Work crews with the Oregon Department of Transportation began cutting down standing dead and dying ponderosa pines along U.S. Highway 20 on Monday, the first phase of a project that will remove nearly 90 trees from an area affected by an improperly applied weedkiller.
ODOT spokesman Peter Murphy said workers knocked down around 20 trees to the west of Sisters, along Highway 20 between Tollgate Road and Camp Sherman Road, to keep dangerous, unstable trees from falling on the road.
While Murphy said removing trees that pose a danger to drivers is part of ODOT’s preparation for winter, this particular project took place in the same section of the Deschutes National Forest where a weedkiller known as Perspective killed hundreds of ponderosa pines and other trees.
From 2013 through 2015, contractors selected by the state transportation agency sprayed Perspective along a 12-mile stretch of highway to remove flammable weeds from the roadway. Perspective, which comes with a label recommending that the product not be used near “desirable” trees, ultimately seeped into the soil and contributed to the death of more than 1,000 trees along the road.
Several environmental groups, including Bend-based Central Oregon LandWatch, criticized the agencies involved for not properly considering the risk to trees in the area.
ODOT identified up to 87 trees along the road that could fall across the highway and create a hazard for drivers. Murphy said the project will continue through Thursday, and drivers can expect some slowing or stopping along the highway while work is occurring.
A separate, large-scale project to cut down and remove more trees affected by the herbicide is slated to begin next spring, according to the agency.
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