LA GRANDE, Ore. — Just one month into his new position as regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region, Glenn Casamassa is directing his attention to the widely contested Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revision, a guiding document for three Eastern Oregon national forests covering 5.5 million acres.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., introduced Casamassa on Oct. 25, just one month into his new position with the U.S. Forest Service, to members of the Eastern Oregon Counties Association and ranchers concerned about key provisions in the forest plan. They said they believe the plan calls for too little timber harvest and unnecessary increases in grazing restrictions.
“I have concerns about people feeling like they were listened to, especially on issues regarding timber harvest levels,” Walden said.
The Eastern Oregon Counties Association members prepared a seven-point, one-page summary of their objections to the plan and presented it to Casamassa.
Susan Roberts, Eastern Oregon Counties Association chairman, said, “What we put together represents how we feel our forests should be managed.”
The association listed concerns about the Forest Service being able to meet timber harvest levels, asked for the the removal of the 21-inch diameter restriction and requested that the plan expedite work on the forests, especially post-fire salvage logging. The association objected to any further wilderness designations and the inclusion of wildlife guidelines and standards for elk and wolves and grazing guidelines that did not go through a proper public process.
Casamassa, formerly the forest supervisor for Colorado’s Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest based in Fort Collins, said he was aware that the Blue Mountains plan would be a top priority in his new position as regional forester for Oregon and Washington. The plan includes the Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman and Malheur national forests, which encompass an area about the size of New Jersey.
“One of the first things when I knew when I was coming out here this (Blue Mountain Plan) was front and center in the region and had been deliberated longer than a decade, longer than it should last,” Casamassa said. “It would be advantageous for all of us to get it to the finish line.”
Toward the end of November, Casamassa said a group of Forest Service staff from the Washington, D.C., office will be holding community meetings across the Blue Mountain region.
“In these communities, resolutions will occur not by letters, not by phone, it will be in community. This is something I wanted to make sure of,” Casamassa said.
He said the resolution process will be deliberative, asking staff to see what adjustments can be made.
Sitting down with county and regional leaders at the Union County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in La Grande gave Casamassa a chance to listen in more detail to frustrations with the Blue Mountain Plan.
Timber harvest and mills provide jobs for Oregon’s rural, forested counties, but diminished harvest has greatly reduced the timber-based economic engine, ultimately reducing school and county road funding. Money designated to Eastern Oregon counties through the Secure Rural Schools Act offsets some of the loss of timber receipts on which local governments once relied to pay for roads and schools. Grant County Judge Scott Myers told Casamassa he’d like to see a more stable funding source for his county, which is 63 percent federally managed land.
“It’s so undependable, we never know if it’s going to be there or not,” Myers said. “With 900 miles of county roads we would like to have some more regularity of revenue that we can count on.”
Casamassa said he was thankful for the act’s reauthorization for one more year.
“I know it was a heavy lift for Congress to get that through and I am aware and understand how important those receipts are to the counties,” Casamassa said. “It may seem like small amounts of money to some, for others it is the difference between having a sheriff’s deputy or search and rescue.”
Matt McElligott, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s public lands chairman, told Casamassa the plan overemphasizes the condition of a public grazing pasture’s riparian area as opposed to its overall condition.
“For some reason we find riparian trumps everything — it doesn’t matter what the rest of it looks like,” McElligott said.
The plan’s record of decision, now in the objection period, added 300-foot buffers along streams that McElligott said makes it harder to meet standards and guidelines.
“Even fish biologists say we don’t have the science behind those numbers and they shouldn’t be used in planning,” McElligott said.
Todd Nash, a rancher and Wallowa County Board of Commissioners chairman, said grazing on public land is in jeopardy with the overall number of permittees reduced from 9,000 to 6,000.
“Wallowa County was hit really hard by decisions that closed or vacated allotments and in areas where we do graze we live with the threat of being run out,” Nash said.