Hik­ers up­set by cut to old-growth for­est trail in Ore­gon

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NEVADA & THE WEST - By Zach Ur­ness

SALEM, Ore. — For some, it was the ob­vi­ous step to safe­guard a com­mu­nity from wild­fire.

To oth­ers, it was an un­nec­es­sary en­croach­ment that marred a path­way through vir­gin for­est.

The re­sult, all agree, is ugly. A trail that once trav­eled through never-be­fore-logged for­est is now home to stumps from an ef­fort de­signed to stop flames from spread­ing.

The ques­tion is whether cut­ting trees and snags along two miles of the Emer­ald For­est Trail sys­tem to pro­tect the Bre­it­en­bush area from wild­fire was nec­es­sary.

For­est Ser­vice and Bre­it­en­bush Hot Springs of­fi­cials say yes, while other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity dis­agree.

“It was one of the best in­tact an­cient for­est hik­ing trails in Ore­gon,” said Michael Don­nelly, who helped build the trail in the 1980s. “This was a great loss.”

The Bre­it­en­bush Com­mu­nity, which in­cludes the hot springs re­sort and 72 pri­vately owned cab­ins, has been threat­ened by mul­ti­ple fires this sum­mer.

The big­gest fire in the area is White­wa­ter, but the one that’s brought the great­est threat to Bre­it­en­bush has been the Lit­tle Devil Fire.

Ig­nited by a light­ning strike in early Au­gust, the fire near Devil’s Peak has spread within 1 3/4 miles of the hot springs and cab­ins.

To pro­tect the area, fire teams looked for the best place to build a fire break, or buf­fer, be­tween the fires and Bre­it­en­bush.

Even­tu­ally, they set­tled on a line that in­cluded 2 miles of the Emer­ald For­est Trail, part of the Spot­ted Owl Trail sys­tem, a popular hik­ing trail that tra­verses old-growth for­est.

Fire teams went through 2 miles of the trail and cut old-growth snags, smaller trees and old-growth yew trees.

They cre­ated a 50- to 70-foot gap de­signed to halt or slow a fire if it spread to­ward Bre­it­en­bush.

But a num­ber of res­i­dents said the move was un­nec­es­sary and dam­aged an area of rich bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity in a pre­ma­ture ef­fort to stop a fire that likely won’t ar­rive.

The Lit­tle Devil Fire, now 1,885 acres, has mostly moved away from Bre­it­en­bush but has crept slightly closer in re­cent days.

Along with the stumps, the crit­ics point to a loss of spot­ted owl nest­ing habi­tat in the old-growth snags.

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