Oregon is hiring a Pacific Northwest-based arborist to review the state’s controversial removal of trees along roads and properties in wildfire burns, which has prompted outcries that the operation is excessive and rushed.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management announced Monday that Galen Wright has been hired as an independent contractor to review the hazard tree effort. Wright is president of Washington Forest Consultants, Inc. He is being tasked with providing a full assessment of Oregon’s program. His recommendations are to be made by early June.

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Extensive roadside hazard tree removal after last year's wildfires has raised concerns that the state is over-cutting trees that aren't actually hazardous.

Extensive roadside hazard tree removal after last year's wildfires has raised concerns that the state is over-cutting trees that aren't actually hazardous.

Cassandra Profita / OPB

“As this adaptive and evolving emergency response operation continues to make significant progress, Oregonians deserve to have confidence in the good work underway,” said Mac Lynde the Oregon Department of Transportation’s head of the three-agency Debris Management Task Force. It has been coordinating the tree-removal program in the aftermath of the 2020 wildfires that burned more than 1 million acres. The state is in the midst of a massive effort to cut down an estimated 140,000 burned trees that could be dangerous to people on state roads or burned properties.

ODOT told a legislative panel two weeks ago that it would be bringing on an independent arborist after several workers had voiced concerns publicly about the hazard tree program. They have said the operation, led by a contracting firm out of Florida, has irresponsibly marked trees for removal that weren’t dead or dying.

At a legislative oversight hearing in April, workers from the Florida company, CDR Maguire, and a second contractor, Portland-based Mason, Bruce & Girard, shared firsthand accounts. They testified that the companies failed to develop proper guidelines for which trees to cut, allowed inexperienced workers to mark trees for removal using a phone application, marked trees for removal that aren’t actually hazardous and allowed contractors to cut trees into wetlands without proper precautions.

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