Opposition to post-wildfire tree removal in Oregon is growing and shifting from legislative hearings to protests among environmental activists.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is removing thousands of hazard trees along roads and properties that burned in last year’s wildfires. As the project progresses, though, more and more workers have come forward with allegations of mismanagement and excessive tree cutting.
Whistleblowers shared their experiences with lawmakers at legislative hearings last week, reporting disorganization, a lack of oversight, time pressure and even drug use. ODOT told lawmakers the agency is planning to hire an independent arborist to review the project for “quality assurance.”
Environmental groups are planning a rally opposing the operation on Thursday at the Oregon State Capitol. On Monday, protesters with Cascadia Forest Defenders climbed onto log decks and into logging equipment to stop work at a tree removal site near McKenzie Bridge.
The group temporarily stopped work off Highway 126 east of Eugene as a helicopter was moving logs. A spokesperson named Clover said they couldn’t stand by while more trees were cut.
“If, after hearing from numerous professional whistleblowers, Oregon wasn’t going to stop this lawless logging, then we had no choice but to do it ourselves,” Clover said. “When I see these indiscriminate clear cuts and massive trees with green needles marked to be cut I just have to ask myself: Who stands to profit from this and who is being incentivized to cut more?”
The Lane County Sheriff’s office and Oregon State Police responded, and protesters left peacefully after calling on state and federal agencies to stop all post-wildfire logging.
At a protest outside a U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Detroit last month, Dylan Plummer with Cascadia Wildlands said proposals for post-wildfire logging span tens of thousands of acres on state and federal land, where the trees removed can have serious environmental consequences in releasing stored carbon and contributing to climate change, polluting nearby waterways and increasing the risk of landslides.
“It’s viscerally clear the roughshod actions of these agencies … are putting our communities at risk under the guise of hazard tree removal,” Plummer said. “It’s absolutely reprehensible to think these public agencies could be saying they’re doing this on behalf of public safety while simultaneously endangering the future of myself, my generation and my children.”
Many of the post-wildfire logging proposals on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management forestland are moving quickly and with little public notice under “categorical exclusions” that allow agencies to speed up the environmental review process with the goal of reducing safety risks and allowing burned timber to be sold before it rots.
On Thursday, more than a dozen environmental groups plan to rally in Salem to call on Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon lawmakers to stop post-fire logging on public lands across the state until full environmental reviews are completed.
Last week, Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, asked the governor to stop the state hazard tree removal project and order an investigation into whistleblower allegations, but the governor hasn’t done that. This week, Golden and Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, sent a letter to Gov. Brown recommending that ODOT and its contractors review the allegations against them, share their findings and discontinue practices that undermine the state’s system of accountability in marking and removing hazard trees.