Old Growth Demise on Hwy. 26

Traveling east from Prineville on Highway 26 used to be a beautiful drive known for its towering old growth ponderosa pines. This scenic drive meanders through a portion of the Ochoco National Forest along Marks Creek on your way to eastern Oregon. The grassy meadows dotted with old-growth pines created the backdrop to one of central Oregon’s best forest drives.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has changed that. A rogue roadside hazard tree removal project has dropped hundreds of pines along a 12 mile stretch of road, dramatically degrading the scenery, and the wildlife habitat of the area.

The basic intention of this project is legitimate - remove trees that are a safety hazard. However, implementation seems to be another story. ODOT and the Forest Service jointly determined what constitutes a hazard tree on this project. Any tree that had a lean towards the road, rot or forked topped, or causing shade (and therefore potentially ice), on the roadway was considered.

Of course, we take public safety seriously and support reasonable logging decisions that protect the public. In this case, it’s hard to justify cutting healthy 300 year old pines because they cast a shadow on the road. Healthy trees that ‘create shade’ are not hazards. If we were to cut every tree that creates shade on the roadway, there wouldn’t be a scenic drive in all of Oregon. Instead, this looks suspiciously like old growth logging under the guise of public safety. 

 

We often hear that “no one wants to cut old-growth anymore.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Greedy timber companies with elected officials in their pocket are the usual cast of characters that typically threaten our old-growth and forests. However, ODOT is increasingly involved with these roadside old-growth grabs that chip away at our few remaining ancient stands across the state. 

Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about these trees that have been cut. There was no public notice until the trees were on the ground. There was no environmental analysis or input process. ODOT and the Forest Service harvested some of the last best remaining old-growth trees on the forest without any public transparency. It’s time for some public accountability.

We should be protecting our little remaining old-growth, not devising creative solutions to log it. We need more oversight by the Governor and the Forest Service for ODOT projects on our public lands so this never happens again.