Months after the trees came down on a 110-acre section of forest between Hood River and Mosier, depending on which side you talk to, the situation is either still unclear or was settled decades ago.
Columbia River Gorge Commission Director Darren Nichols said the Commission had discussed the situation leading up to the clearcut with the Oregon Department of Forest and the ODF had agreed not to permit any further logging on lands zoned as open space by the Gorge Commission.
Open Space lands are afforded some of the most stringent protections in the scenic area.
Last winter the 110-acres, of which 80 is owned by tribal land owners and 30 by SDS Lumber of Bingen, was clearcut.
Nichols contends it was due to miscommunication between the several agencies which have jurisdiction in the area, including the ODF, U.S. Forest Service and Gorge Commission.
Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, claims the clearcut came about through a change in policy at the commission at the staff level.
Lang took issue with the commission’s internal investigation of the incident, saying that Nichols’ account did not line up with documents he had received through a public records request.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but there are factual inaccuracies (in the report),” Lang said. “It seemed the report singled out Friends and me as the issue instead of the logging.”
In response to the directors report issued in July by Nichols, Friends issued their own report last month.
“Friends of the Columbia Gorge is relieved to see the Commission staff has, at least temporarily, reversed course and reaffirmed that logging is prohibited in lands designated as GMA Open Space,” the report reads. “However, we are very concerned that the Commission staff is continuing to cast doubt on decisions made 21 years ago to protect the most sensitive land in the Scenic Area as Open Space and to do so without any public discussion.”
Nichols contends that the Gorge Commission was unaware of the logging activity until after it already occurred, and that after consulting with its attorneys, was unsure whether they would have had the legal standing to prohibit the logging.
Following the logging, and inquiries made by Friends of the Columbia Gorge and members of the public, the commission requested clarification of its ability to prohibit logging on open space lands from the Attorney Generals of Washington and Oregon.
Nichols said that they have not yet received clarification from either state. However, he said increased communication with ODF should prohibit any incidents such as the clearcut above the Historic Columbia River Highway trail from occurring again in the interim.
ODF policy is to prohibit logging on Open Space lands.
In July an ODF spokesman said the agency had conducted a cross check with the USFS on the logging, but could not confirm whether the Gorge Commission had been contacted.
Nichols said that they were not, and that while the ODF and USFS conferred together, the Gorge Commission was not contacted.
Lang contends that is not the case and that the Gorge Commission knew about the clearcut and could have acted to stop it.
“Perhaps he is disagreeing with written communications but he just can’t deny they communicated with them,” Lang said of Nichols.
Records requested by Lang state that ODF foresters talked to “the Gorge Commission and the USFS and both were in agreement that logging was allowed” in the area.
Lang stated that opinions sought by the Gorge Commission over two decades ago made it clear that logging was not allowed in Open Space zones, but SDS and Nichols say that the opinions do not fully address the “savings provisions” clause which puts forest activity in non-federal lands under the supervision of state agencies.
“That conversation is progressing and we are still looking forward to a successful resolution which provides certainty to the community, land owners, timber operators and resource managers,” Nichols said.
The Gorge Commission meets Sept. 11 in the Hood River County Administration Building downstairs board room. The meeting begins at 9 a.m., and will adjourn at approximately 3 p.m. Lang says he intends to be at the meeting to address the commission during public comment period both on the clearcut and its budget process, which he says is no longer as transparent as it was in previous years.
Nichols said the commission will not be asked to take any action on updating its management plan regarding open space until guidance is received from the Washington and Oregon Justice departments.
Business at the meeting will include presentations from ODOT and USFS on the Vital Signs Indicators project on the Historic Columbia River Highway and ongoing archeological and historic resource monitoring; a presentation from the Mid-Columbia Economic and Community Development District on “Stronger Economies Together” and a report on future next steps for the commission and possible collaborative partnerships and a report from Nichols.