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