Logging one of Oregon's most Scenic Forest Drives

Oregon’s old growth is usually threatened by a predictable cast of characters: timber companies like Lone Rock, organizations like the Association of O&C Counties, and politicians like Rep.'s Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader. You’d probably be surprised by another name on that list: The Oregon Department of Transportation.


But thanks to ODOT, one of Oregon’s most scenic forest drives is about to see A LOT of old-growth logging take place. Highway 20 just west of Sisters is an iconic Oregon drive, with yellow bark old-growth pine trees lining the highway interspersed with views of the Three Sisters, Mount Washington and Three Fingered Jack.

Anyone who lives in, or has visited central Oregon, knows and loves this stretch of highway as it signals an arrival into sunny and beautiful central Oregon. That’s about to change as it becomes  just another reminder that Oregon all too often sprays herbicides and still logs old-growth trees.


Because the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Forest Service didn’t have their act together a 12 mile stretch of highway 20, just west of Sisters, is now going to be logged. From 2013-2015 an herbicide called “Perspective” was sprayed along both sides of the highway. That herbicide ended up killing thousands of old-growth ponderosa pines. Most of those trees are now going to be logged due to safety concerns.


The Forest Service and ODOT both should have known about the risk to trees when they ok’d spraying the herbicide in 2013. In fact, in 2012 Dupont, the manufacturer of the herbicide, issued a Warning Statement that included ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir as conifers susceptible to damage. Warnings were also in the product label about the risk of damage to trees when applying the herbicide near tree root zones where trees could absorb the herbicide through their roots.  


Oregon Wild and friends fought to protect this stretch of old-growth forests several times in recent decades. Around 2000 there was a logging project in which we were able to argue for protection of the old-growth trees. The smaller/younger trees were cut in a fuels reduction project that was widely seen as a success. Then about 10 years ago ODOT proposed widening the highway in a manner that would have required cutting down many of these trees. That project was modified and most of the trees were saved. Until now.

Brown needles and dead trees are visible along Hwy 20, Black Butte is in the background.

Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do for the trees that are dead and becoming a safety hazard. We are encouraging the Forest Service not to cut down any of the trees that are stressed but might survive. We’re also encouraging them to “top” some of the trees that are further from the road - so they won’t reach the road if they fall. Topping means cutting off just the top of the tree. We encouraged the consideration of using the logged trees in river restoration projects, though it appears that is unlikely given that the herbicide could potentially end up in the waterway.


Old-growth trees have enough well funded organizations out to get them without having them cut down because the Forest Service and ODOT made a mistake. It’s unfortunate that we have to add the state’s Department of Transportation to the list of old growth threats in Oregon.


One of the unresolved question in this calamity is why ODOT even sprayed this stretch of highway. There’s very little undergrowth on the road side. If ODOT is going to spray first and ask questions later they need to be reigned in, and the Forest Service needs to do a better job of oversight, and ask more questions so that this never happens again. Both agencies have lost some credibility and public trust as a result of this incident.




Photo Credits: 
James Parsons, Extreme Oregon www.extremeoregon.net and Oregon Wild.