The assessment of the Lower Joseph Creek project area revealed a number of opportunities and concerns. Relative to desired conditions, the project area shows a deficit of forest stands with large trees and open canopies, an overabundance of young open forest stands with relatively dense tree seedling understories, a surplus of small diameter downed woody fuels and fuel ladders, reduced understory plant diversity and productivity, and conifer expansion into grassland habitat. Due to decades of fire suppression and increases in forest densities, the area is also vulnerable to damaging wildfires. Fish habitat quality and connectivity has been recently showing improving trends, and opportunities remain for continued improvement through riparian area and road management. The proposed project activities also provide a variety of opportunities to contribute to the economic and social vitality of local tribes and communities by providing forest and range products, restoration jobs, and protection of cultural and treaty resources.
The proposed action for the Lower Joseph Creek project includes a number of key actions to address opportunities and concerns. Thinning and mechanical fuel treatments across approximately 20,000 acres, and thinning of largely younger trees across an additional 5,000 acres, would support increases in large, old, open tree structure, and understory forage production. These treatments, along with prescribed burning, where ecologically and socially appropriate, would reduce hazardous fuels and vulnerability to damaging wildfires.
Road construction, reconstruction, use of temporary roads, and seasonal or permanent closures would support public access, proposed forest management activities, wildlife habitat quality, and aquatic habitat connectivity. The majority of road-related activities would make use of the existing system road network, and would meet the Forest Service commitments that were made in previous NEPA decisions. Approximately 1.5 miles of new system road would be constructed; 24 miles of system road would be reconstructed; and 26 miles of new temporary roads would be constructed. A roads analysis would be conducted to assess the transportation system and the appropriate actions needed to meet project and administrative needs, forest plan standards and guidelines, and consultation guidance for federally listed fish. The roads analysis would review previous project decisions on road closures, and determine the appropriate course of action into the future. The proposed action does not include road closures beyond those that have already been identified for seasonal or permanent closure under past decisions, or that have been naturally closed. Under the proposed action, 40 miles would be seasonally closed per past NEPA decisions, and approximately 45 miles would be permanently closed or decommissioned per past NEPA decisions. A roads analysis and an evaluation of each segment’s status, future need, and impact on other resources will also be completed. Roads proposed for any type of closure would focus on resource damage to water quality, fish habitat, and wildlife habitat.
The initiation of public scoping on the Lower Joseph Creek project provides an important opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to its success. Collaboration has, and will continue to be a valuable part of the development of this project. Comments and suggestions from the public during the comment period are strongly encouraged. A public scoping meeting will be held at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds in the Cloverleaf Hall from 6 – 8 p.m. on January 30. Everyone who is interested in this project is invited to attend this event. Information about the project and how to provide comments can be found on the Wallowa-Whitman website. Comments should identify potential issues related to the proposed project, in order for the Forest Service to develop alternatives that meet the purpose and need for the project. The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) will be released this summer (2014) with the final EIS expected in December of this year. The Lower Joseph Creek project is part of the Forest Service broader strategy to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration in eastern Oregon and Washington to provide both healthy forests and healthy communities. More information can be found on the Eastside Restoration website.