Botched Logging Around Orleans

Botched Logging Around Orleans

Community Safety and Cultural Resources Threatened by Forest Service

December 16, 2009

For more information, please contact: Scott Greacen, EPIC, 707-834-6257

Orleans, CA – After three years of community dialogue in collaboration with the Six Rivers National Forest, the Orleans Community Fuel Reduction (OCFR) now faces dramatic controversy, including a human blockade that halted operations Wednesday, December 16.

The OCFR project included a negotiated resolution to an objection filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) several other environmental groups, and the Karuk Tribe under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

According to the Forest Service’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the “purpose and need” for the OCFR project is to “manage forest stands to reduce fuels accumulations and improve Forest Health around the community of Orleans, while enhancing cultural values associated with the Panamnik World Renewal Ceremonial District.”

The logging that has been completed is not consistent with the terms of the EIS or the resolution to the group’s objection. These issues have raised serious concerns among Karuk tribal leaders about impacts on important cultural sites in the Panamnik World Renewal Ceremonial District. The changes could also present increased fire risk to the Orleans community.

“The Forest Service may have damaged the potential for future collaboration in this unique community, by botching this project,” said EPIC’s Executive Director, Scott Greacen.

Six Rivers National Forest Supervisor Tyrone Kelley, threatened to axe the entire project if the commercial logging element of the project is not completed. Meanwhile members of the Klamath Justice Coalition, an ad hoc group of Klamath Basin residents, blocked the logging road with their bodies in an emergency measure and forced the Forest Service to order a stop work order.

“We are asking the Forest Service to halt operations in the culturally-sensitive areas immediately, but to continue with the non-controversial parts of the project,” said Greacen.

Concerns raised by local observers include:
1) inappropriate operations, including heavy equipment, in sensitive cultural areas;
2) use of a contractor which had previously shown bad faith, and which the community had specifically requested not be involved in the project;
3) excessive removal of large trees and hardwoods which should have been retained to maintain fire resilience;
4) allowing the contractor to buy hardwoods that should not have been felled, creating an incentive to continue damaging operations.

In a January 2008 press release, the Forest Service hailed the OCFR project as the result of extensive collaboration among stakeholders including the Karuk tribe, local community groups, and environmental organizations. By most measures, Orleans would appear to be the perfect place for the Forest Service to work with local interests to undertake the kind of community-protection fuels reduction projects the agency says it wants to focus on.

Nonetheless, it took more time and more hard work than it should have to reach a basic agreement about what should be done under the OCFR project. The Forest Service started the project with nearly 3,000-acre footprint that included miles of new road and extensive logging of large trees in areas several ridges away from the town of Orleans. Finally, after filing an objection that forced another round of negotiations, the coalition of community groups (the Orleans Fire Safe Council and Mid Klamath Watershed Council), Karuk Tribe, and environmental advocates (Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, EPIC, Klamath Forest Alliance, and the Northcoast Environmental Center) reached an agreement with the Forest Service that dropped one section of the project and protected additional large trees. Now key terms of that resolution, and the underlying project approval, appear to be falling by the wayside as logging is underway.

Orleans is home to the Orleans-Somes Bar Fire Safe Council, a group of local residents that has not only prepared a detailed Community Wildfire Protection Plan—an outline of the work that needs to be done to best protect homes, key access routes and other resources around town—but has also done years of diligent labor on their own, not only cutting back brush, but also carefully reintroducing fire to help reduce the risk of wildfire. As well, Orleans is a center of the Karuk Tribe, which has literally thousands of years of experience managing Klamath forests by using fire to maintain hardwood stands, important trails and key ceremonial areas.