Environmentalists challenge Molalla area timber sale
Clackamas County is planning to harvest and sell approximately 1.6 million board feet of timber from 50 acres of land at "Family Camp" near the Molalla River Corridor Recreation area, but environmentalists are raising concerns over potential negative impacts of the project.
Specifically, environmentalists say the logging operation will help drive climate change, make the land vulnerable to wildfires, potentially jeopardize Molalla's drinking water and more.
"The climate crisis is just too alarming to continue to approve these projects without any environmental review," said John Talberth, president and senior economist for the Center of Sustainable Economy, in his comment to the Clackamas County Timber Sale Advisory Committee this month. "As part of your regular duties as an advisory committee, you have the authority to ask Andrew (Dobmeier, county forester) and others to not just tell you what they want to do but tell you about carbon emissions, fire risk, and all the other potentially adverse impacts associated with these projects."
Despite concerns, the advisory committee is pushing the plan forward.
Family Camp is located approximately 15 miles south of Molalla. According to the Timber Harvest Plan that Dobmeier created, the area contains Douglas fir, western hemlock and a little bit of red alder. There is a small creek on the property with apparently no fish in it, and there is no evidence of spotted owls.
Harvest is estimated to begin in late January and end by June 30, per the plan. Debris created in the process of the harvest will be piled and burned in the fall. Then, the area will be planted with Douglas fir and western red cedar. Western hemlock is expected to seed naturally from nearby trees.
The net sale proceeds will be deposited in the Forest & Timber Management Fund for county park and forest operations, per the plan. Dobmeier could not be reached in time for press to answer the question of exactly how much the county stands to profit from the sale.
But it's no doubt the county relies on this income, as advisory committee Chair Brent Keller noted in a letter he sent to County Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard following the committee's meeting on Jan .6.
It was at this meeting that Dobmeier presented the sale plan. It was also there that Talberth and about 10 members of the Clackamas Climate Action Coalition showed up to oppose the sale.
The CSE had also sent a challenge letter to the county prior to the meeting. In this letter and in his comments at the meeting, Talberth claimed the proposed timber sale conflicts with existing environmental policies and he laid out the following concerns.
He said emissions from the timber sale can be expected to exceed 12,276 tons of carbon dioxide, an amount equivalent to putting nearly 2,700 new passenger cars on the road for a year. This does not include emissions associated with logging equipment and transport of logs, which Talberth said will also be considerable.
Talberth also suggested that logging lands are more vulnerable to wildfires, insects, disease, water shortages, harmful algae blooms, landslides, floods and droughts than the natural forests they've replaced.
Talberth pointed out that the land in question is home to at least 1,000 species of wildlife, and he suggested fragmenting the habitat could wipe out some of these species.
He further noted that the timber sale is located in the public water supply for the City of Molalla and that the operation could jeopardize drinking water.
"In the era of climate change, when public forests are badly needed as forest carbon reserves, Clackamas County and other public agencies should be getting out of the logging business," Talberth said in his challenge letter.
The CSE asked the County to suspend work on the plan and suggested many alternatives such as setting aside the best growing land and areas that are furthest along in growth, considering variable density thinning, reconsidering the mix of species that will be planted and coordinating the timing of the clearcuts with others.
However, after hearing citizen concerns, Dobmeier, along with Manager of County Parks and Forests Rick Gruen and County Commissioner Ken Humberston, asserted that clearcutting is the most efficient method of managing Douglas fir, both economically and ecologically, according to Keller's letter to Bernard.
Dobmeier also noted in the sale plan that Clackamas County's Forest & Timber Management Program meets and often exceeds all Oregon Forest Practice Act rules.
The advisory committee voted 4-1 in favor of the Family Camp Timber Sale and forwarded it on to the Board of County Commissioners. The no vote came from Louis Lopes, who said experience with her own forestland leads her to agree with many of the citizens' comments, per Keller's letter.
The County Commission meets every Thursday at 10 a.m. at the county's Public Services Building. The timber sale is not yet on the commission's agenda, but upcoming agendas can be found online at clackamas.us/meetings/bcc/business.
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