Proposed logging raised concerns about impact

By Marcy Stamper

Unusually high public interest in a timber sale proposed for Virginia Ridge — and concerns about its aesthetic impact and wildfire risk — prompted the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to revise its approach to the logging and to schedule a public meeting about it in Winthrop later this month.

At the May 21 meeting, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, state Rep. Brad Hawkins (R-East Wenatchee) and DNR subject-area experts will present a revamped plan for the timber sale and discuss forest health and wildfire preparedness in general, according to Carlo Davis, communications director for DNR.

They’ll also discuss DNR’s new 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, developed in conjunction with dozens of agencies and industry and environmental groups.

“Our forestland in the Methow Valley holds important significance to the community for its recreation, environmental and economic value,” said Franz. “Community input and engagement is critical to the success of our forest health initiative.”

Original plans for the sale called for logging 735 acres, mostly in the Wolf Creek and Virginia Ridge areas. A small area near Mazama was also part of the treatment. Because the proposal called for leaving 26 to 30 trees an acre — a significant reduction from the current 150 trees per acre — many people were concerned that the logging would resemble a clear-cut. The slopes to be logged would be visible from much of the Methow Valley, including from Sun Mountain Lodge.

Many who submitted comments to DNR on the sale said they were concerned about potentially negative effects on the valley’s tourism industry. Others said the logging could actually increase wildfire risk because removing that many trees would dry out the forest and prevent the growth of a healthy understory. Other concerns highlighted the likelihood of increased erosion into the Methow River.

DNR first proposed the sale last fall under its Forest Improvement Timber (FIT) program, which is intended to restore forest health and reduce wildfire risk.

“Definitely the volume of public comment was unusual,” said Davis. “A lot of the community is interested in the project, including people who wanted the sale and those who wanted changes.” Most commenters said they understood the need for forest health but wanted a different approach. Many offered valuable comments that are worth considering, said Davis.

DNR is still refining the new approach to the sale and will have a substantive plan at the public meeting, said Davis. “We want to use this as a chance to have a broader conversation about forest health and fire prevention. DNR wants to be a good partner,” he said.

The timber auction was initially set for May 30. That has been postponed in light of the revised logging plan.

The public meeting, including a question-and-answer session, is Monday, May 21, at 6 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn.