Opposition to Walton Lake project must stop
As these words are typed, gusts of wind are ripping through Prineville with enough force to create that eerie howling sound and shake even the sturdiest of tree branches.
The wind advisory took effect around mid-morning Thursday and remained in force through Friday evening with the worst of it expected on the second day. These are the kinds of storms that infamously knock over relatively healthy trees and rip apart the roofs of homes. Trampolines are sometimes uprooted from yards and tossed a block down the road.
Quite likely, the wind was whipping violently up at Walton Lake as well. And it's fair to wonder if all the trees up there are still standing. After all, a good portion of them are infected with laminated root rot, which means they could fall over at any moment – let alone a moment that is part of a violent windstorm.
Ochoco National Forest leaders had hoped to fix this diseased tree problem a long time ago. Nearly six years ago, they identified a project that would remove numerous infected trees that had essentially become a safety hazard. When trees are sick enough that they can topple over, and those trees are located in a popular recreation area, the trees have got to go, right?
Apparently, not everyone sees it that way – or some have at least found enough fault with the Forest Service plan to challenge it repeatedly. It has been formally challenged during public comment sessions and more recently with a lawsuit.
Past attempts to address concerns raised by conservation groups were met with claims that forest leaders failed to rescope the project and that the public participation process for the project continues to be flawed and illegal.
But finally, this past fall, it appeared Ochoco National Forest had cleared all the hurdles and responded to all the challenges and concerns. It looked like the project would finally move forward. Ochoco National Forest Supervisor Shane Jeffries had signed a final Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Done deal, right?
Nope. Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project pursued legal action. It seems that the project "approves the logging of hundreds of large trees and numerous very large old growth trees in the project area."
Not surprisingly, local forest officials don't agree. They stand by their analysis and stress that the purpose in doing the work is to address public safety and forest health in a developed recreation management area.
Enough is enough. What is there to gain by continually leaving this issue unattended? Does Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project want to keep the Walton Lake area closed to the public until the last infected tree drops to the ground? Is it really so offensive to remove diseased trees that it is necessary to repeatedly challenge attempts to do so for half a decade?
It's almost as if this conservation organization believes the Forest Service will buzzcut the landscape, reap huge timber profits and laugh all the way to the bank while a popular camping destination is left looking like an excavated real estate lot.
Who knows what the lawsuit will bring? The future of the project, it seems, will now be in the hands of a judge. But hopefully, the decision will favor public safety and the return to full use of a beautiful and popular Crook County destination.
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