maintain the Wilderness they have right now, and this plan will be a real problem for employees,” said Goodman.

She believes the purpose of the 1964 Wilderness Act would not be met by scattering more “small narrow corridors” across the slopes of the mountain. She said the existing Mount Hood Wilderness, at 47,160 acres, and the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, 44,600 acres, are large enough to serve as a pristine getaway for hikers. If Congress decides to mandate more Wilderness, Goodman said, it should be attached to the larger locations that are already in existence.

“We all believe in Wilderness but the little spurs in Oregon Treasures don’t meet the intent of the Act to provide solitude,” said Goodman, whose career with the Forest Service spanned 34 years.

Leonard expects Hood River County to face challenges if the bill is approved. He said having the newly expanded Wilderness abut a section of the county’s managed forest near Post Canyon creates the potential for more wildfires.

He said insect-riddled and diseased trees are more at risk during lightening strikes. He said while infested trees can be treated within the national forest, they must be left alone in the Wilderness.

“If I had land that was immediately adjacent to an area classified as Wilderness I’d be pretty concerned,” said Leonard.

“I would expect to have my ability to suppress problems significantly reduced.”

Goodman said even if an exception is made and mechanized equipment is allowed into the Wilderness to combat a fire, there might not be a way to reach the blaze. She said the primitive roadways once used for timber harvest cannot be maintained and some are obliterated altogether.

“Putting equipment in there means that you have to be able to get there; and without a road nearby, you can’t do that,” said Goodman.

She said fires are considered a “natural phenomenon” in a Wilderness area and managed with a lighter touch unless they threaten public safety. She said these fires can burn “explosively” because of the dead and dying trees so they are harder to contain once ignited — and more dangerous for firefighters to battle.

John Marker, a retired forest service employee and upper valley orchardist, believes expanding Wilderness will threaten the most valuable resource on the mountain — its water supply.

“Water is critical to our way of life and the engine for a substantial part of our local economy,” he said.

He said a fire that burns hot enough in the Wilderness to sterilize topsoil creates the potential for erosion since nothing can grow there. He said even rains cannot penetrate the damaged earth and that is not acceptable when Mount Hood’s watersheds provide drinking water for more than one million people — and irrigation water for hundreds of local farms.

“Once a fire gets started in a Wilderness area and starts moving, it will go where it wants to go,” said Marker.

He supported development of a customized management plan for the “urban” mountain that was called for in a 2006 bill co-sponsored by Blumenauer and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. That plan would have established stringent rules for protecting resources, recreation and other uses.

Marker, Goodman and Leonard agree that adding more Wilderness to Mount Hood could end up threatening not only resources but recreational opportunities.

1 Sep 2008, 11:47am
by Forrest Grump

Let me clear the coffee from my nose. GOODMAN is saying this? This is the same R-6 RF Linda Goodman? I’m not imbibing the hopium?
And I’m impressed at those RVD numbers. Duh.

1 Sep 2008, 1:18pm
by Mike

This is not a defense of anybody for anything, but there is tremendous pressure on current line officers in the USFS to comply with orders from the Washington Office. It is not always entirely their fault for doing what they do.

Whoofoos are a good example. The WFU program was generated top down, not bottom up. While some USFS employees at the field level have embraced it, many have not. However, it is not within their power to reject it.

In my opinion, and in this case it is an ill-informed opinion, the USFS is on the verge of mutiny. The Washington Office is deeply distrusted and even despised by many field employees for what they see as extreme political footsie with radical anti-forest, anti-forestry groups. The leadership gap is wide and growing.



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