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Orleans Fuels Reduction: An EPIC Perspective

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Kimberly Baker inspecting logging within the Orleans Community Fuels Reduction project.
Kimberly Baker inspecting logging within the Orleans Community Fuels Reduction project.

I work with the Klamath Forest Alliance and EPIC to protect and defend our North Coast Watersheds. Our organizations strongly support the Traditional Ecological Knowledge and cultural management techniques of the Tribes. This is a very brief rendition of a very heated story.

The Orleans “Community Fuels Reduction” Project (OCFR) is a tangled mess of broken assurances. Four years ago the Orleans Ranger District on the Six Rivers National Forest came to the community and the Karuk Tribe with a map and a Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) plan. Forced collaboration from the start got this project off on the wrong foot. After hundreds of meetings, field trips and discussions it has proven to be worse than we all imagined.

The OCFR plan consists of treating over 2,500 acres-1,404 acres of hand thinning and commercial logging on 1,179 acres. Within the Panamniik World Renewal Ceremonial Area, which is culturally and spiritually significant to the Karuk Tribe, 941 acres of treatments are proposed.

It is hard to know where to begin listing the violations of laws and promises. Each purpose and need spelled out by the agency has run counter to their word in the Environmental Impact Statement.

  1. Reduce hazardous fuels and promote restoration of fire-adapted ecosystem functions. A 10-foot width limit was identified in the EIS for skyline logging corridors and on average they are 20-40 feet wide. Most of these corridors seem to target the largest, most fire resistant trees, many over 4 feet in diameter. Collectively these swaths of open forests will lead to increased brush growth, which increases the fire risk. Canopy closure in these stands is now less than the 60 percent that was pledged.

  2. Enhance cultural values associated with the Panamniik World Renewal Ceremonial District. In order to secure logging equipment, cables (guy-lines) are wrapped around large trees and in effect these trees are mortally damaged. Large tan oak trees that are in very sensitive areas have been damaged. Logging equipment has been parked in spiritually sensitive areas. The EIS promised the use of different equipment in these logging units so this would not happen. Furthermore, non-local crews did hand thinning with no regard to cultural interests, including slashing hardwoods.

  3. Improve forest health and promote stand diversity

Throughout the EIS the Forest Service emphasizes the importance of hardwood species not only from a forest health perspective, but also from a traditional ecological perspective and it assures hardwood retention and protection. However there is an economic incentive for cutting these trees for firewood and that is what this logger has done. Hundreds of “protected” hardwoods have been cut. Not only is this devastating to forest health but will also increase the risk of fire.

It doesn’t end there. Tyrone Kelly gave his word in the EIS and in person that “Multiparty monitoring would be an effective way to build trust and collaborate with local communities and diverse stakeholders including interested citizens and Tribes. As contracts develop, we will continue to work with collaborators to establish priorities for implementation and monitoring.” Well, up until a couple weeks ago, because of pressure from bad press, Tyrone said that he would not allow or take any part in monitoring. He said it was a conflict of interest. The collaborative group was supposed to have access to files, contracts and basic information. We had to send in formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the project file (minus the culturally and endangered species information), which any citizen in the country is allowed access. Even then thy have denied our request saying that it was not specific enough. Where will it end?


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