Photo by Patrick Mulvihill
LEO SEGOVIA with Mt. Hood National Forest discusses an early map of the Polallie Cooper timber thinning and fuels reduction project area, at a public meeting in Hood River in early 2016.
The U.S. Forest Service will divide a timber thinning and fuels reduction project on the north slope of Mount Hood into two parts.
The Polallie Cooper project aims to reduce fire danger and restore the ecosystem on scenic Cooper Spur, roughly 10 miles south of Parkdale. The first phase involves about 1,200 acres of forest thinning.
Hood River District Ranger Janeen Tervo on Aug. 30 sent out a draft decision notice concerning the “Polallie Cooper Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project” proposal. Via Tervo’s decision, the agency delayed the second phase until the long-stalled Cooper Spur-Government Camp land exchange moves forward.
“Because of the very real threat to neighboring communities located within and adjacent to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), and because of the concerns over the pending designation of the Crystal Springs Watershed Special Resources Management Unit (SRMU), I have decided to implement the (Polallie Cooper project) in two phases,” Tervo said in a statement.
Tervo said given “strong public and Congressional interest” in waiting until the Cooper Spur-Government Camp land exchange is complete, much of the wildfire urban interface (WUI) won’t be treated in the first phase.
The first portion includes forest thinning outside of the Crystal Springs Watershed and the East Fork Hood River Wild and Scenic River corridor.
However, reducing the risk of fire continues to be a high priority for the project area — the last untreated Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) area in Hood River County — as well as the goal of aligning with points outlined in Congress’s 2009 Omnibus Act, the original piece of legislation that called for the Mount Hood land exchange. The second phase will address those concerns, Tervo said.
The Forest Service highlighted the following elements of the plan’s first part:
• No treatment will occur in the Crystal Springs Watershed Special Resources Management Unit or the East Fork Hood River Wild and Scenic River Corridor during phase one.
• Buffers along trails will be increased from 55 feet to 100.
• Phase two (second decision) will be delayed until the current Cooper Spur-Government Camp land exchange goes through and an East Fork Hood River Wild and Scenic River management plan has been adopted. That timeline remains uncertain.
• A total of 1,633 acres of treatment are included in phase one, as well as six miles of temporary road construction.
The proposed thinning operation drew concern last year from conservation groups such as Portland-based Bark and recreation groups like Hood River’s 44 Trails Association.
Community members delivered at least a thousand written comments at an information session in Hood River in February 2016. Some criticized the plan for its impacts on scenic views and trails.
The newly released decision strikes a balance between the interests of stakeholders engaged in planning efforts, the Forest Service asserted.
“Public land management is successful when we’re all working together to achieve a decision that benefits everyone,” Tervo said.
A set of recommendations from Hood River Collaborative Stewardship Group were incorporated into the decision.
In recent years, Oregon’s Congressional delegation has tried spurring forward the Mount Hood land exchange, which would allow commercial development by Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort on the south side of the mountain while protecting acreage at Cooper Spur as public forest land.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) sent a letter in March to the Forest Service, stating, “We have repeatedly expressed our strong concern and disappointment that the Forest Service has been long delayed in finalizing the land trade which has impeded the exchange itself, but also the establishment of the Crystal Springs Unit.”
Congress mandated the land swap in 2009, but it hasn’t reached fruition. The Forest Service took steps forward, however, such as releasing an environmental impact statement last fall.