Owl habitat, former clear-cuts near Sisters targeted for restoration

Posted on in category Positive News

A new forest project aims to restore and protect a fire-prone area outside of Sisters. Find out more.

Original article by Bradley Parks of OPB

The U.S. Forest Service wants a face lift for a 25,000-acre chunk of forest land north of a popular Central Oregon destination.

Green Ridge is a forested escarpment that lies north of Camp Sherman and directly east of the Metolius River. It offers a shared-use hiking and biking trail with views of mountain peaks. Parts of the forest provide habitat for the federally protected northern spotted owl, which is somewhat of a rarity east of the Cascades.

But the Forest Service says years of clear-cutting, heavy logging, and fire exclusion and suppression have left the forest at Green Ridge overly dense and at high risk of fire — fires that could wipe out tree stands the owl relies on and that threaten nearby communities.

“A lot of it was previously either high-grade logged, where some of the largest, most fire-resistant trees were logged or it was clear-cut and then replanted in pretty dense plantations,” said Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid.

The agency has proposed a large-scale restoration project that would cut the amount of forested area at moderate or high risk of fire in half.

The draft environmental assessment for the proposal, which the Forest Service published last week, says nearly a quarter of the project area is at moderate or high risk of potentially devastating fire. About a third of it already burned in the Eyerly Fire in 2002 and more in the Bridge 99 and Green Ridge fires.

The agency lists six priorities for the project. They include bolstering habitat for northern spotted owls and mule deer. The agency also hopes to reintroduce fire to Green Ridge and perform selective thinning to lessen fuel loads.

“The Sisters Ranger District, due to large fires, we’ve lost a lot of our historic owl habitat, our historic owl corridors,” Reid said. “We still have several left in the Green Ridge project area. That’s another part of the project design is trying to think of how can we break up the landscape enough to, when we do get another fire, to kinda protect those last remnants of quality owl habitat.”

Excessive logging has been the primary contributor to habitat loss for the northern spotted owl, eventually leading to its protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to the Audubon Society, spotted owls require mature, undisturbed old-growth forests for survival.

At least one group, the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, has voiced its concern with the Forest Service proposal at Green Ridge. They’re calling it the “Green Ridge Timber Sale.”

The group argues that the Forest Service’s proposed logging of understory fuels will degrade rather than protect habitat for the owls, deer and other species. Representatives for Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project were unable to comment by press time.

The Forest Service will accept public comment on the project proposal until Nov. 21. Members of the public can submit comments by following instructions on this page.