Forest Service retirees question wilderness expansion plan
From the Hood River News:
ForestService retirees question wilderness expansion plan ?
August 27, 2008 ?
By RAELYNN RICARTE ?
Hood River News staff writer
Two former high-ranking officials from the U.S. Forest Service contend ?thatexpanding Wilderness areas on Mount Hood will create numerous ?managementchallenges. ?
Linda Goodman and George Leonard believe that retirement has affordedthem ?the opportunity to speak freely and so they can represent the views of ?manyemployees with the federal agency. ?
Goodman was the Region 6 Regional Forester until this spring and ?supervisedactivities in 17 national forests — more than 25 million acres ?— in Oregon andWashington. Leonard served as associate chief for the ?federal agency until1993 and is the current president of the National ?Association of ForestService 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 theexisting 186,200 acres. The legislation is awaiting ?review by the House whenCongress reconvenes in September. A similar plan ?— calling for 127,000 moreacres of Wilderness — has been stalled in the ?Senate since 2007. ?
Goodman said 4.5 million people visit Mount Hood each year because ofits ?proximity to the Portland metro area. She said a visitor study undertaken ?bythe forest service within the last several years revealed that 67,000 ?peopleeach year came to the mountain solely for the Wilderness ?experience. ?
The remainder of respondents pursued other recreational interests, suchas ?skiing, mountain biking and camping in developed sites, some of which ?wouldbe eliminated under Oregon Treasures. ?
“I think this proposal could be doing an economic disservice to thepublic ?and communities around the mountain,” said Goodman. ?
She said it would be more appropriate for Congress to impose a National ?RecreationArea designation rather than Wilderness. ?
She said NRAs provide protection for natural resources but leave camp ?sitesopen, accommodate mountain biking, which is prohibited in ?Wilderness, andallow greater efficiency in maintaining hiking trails. She ?said chain sawscould still be used to clear away trees that fall across ?pathways. Mechanizedequipment is prohibited in Wilderness so cross-cut ?saws are used to clean uptrails. ?
Goodman said the task of sawing up a downed tree then becomes solaborious ?that Forest Service employees can’t keep up with the workload. Shesaid ?there are not enough volunteers to make up for the lack of manpower. ?
“They don’t have enough funding to maintain the Wilderness they haveright ?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 ?scatteringmore “small narrow corridors” across the slopes of the ?mountain. She said theexisting Mount Hood Wilderness, at 47,160 acres, ?and the Salmon-HuckleberryWilderness, 44,600 acres, are large enough to ?serve as a pristine getaway forhikers. If Congress decides to mandate ?more Wilderness, Goodman said, itshould be attached to the larger ?locations that are already in existence. ?
“We all believe in Wilderness but the little spurs in Oregon Treasures ?don’tmeet the intent of the Act to provide solitude,” said Goodman, whose ?careerwith 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’smanaged forest near Post Canyon creates the potential for more wildfires. ?
He said insect-riddled and diseased trees are more at risk during ?lighteningstrikes. 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 ?WildernessI’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 ?allowedinto the Wilderness to combat a fire, there might not be a way to ?reach theblaze. She said the primitive roadways once used for timber ?harvest cannot bemaintained 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 Wildernessarea ?and managed with a lighter touch unless they threaten public safety. She ?saidthese fires can burn “explosively” because of the dead and dying ?trees so theyare harder to contain once ignited — and more dangerous for ?firefighters tobattle. ?
John Marker, a retired forest service employee and upper valley ?orchardist,believes expanding Wilderness will threaten the most valuable ?resource on themountain — its water supply. ?
“Water is critical to our way of life and the engine for a substantial ?partof our local economy,” he said. ?
He said a fire that burns hot enough in the Wilderness to sterilize ?topsoilcreates the potential for erosion since nothing can grow there. He ?said evenrains cannot penetrate the damaged earth and that is not ?acceptable when MountHood’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, itwill ?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 forprotecting resources, recreation and other uses. ?
Marker, Goodman and Leonard agree that adding more Wilderness to Mount ?Hoodcould end up threatening not only resources but recreational ?opportunities. ????Ifyou are not the intended addressee, please inform us immediately that you havereceived this e-mail in error, and delete it. We thank you for yourcooperation.