On May 4 of this year, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force filed an appeal of the March 7 decision by Judge Bryan of the U.S. District Court in Tacoma in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, concerning the Wildcat Thin Timber Sale. This timber sale is located in the Muddy River and Pine Creek watersheds, just east of the Swift Reservoir (Lewis River).
Judge Bryan ruled against all of the GPTF’s arguments with no caveats. The GPTF’s arguments were primarily technical, focusing on “the effects [the sale] will have on critical habitat for bull trout and … salmon.” However, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest’s staff had consulted with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish & Wildlife Departments of both Washington state and the federal government. All three relevant agencies had approved the timber sale.
Skamania County is home to 880,000 acres of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a forest that we, as a county, along with our state Legislature, argued in 1911 was too big and would eventually lead to the financial ruin of Skamania County. We were assured that “shared receipts” would replace tax dollars for schools and county services. And it did, until the 1990s.
The GPNF has seen virtually no timber harvest in more than a decade. During the previous decade (1990s) the harvest was a small portion of the “old days.” Sawmills and logging-related businesses have nearly disappeared from our region. We keep hearing assurances that we will get some of that resource back, only to be frustrated once more. And here we are once again victimized by the delaying tactics of a group that will not take “yes” for an answer.
Then there are the costs of preparing the Wildcat project, such as environmental analyses. The Forest Service has a large, taxpayer-funded investment in this work, not to mention the work that went into the plantations 40 or more years ago to keep them productive. On top of this we — taxpayers — now have the expense of lawyers and other court costs to defend the sale decisions.
The GPTF states that the process was not collaborative, but Wildcat Thin planning began before there was any collaborative group to address the matter. Moreover, Judge Bryan specifically points out the public process, in which the GPTF participated, was sufficient collaboration.
Beyond that, the GPTF admits that the old “plantations” in the Forest are overcrowded and unnatural. They agree that overcrowding of small trees results in low growth rates of the trees and increases the spread of both insect and disease attack. They do not like to admit that stand conditions, such as overcrowding and uniform density, increases wildfire risk, but we know that this is true. Look at the Cold Springs fire from two years ago: Overcrowded conditions led to insect decimation of the Gotchen-area timber stands, and, when the fire started, it burned hot and wild.
We — as Skamania County commissioners and citizens — are not proposing the large-scale clear-cutting that was widely practiced in the mid-20th century. We are not promoting harvest of true “old growth.” We are environmentalists in the best sense, understanding that resource management means a selective, sustainable, and appropriate approach to timber harvest. The Wildcat Thin follows this approach.
Paul J. Pearce is chairman of the Skamania County Board of Commissioners. Jim Richardson and Bob Anderson are the other commissioners.