Through next Wednesday, 23 December, Oregon's Department of Forestry is seeking public comment regarding its plan (PDF) to begin restoring Santiam State Forest lands harmed by the Beachie Creek fire. During most of September this year, three complex fires ravaged the Cascade foothills: Riverside in the north; Beachie Creek in the middle, and Lionshead to the east. The Lionshead and Beachie Creek complexes eventually merged while the Riverside came close. In all, around a million acres burned, claiming five lives and leveling the Santiam Canyon towns of Idanha, Detroit, and Gates, along with significant portions of Mill City, Lyons, and Mehama.
Of the 47,000+ acres of forest land owned by the State, a little over half — 24,700 acres (52%) — ended up inside the perimeters of the three fire complexes (see pg. 3 of the plan). About a third of those acres came through unburned. Another 4,000 acres were considered "low burn intensity". Between 12,000 and 13,000 acres (slightly less than 1.5% of the total acreage burned) were assessed at "high burn" or "stand replacing" intensity. This, then, is the scope of the revised implementation plan for the North Cascade District.
ODF attributes the relatively small impact of the fires on State holdings to the extensive and aggressive management practices followed by the agency. When comparing the impacts on Federal lands — much of it designated wilderness and not actively managed — the differences are stark. Timber interests have rightfully been complaining about the Federal government's failure to abide by the terms of agreement brokered by President Clinton that supposedly brought an end to the "Timber Wars" of the 1990s.
Forest management activists, including logging interests, are urging residents of Marion County who wish to avoid a repeat performance of the 2020 conflagration to participate in this comment period by flooding ODF with pleas to "replant and reforest today". At its web site, the group calling itself Oregon Forests Forever claims a membership of nearly 44,000. Near the top of the home page is a link labeled "Wildfire Petition" that takes one to a form calling on Oregon legislators to send a resolution to D.C. demanding that "Congress provide urgent financial and regulatory relief and recognize their responsibility to properly manage federally-owned forests".
Scrolling down the home page one comes to a section headed "Facebook Updates". Two vastly different views of forests top the section. On the left is a beautiful photo looking across forested hillsides in fall display. To its right is a much grimmer photo. With the text above declaring, "Recovery of our state and federal forests — our public lands — is tied up in a ball of red tape, threatening our forests, our watersheds and our communities." Problem is, the photo shows a clear-cut logging operation rather than a scene from the fires this fall. Could this be construed as a bit deceptive?
Navigating through the link one encounters a comment form to use for submitting one's testimony regarding the revised implementation plan. Here, too, one senses a problem. Hearkening back to the days before U.S. Senator Al Gore invented the internet, when interest groups mailed postcards to supporters, urging them to sign and mail them to their Members of Congress, the message/text area is already filled in (fortunately one can erase the prepared text to compose one's own message). The idea seems to be that flooding the agency inbox with messages from the web site all saying the same thing will have a persuasive impact or, failing that, at least the sheer number of cards would overwhelm the opposition. Studies since have revealed that after receiving the first couple of postcards the first couple of times, the politicians, CEOs, and others who became famous for misdeeds or notorious practices simply set the cards aside, never again to look at them. Thrown out with this "bathwater", however, were cards that contained "babies" — personal messages — that expressed a perspective that, while consistent with the more generic message preprinted on the card, introduced unique ideas that went missed. Might some faceless agency staff, grown tired of opening mail from the Oregon Forests Forever domain containing the same message, shortcut the process and simply tally reception of the message and toss it into the "read" box without opening it to find your special testimony?
To ensure a unique testimony gets read or placed into the record, ODF provides three ways to submit testimony: Use the form on the ODF website (which looks remarkably like the form at the OFF site but without the "suggested" text); submit via e-mail; submit by post mail addressed to ODF Public Affairs, 2600 State St., Salem, OR 97310. This latter method, however, may prove too late given the deadline of Wednesday. Additional information about the restoration plan includes video tours of burned stands, updates on reopening the state forest recreational areas, and discussion about the various goals ODF has for restoration and long-term management of the state forest tracts affected by the fires. The plan linked at the top of this page contains details on how those goals control the agency's approaches in the restoration as well as excellent maps showing how the state forest lands are distributed throughout the three burn complexes.