East Face Vegetative Management Project Review

The East Face Vegetative Management Project. Those of us who live in Union and Baker Counties have probably heard this name kicked around, but might not know the details of this timber project, especially as the details have changed over time. This blog takes a look at what East Face has become and how Hells Canyon Preservation Council has been involved with it.

The East Face Project is big. Many of us are familiar with the project area from recreating in the Elkhorn Mountains, especially at Anthony Lakes Recreation Area, included within the project area. Located mostly on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, it covers around 46,000 acres within the North Powder River watershed, and will produce about 16 million board feet of sawtimber.

HCPC is a founding member of the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative, and as such thoroughly participated in the review of the East Face Project. The Collaborative was unable to come to consensus regarding logging in moist and cold forests (approximately 78% of the project area), road management, and other important issues. At this point, HCPC turned to the traditional public comment process to help shape this project. Working with the Forest Service we were able to resolve the majority of our concerns.

A wonderful snag providing wildlife habitat.

A wonderful snag providing wildlife habitat.

While the project isn’t perfect, it has many positive aspects including a focus on protecting and connecting important wildlife habitat within the project area; dry forest restoration that aims to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic fires; and treatments that promote the imperiled whitebark pine.

The East Face project occupies an important area for wildlife; it borders three important Inventoried Roadless Areas: Beaver Creek, Upper Grande Ronde, and Twin Mountain, and lies between the Eagle Cap and North Fork John Day Wilderness Areas. Right from the beginning, HCPC advocated for maintaining wildlife habitat connectivity in the project area.

The Forest Service’s response was great. They identified a need “to maintain and enhance connectivity of ecosystems by providing corridors that will promote resilient and sustainable landscapes,” mapped out corridors within the project area that connect old forest to adjacent watersheds, and modified their original treatments to avoid fragmenting these corridors. We very much appreciate the Forest Service’s prioritizing habitat connectivity within the project area!

East Face is also a pilot project for the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and enhancing the forest’s resiliency to wildfire is a central goal. We support the project’s directives for prescribed burns in addition to the dry forest thinning treatments, and strongly support related efforts to educate and involve private landowners in creating defensible spaces on their property.

We’re also pleased by the Forest Service’s efforts to protect snags and other wildlife trees within the project; their leaving trees with a diameter at breast height of 21” or greater on the landscape; and their agreement to stay out of Inventoried Roadless Areas, those rare spaces on the map that still have wilderness characteristics, and which are so important to wild flora and fauna.

As stated above, this project isn’t perfect. There will still be extensive commercial logging in moist and cool parts of the forest, which hasn’t been proven to positively influence fire behavior or provide ecological restoration benefits. Furthermore, some of the logging units are remote and require building temporary roads and reopening closed roads to reach them. All roads, even those that are temporary or closed, cause soil compaction and sedimentation that is nearly impossible to mitigate, and negatively impact Elk and other species sensitive to noise from motorized travel.

Once the valuable logs have been taken out of the forest, only time will tell if limited budgets will keep the Forest Service from following through on the restorative aspects of the project. We hope they do follow through! This project has the potential to be a win for local economies, forest resiliency, and wildlife. We appreciate the considerable efforts to find common ground shown by the Forest Service and other members of the Collaborative during this project’s development.