- Where is the Lostine River canyon?
- What is the Lostine Corridor project?
- What makes the Lostine so special?
- Why are you filing a legal challenge?
- What's so bad about the project?
- Is there anything good about the project?
- What else can we do for public safety in the Lostine canyon?
- What do locals think about the project?
- Wasn't this a collaborative effort?
- Do you just oppose logging?
- Are you just trying to get rich?
- Aren't the Forest Service the experts?
- Should we be scared of fire in the Lostine?
- What's a moonwort?
- What's next?
The Lostine River canyon is located in the Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon. It is surrounded by the spectacular Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon’s largest protected wilderness. The headwaters of the crystal clear Lostine River originate at Minam Lake. All of these lands are public. Just like the Statue of Liberty, they belong to all Americans, not just those who live nearby. It’s important to remember that this is a National Forest.
There is a narrow “cherry stem” road that punches 11 miles into the wilderness.The road provides access to trailheads, campsites, and a handful of private inholdings. The Lostine Corridor logging project is located in this cherry stem. The logging project is adjacent to pristine wilderness on one side and the Wild and Scenic Lostine River on the other.
This project has been billed as a public safety project; however, less than 10% of the proposed logging addresses safety issues. Improving public safety in the Lostine Corridor can be achieved without industrial logging and roadbuilding. Achieving that laudable goal does not have to come at the expense of some of the region’s most pristine remaining unprotected forests, rare plants and animals, cultural sites, and other sensitive resources.
The Forest Service has created a false narrative forcing local citizens to feel they must choose between their safety and protecting the very values that made them call this place home.
We can improve safety without sacrificing the characteristics that make the Lostine so special, and one of the most popular destinations in Oregon.
This is an outstanding sliver of National Forest surrounded by the Eagle Cap Wilderness. The unusually special values of the Lostine River Corridor were acknowledged when the river was congressionally designated as “Wild and Scenic” in 1993, with the “outstandingly remarkable values for the river [identified] as: scenery, recreation, fisheries, wildlife, and vegetation/botany.”
The Lostine is home to endangered fish, plants, and wildlife such as wolverines, martens, wolves, eagles, bighorn sheep, cougars, and bears. While Eastern Oregon is known for its open dry-pine forests, this forest is naturally dense and moist. Some of the trees targeted for industrial logging include the few stands that survived the last big fires in the early 20th century. They are among the most mature and fire-resistant stands in the canyon.
The Lostine is part of the Nez Perce homeland. It contains historic and cultural sites from indigenous people and European settlement.
In part because of its wild nature and the long road into the wilderness, the Lostine is one of the most popular Eagle Cap entry points for backpackers, hunters, and others who help support local economies and small businesses in the area. In today’s rapidly developing world, it remains an access point to another value in short supply: solitude.
While the canyon’s downed logs and moist forest may look “messy” to humans more used to sanitized parks, alpine areas, or drier landscapes, these forests are prime real estate to lynx, pine marten, bobcats, wolverine, snowshoe hare, and more. An unsightly snag (standing-dead tree) that looks like waste to the timber industry is a lunch buffet for a woodpecker, or home to a cavity-nesting owl. Dozens of species in the region are limited by a lack of snags. The project area also contains thriving populations of rare plants such as moonworts (see below).
Just last month, the Nez Perce tribe released half-a-million endangered Coho Salmon into the Lostine river downstream of the project site in an effort to restore wild ocean runs to the Northeast corner of Oregon. They’ll come back in just a few years. What will they come back to?
The Forest Service broke the law. One of the principles of American democracy is that no one is above the law. Citizens have the right to make sure even government agencies are accountable to their own laws.
Going to court is an option of last resort. Our two groups and many other citizens brought our concerns about the project to Forest Service and elected officials on multiple occasions. Those concerns were generally ignored and dismissed. We tried to come to the table, but there was no table with a seat for us.
This land belongs to all Americans. We all have a right to participate in its management. The Forest Service chose to cut most of the public out of the process and sidestep mandated environmental analysis by using a loophole called a “Categorical Exclusion” or CE.
The specific loophole used by the Forest Service requires them to collaboratively develop the project. Instead, the Wallowa Valley Ranger District chose to develop a destructive project without approaching the local established collaborative group or collaborating with other important stakeholders. Many local citizens did not even know the project was occurring in their backyards. Despite raising regular objections that were dismissed, our organizations (Hells Canyon Preservation Council and Oregon Wild) were misrepresented as having collaborated on this project. (Read more about collaboration in question 9.)
The project violates the management plan overseeing the congressionally designated Wild and Scenic Lostine River, and threatens endangered fish, wildlife, and sensitive plants.
This is the first time in our area the Forest Service is using this type of loophole. It is important to challenge this decision because it may set a precedent to exclude the public from public lands management decisions and sidestep environmental analysis.
Industrial logging is not needed to keep people safe. We cannot allow one of the most beloved and ecologically important landscapes in our region be irreversibly damaged by commercial logging and roadbuilding.
This is not a light thinning of trees near homes or campgrounds. This is an industrial logging project on a small footprint. The Forest Service is planning to sell off 4 million board feet of trees. The Lostine Corridor is 11-miles long with a width sometimes best measured in yards. Lined end-to-end, the logging trucks from this project would stretch for 8 miles!
As proposed, they will prioritize commercially logging some of the largest, most fire-resistant trees out of the forests over stands of smaller trees that could actually benefit from thinning. Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that logging in this type of forest will not decrease the severity of fire. The Forest Service is claiming to improve fire safety while likely increasing fire severity risk in a forest like this.
Additionally, by using an obscure provision from a recent Farm Bill passed by Congress, the Forest Service skipped an environmental analysis and did not assess many of the impacts of logging and roadbuilding to the unique resources of the Lostine Canyon. A place as special as the Lostine surely deserves a proper environmental review and meaningful consideration of public input before executing a large industrial logging project.
If the Forest Service had created a project that included environmental review and engaged in meaningful collaboration, we would likely have supported the Lostine Project. Industrial logging and road-building isn’t needed to keep people safe. By tacking destructive activities onto a safety project, skirting environmental review, and cutting out members of the public, the Forest Service unnecessarily created controversy.
There are activities we believe will improve public safety while minimizing negative impacts to the river corridor, including: removing truly hazardous trees immediately adjacent to developed sites and the road, creating defensible spaces around historic buildings, and creating fire breaks by clearing small areas of small trees adjacent to meadow, scree fields, and other natural clearings. Creating a helicopter landing pad near a popular trailhead by removing young trees may also make sense.
While road-building and industrial logging won’t increase public safety, there are other things the Forest Service can and should do that aren’t included in the proposal. They include: increasing ranger presence, adding signage about the dangers of open fires, closing campgrounds to overnight use during high risk weather events, and having an evacuation and fire-use plan in place.
We also support private landowners reducing wildfire risk to their properties by creating defensible space and following “firewise” principles. Actions like these have the greatest ability to protect those who live in the corridor.
Local views are split. Nearly everyone who lives in Wallowa County values its public lands, wildlife, and stunning landscapes. Though the economy and community have diversified, local politics remain driven by extractive interests like logging and livestock production. The area remains a place where people are often afraid to speak up for 21st-century conservation values. This project is different. Many people are speaking up in opposition to the Lostine logging project.
Residents have been reaching out to their elected officials, are confused about what the project entails, and have been contacting the Forest Service with their concerns and objections. Many of the project’s nearest neighbors were entirely unaware the project was even happening until it had already been developed. The Forest Service has not been interested in meaningfully responding to any contrarian voices.
Places like the Lostine Canyon add greatly to the quality of life in Oregon and differentiate Wallowa County from places like Portland and Salem. Like many parts of the rural west formerly dependant on boom and bust extractive industries like mining, grazing, and logging, Wallowa County is increasingly benefiting from protected public lands, abundant wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
There is vocal local support for the project, namely from the timber industry, local politicians, and those who believe we have to log the Lostine to save it.
Our organizations are founding members of the local established collaborative group for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and participate in collaboratives across the state. We know what collaboration looks like. The Forest Service chose not to bring the project to the collaborative group and did not engage in a truly collaborative process.
Collaboration means meaningfully inviting diverse stakeholders to help design a project. No conservation voice was invited to collaborate in the project’s development, and no environmental organizations support the project or the process. Many other citizens, organizations, and interests were left out.
Our organizations have been publicly misrepresented by the Forest Service. Hosting public field trips and answering phone calls is information sharing. It is not collaboration. In fact, an independent third party offered to facilitate a true collaborative process on this project that would have included conservation voices. The Forest Service rejected that and other efforts from us and other stakeholders to avoid controversy.
No. Oregon Wild and HCPC support appropriate activities in appropriate places. That can include logging. There are forests on our public lands that stand to benefit from true restoration and safety projects. Those projects address harm that has been caused by decades of fire suppression, overgrazing, aggressive logging and other mismanagement. This project doubles down on that mismanagement.
Our organizations participate in collaboratives around the state. Those efforts include representatives from the timber industry, local elected officials, and more. We have even won awards from the Forest Service and other agencies for our participation in such efforts that often result in responsible logging and legitimate restoration.
It’s quite funny you asked. Please ask any staffer of a conservation non-profit why they do the work they do. We guarantee “the money” is not going to be the answer.
Going to court is expensive. It is not fun. It is a last resort option. If we win our legal challenge, the Forest Service may pay our hired attorneys their fees. Win or lose, our organizations will not make money by filing this legal challenge.
They often are. The Forest Service includes many experts and hard-working ethical public servants. However, the agency is increasingly underfunded and subject to political pressure at all levels. Here the Forest Service has chosen to ignore its own best practices on collaboration. They’ve also chosen not to conduct an environmental analysis; many impacts of this type of logging on the Lostine remain unknown. It appears this project was driven by politics and a fear of fire.
While most of the Forest Service is embracing collaboration and ensuring their efforts follow the law, best available science, and modern conservation values, the Wallowa Valley Ranger District stands apart in pushing controversial projects, selectively enforcing rules, and dismissing conservation stakeholders.
Had the Lostine project been developed through a true collaborative process or had a thorough environmental analysis, we believe it would be far less destructive and controversial.
Fire is a natural process and an essential part of a healthy forest. Industrial logging does not replicate fire. In fact, continuing decades of fire suppression is one of the biggest ongoing threats to our forests. For the forest types (moist, cold, and subalpine) of the Lostine Corridor, it is natural to have long periods without fires, followed by a high severity “stand-replacing” fire. The last big fires in the Lostine Corridor appear to have been around the turn of the last century. Unless clearcut and fully paved, the Lostine will burn again, as it has for millennia. Fire might come to the Lostine in the next ten years, or the next fifty. It is not “overdue.”
Not only will this project not stop a fire, the proposed industrial logging prioritizes many of the most mature fire-resistant stands in the canyon over those that might benefit from thinning.
So long as we prepare and have a plan in place for how to keep people safe when fire does return, it should not be feared. We are encouraging the Forest Service to create a fire use plan and an emergency plan for residents and visitors to the Lostine should fire occur. We also support the small portion of the project that legitimately focuses on public safety and does not harm the canyon’s values.
Moonworts, in addition to having a really cool name, have really cool characteristics! They are plants in the Addar's tongue family, and the Lostine Canyon has a diverse population, including the extremely rare Botrychium lineare. These moonworts could be trampled under a commercial logging project. Unfortunately, with no Environmental Assessment by the Forest Service, their populations--and that of many other sensitive plants, fish, and wildlife--may suffer greatly. We simply don’t know what will happen without environmental review. By the way, wolverine, marten, wolves, salmon, and osprey are all pretty cool too!
Our organizations support improving public safety in the Lostine Canyon. However by violating the law, choosing to ignore concerns brought by our organizations and members of the public, skirting environmental review, and designing an unnecessarily destructive project, the Forest Service has left us with no choice but to go to court.
We stand ready to work with the Forest Service and other stakeholders to develop a project that increases public safety without destroying the values that make the Lostine such a special place. If the Forest Service wishes to resolve this outside of court, they can still do so.
The Lostine Canyon is an exceptional place that deserves more protection, attention, and care, not industrial logging in the name of public safety.
We’ve been told “we’ll do better next time”. The problem is, there is no “Next Lostine.”
Moonwart: Wikimedia Commons