Chainsaws in the Colonel Bob Wilderness?
Here in the Washington, we reckon with blowdown on a massive scale. Our cold and wet mountain winters generate huge snow and ice loads in the crowns of trees, and heavy winds often topple these top-heavy giants.
Come spring many of our favorite trails resemble an interrupted game of pick-up-sticks. Volunteers and agency staff are called in to clear these routes and re-establish tread damaged by these blown-down monsters. The prevalence of blowdown in our region has even spawned an entire generation of crosscut saw obsessives - er, enthusiasts - dedicated to the ancient art of sawing through huge down trees with nothing but an artfully-sharpened blade, core muscle strength and keen ability to analyze potentially dangerous tension points in these jackstraw tumbles.
Every now and then, blowdown occurs on such a massive scale inside federally-protected wilderness that the Forest Service is compelled to request a chainsaw waiver that would allow them to use motorized and mechanized equipment in wilderness in the interest of clearing trails more quickly and safely.
The Olympic National Forest is analyzing a situation like this one in the Colonel Bob Wilderness. The Colonel Bob Trail is in truly rough shape, with a great deal of blowdown that has both blocked and damaged the trail. This is the result of a heavy rain and wind event in December 2007. Roughly 1.5 miles - between miles 1.7 and 3.2 - of the Colonel Bob Trail is currently impassable to equestrians and hikers. The Pacific Ranger District expects that the project can be categorically excluded from the documentation requirements of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
And that's rub. Generally speaking, I'm agnostic on the question of occasional chainsaw use in wilderness, as long as requesting waivers for chainsaw use does not become the default position for land managers. But I have serious concerns about categorically excluding these projects from analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Wilderness means something. It's a place where we escape the trappings of civilization for at least a while. One of the things we go to wilderness to escape is motors. And while there are good arguments, particularly around safety, for the occasional, very judicious use of motorized equipment in wilderness, it seems to me that we should subject projects that could impinge on the integrity of the Wilderness Act to very rigorous scrutiny. NEPA analysis provides that scrutiny.
WTA will be asking the District to revisit the question of whether they ought to conduct this project without, at minimum, an EA. We encourage you to contact the District and let them know how you feel about the Colonel Bob and the appropriateness of this project, whatever your views. The more of us who weigh in, the more thorough and appropriate the project will be in the long term.
You can comment on this project by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail mail at Pete Erben, Pacific Ranger District, PO Box 9, Quinault, WA 98575. If you have any questions about the project, or would like to receive more information, contact Pete Erben at (360) 288-0202.
And if you'd like to know more about WTA's work with National Forest land managers on projects like these, don't hesitate to contact me at email@example.com, or by phone at (206) 625-1367.