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What to expect when you're expecting (logging)


Looking towards the Imnaha River Corridor from Harl Butte in the Morgan Nesbit logging project
Looking towards the Imnaha River Corridor from Harl Butte in the Morgan Nesbit logging project

Happy 2024 from all of us at GHCC. There’s already a lot going on this year, which means – as always – we’ll need your help! While watchdogging logging projects is not the only work we do, it’s an important piece of our mission, and we anticipate it being as busy as ever this year.


What’s coming up in 2024?


The first project we’re keeping an eye on is the Ellis Integrated Vegetation Project.


Ellis Integrated Vegetation Project: This 110,000-acre project on the Umatilla National Forest is expected to release its Final Environmental Impact Statement imminently. Learn more about this project below.


Baker City Watershed Fuels Management Project: The Draft Environmental Assessment for this 22,000-acre project is expected to be released soon. 


Clarks Vegetation Management Project: The Draft Environmental Assessment for this 42,000-acre project should be released in April 2024. Learn more here


Morgan Nesbit Forest Resiliency Project: The Draft Environmental Assessment for this 87,000-acre project between the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon Wilderness should be released in April 2024. Learn more about this project here


Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revisions: This huge effort will revise three forest plans covering over 5 million acres across the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, and Malheur National Forests. We expect the “assessment” phase to wrap up and the first round of official public comments to begin this spring. 


What do we know about Ellis?


The Ellis project is featured in pink. Graphic: USFS
The Ellis project is featured in pink. Graphic: USFS

The Ellis Integrated Vegetation Project is a 110,000-acre project making up the majority of the public lands between Heppner and Ukiah on the Umatilla National Forest. Commercial logging is proposed for over 29,000 acres of these forests. Much of the forestland sits a few thousand feet above the North Fork John Day River and includes a wide variety of forest types – everything from beautiful ponderosa pine parklands down low to cool, moist, and cold forests up high. These forests offer refuge from the summer canyon heat and are crucial habitat for wildlife that migrate seasonally. Riparian habitat, like that alongside Potamus Creek, are important travel corridors for animals looking to travel between the river and high country.


Two wildlife corridors (yellow) along streams in the Eliis project area. Graphic: ODFW.
Two wildlife corridors (yellow) along streams in the Eliis project area. Graphic: ODFW.

Potamus Creek is one of many important tributary streams in the Ellis project area, and it is recognized by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) as such in the Priority Wildlife Connectivity Area maps (it makes the left side of the Y made by the connectivity corridors). Potamus Creek originates in the beautiful upland wet meadow known as Kelly Prairie. Ellis Creek eventually flows into Potamus Creek, and together they flow into the North Fork John Day River. In addition to being useful for wildlife throughout the year, they both contain critical habitat for the Mid-Columbia River steelhead, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. 


 

GHCC has been engaged with this project since its announcement in 2018. We’ve attended two field trips to the area, and have submitted detailed written comments on the Proposed Action (scoping) document in 2019 and on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in April of 2022. Additionally, GHCC staff have met with the District Rangers and the project leader to discuss our significant concerns as well as our support for certain aspects of the project.  Like most projects, this one’s stated purpose is to reduce tree density on the landscape.


This is tied to a number of purported benefits, like “improved ecosystem health”, enhanced plant communities, improved wildlife habitat, and the maintenance of public and traditional land uses. It also lists “protecting values at risk and increasing public and firefighter safety in the event of a wildfire”. These are laudable goals when applied in the right place, in the right way, for the right reason. The devil remains in the details of application, however, and there is a high potential that negative impacts can result from a project this large with this much proposed logging.

 

The size and intensity of logging proposed in this project are huge concerns to us. From what we’ve seen so far, this proposal would allow intensive logging over a significant amount of this very large project area. The forests that would remain after logging would be quite sparse, according to the targeted basal areas (a measure of how many trees of different sizes are left), and would include “regeneration cuts” (e.g. clearcuts). This level of heavy logging and the extent of its impacts raise a number of concerns including negative impacts to canopy cover, wildlife habitat, water quality, and carbon sequestration. Timber production should not come at the expense of the public forest.


Goals like protecting personal property and creating an environment more safe for firefighters are reasonable. However, this can be done through targeted thinning in specific and strategic locations on the landscape to assist fire managers in the event of a wildfire, rather than widespread and heavy logging across over 20,000 acres. Here are a few things that stick out to us about Ellis:


The good: 

  • The fact that it’s an EIS with multiple alternatives is a positive  

  • 87,735 acres planned for prescribed fire

  • Creating an alternative (#3) that doesn’t build any temporary roads, and focuses the most heavy treatments in dry forests. Limited or no mechanical treatments in moist and cold forest types and old forest structure.  

  • Multiple alternatives with reduced open road densities. There are two (#2 and #5) that propose some road decommissioning. Considering that road densities in this forest already far exceed what’s acceptable for wildlife, closing roads is a must. 

  • No logging is proposed in Inventoried Roadless Areas. We strongly advocated for this early in the process and it’s very important that these areas are protected. 


The bad:

  • A huge analysis area with aggressive goals for tree removal across forest types. The trees left standing after logging would generally be the minimum allowable.

  • The door is wide open to logging mature trees (>21” diameter at breast height).

  • Nearly all alternatives contain plans to commercially log in at least 16,000 acres (two propose over 27,000 acres) of never-before-logged forest. The Umatilla National Forest calls these “undeveloped” lands, and they have no special protections or restrictions, despite serving the same crucial ecological roles that “official” Roadless or Wilderness lands do. The analysis of the project directly states that these treatments will eliminate some of these areas entirely, and fragment larger ones – rendering them far less valuable. 


As with many proposed projects, reducing the number of trees on the landscape (which translates to more volume for the mill) is the most obvious goal being met here, but at what cost? What does this mean for the rest of the values on the landscape? This will be answered by the Forest Service depending on which alternative they choose.


What’s next, and what will the Final EIS look like?

The Final EIS could be published any day now. The Forest Service can pick one of the alternatives as written, but it’s not uncommon for the agency to create a “modified” alternative. This happens when the agency pulls components from multiple alternatives to create the final proposed plan. 


How can I take action?

Look for updates, and an action alert, from us as soon as we know more! If you want to learn more now, you can check out the Draft EIS, and view previous comments from GHCC and others.

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