By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

To comment

The Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest is taking public comment on the Ursus Vegetation and Fuels Management Project planned for woods 11 miles west of Bend near Tumalo Falls.

Comments, with “Ursus” in the subject line, can be emailed to comments-pacificnorthwest-deschutes-bend-ftrock@fs.fed.us or sent by mail to Kevin Larkin, District Ranger, Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District, 63095 Deschutes Market Road, Bend, OR 97701.

Comments can also be dropped off at the same address during business hours, Monday through Friday. Comments will be taken until mid-January.

The Deschutes National Forest plans logging and thinning west of Bend to lower fire risk around Tumalo Falls and the city’s watershed.

“It is sort of a key pocket of land,” said Lauren DuRocher, National Environmental Policy Act planner for the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District of the Deschutes.

To the southwest of what is called the Ursus Vegetation and Fuels Management project is the watershed and to the east is private land. By logging and thinning woods over about 4,200 acres, she said the hope is to reduce the amount of vegetation that could fuel a wildfire.

“It would reduce areas of high or extreme fire hazard to low or moderate,” she said Wednesday.

The project as proposed would yield 7.5 million board feet of timber, according to the national forest. A log truck hauls about 4,000 board feet of timber, so that is about 1,875 log truckloads.

The Skyliner neighborhood, Phil’s Trail complex and Tumalo Creek are also near the project area, which is about 11 miles west of Bend. DuRocher said the logging and thinning could occur as early as next summer.

Other thinning and fire risk-reduction projects are already underway for the woods west of Bend. Since fall 2013, the national forest has been chipping away at the 26,000-acre West Bend Project and this September began cutting a 12-mile-long fire break from near Todd Lake to Three Creeks Lake. The fire break is 50 to 200 feet wide.

The Ursus project focuses on salvage logging, particularly lodgepole pines, said Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District ranger for the Deschutes. “The majority of what we are going to harvest is dead trees,” he said.

An infestation of mountain pine beetle killed about 80 percent of the lodgepole pine trees in the project area, DuRocher said. The infestation was first detected in 2003, peaked in 2007 and faded in 2010.

In taking comment on draft plans for the project near Tumalo Falls, the Deschutes National Forest heard from Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Oregon Wild and the Sierra Club; the environmental groups would like to see protections added for large trees. In response, officials at the national forest added an alternative with protections for white fir larger than 22 inches in diameter. The size limit does not pertain to lodgepole.

Adding the size limit would drop the total amount of timber harvested in the project to 6.9 million board feet, according to the national forest. That would be a decrease of about 150 log truckloads, to about 1,725.

The Deschutes proposes to opt for the alternative without a size limit and more timber cut, however.

Given the rejection of the size limit, Erik Fernandez, wilderness program manager for Oregon Wild, sees big problems with the project. The Portland-based group has an office in Bend, where Fernandez and two others work.

The Deschutes also is sticking with plans to clear-cut 2,200 acres north of Tumalo Mountain, he wrote in an email.

“Some thinning in these forests is justifiable, but not 2,200 acres of clear-cutting,” he wrote.

The national forest’s plan involves cutting down dead trees in the project area so living trees will grow faster and put out seed earlier, Larkin said. While the logging might resemble a clear-cut, he said he would not characterize it as such.

In crafting the plans, he said, national forest planners worked with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest, a collection of federal, state and local officials, environmentalists and timber interests, as well as other forestland stakeholders.

“This is something that has been vetted through our collaborative on multiple occasions,” Larkin said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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