Getting along in the Coast Range
Collaborative efforts on the Siuslaw National Forest to help the plan restoration projects in the Alsea basin.
A little more than two years ago, the Alsea Stewardship Group (ASG) members (including me) were just starting to get to know each other. The group - made up of a diverse range of interests from private contractors, long-time basin and coastal residents, fish and wildlife advocates, watershed councils, and conservationists - has worked hard since then to get on the same page regarding restoration needs for fish and wildlife habitat in the Alsea River watershed that empties into the ocean at Waldport. Demonstrating success, a few weeks ago the Forest Service signed a decision for the West Alsea Project - incorporating the many site-specific suggestions on needed restoration made by the ASG. Now there's something new!
Now, the Siuslaw National Forest is starting a new process to plan the East Alsea Project in collaboration with the ASG. Last week, members of the group headed out to the field to look at some of the areas proposed for restoration.
What does "restoration" mean in the Oregon Coast Range? Well, for starters it means dealing with the legacy of clearcuts and the dense plantations planted between the 1950s and 1990s. (This photo is of private land recently clearcut adjacent to the Siuslaw National Forest. It offered a sunny place to have lunch on the field tour, but nothing in the way of wildlife habitat...)
The thousands of acres of plantations in the Coast Range don't provide much in the way of habitat for threatened species that depend on the diverse structure of an old-growth forest. But a lot of science shows that careful thinning (selective logging) in these unnatural forests can help add the diversity and structure found in unlogged forests faster than if left alone. Faster is better when these critters are teetering on the edge of existence!
Such thinning generates income through timber sales, and if done using a "stewardship contract", the money can be reinvested to do projects like stream and fish habitat enhancement in the National Forest, as well as on private land where such projects benefit the natural resources (like fish and wildlife and water quality) on our public lands.
In the East Alsea area, this could mean expanding a historic meadow and incorporating more native plants for deer and elk to eat.
As this planning process gets underway, I'm excited to once again give input, along with my fellow collaborators, on how this project should be shaped - what restoration priorities exist, how can the dense plantations be treated to provide quality habitat for old-growth species, and how can any excess funds be best put to use to restore fish and wildlife populations in the area? With the trust the Alsea Stewardship Group has built over the last few years, and the demonstrated commitment by the Siuslaw National Forest to listen to the public, I bet the result will be another great example of Oregon Wild's common sense vision for our forests.