Conflict is building between the U.S. Forest Service and residents of a small community along the McKenzie River over a logging plan. Jerry Gilmour, a part-time resident of the McKenzie Bridge community, located in the Willamette National Forest, was astonished to learn in early February that 2134 acres there were about to be commercially logged and 588 acres “non-commercially thinned” by the Forest Service (USFS). Research into the matter left Gilmour angrier as he learned how the Goose Project, as the USFS calls it, came about.

“It has been, and continues to be, a disgusting and shameful proposition. The Forest Service methodically excluded the residents from the process,” he told Salem Weekly.

The objections of Gilmour and his neighbors quickly resulted in several news articles and a MoveOn online petition. Two environmental groups, Oregon Wild and Cascades Wildlands, are already involved and are considering a lawsuit against the USFS.

According to critics, the main problems are as follows:
1 – The only warning for the large project was a small legal notice among many others in a Eugene newspaper –more than 50 miles from McKenzie Bridge – in 2010.
2 – The 45-day public comment period passed in 2010.
3 – The USFS chose to log mature forests in riparian reserves where logging is prohibited, and also to log mature trees which provide habitat for the spotted owl, a threatened species.
4 – Despite the fact that the project is located within a major watershed, involves critical habitat and the destruction of old growth trees, the USFS did not prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, but only an abbreviated document called an Environmental Assessment (EA).
5 – In a 2011 notice informing residents of a boundary line survey last year, the USFS did not mention a word about the logging project.

In its initial documents on the matter, the USDA Forest Service said the top reason for the Goose Project was to manage tree stands to improve stand conditions, diversity, density, and structure. It also hoped to reduce hazardous fuel levels in the McKenzie Bridge Wildland-Urban Interface and provide a sustainable supply of timber products within the area.

Gilmour says that when he first contacted Geunther Castillion, Goose Project Manager, Castillion told him the cutting was just for thinning and fire management. But Gilmour says he quickly learned the project was “massive,” including road-building and spraying of herbicides. It means the cutting of enough timber to fill 9,000 logging trucks in an area rich with elk deer, grey fox, black bear, bobcats and cougars.

Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild also objects to calling the project primarily fire protection. Heiken told Salem Weekly, “900 acres of the sale have nothing to do with fire risk reduction because they are older forests that have most of their fuel suspended high above the ground.” Heiken says logging will actually increase hazard on these 900 acres of mature forest.

The USFS held a public meeting on March 12 in response to the publicity Gilmour generated, but Gilmour calls the meeting “a patronizing circus show.”  He started a petition of protest and at the time of this writing has 3750 signatures. He says the petition is growing by 10% every day.

Katie Isacksen, Public Affairs Officer for the US Forest Service, tells Salem Weekly “The Goose Project is a good project, it’s definitely something we need to do to reduce fuel loading and the threat of a major fire.” She maintains that the ES was “adequate, and addressed all environmental concerns.”

She agrees with Terry Baker, McKenzie Bridge District Ranger, who says, “I fully believe all of the environmental impact questions that have been raised were addressed in the Goose analysis. Our analysis, which is available online, carefully considered the effects of thinning on threatened and endangered species, water quality, soil stability, fish habitat, aesthetics and recreation.”

Gilmour remains undaunted. “We are hoping that the USFS will do the right thing… put the brakes on and redesign this project with the good of the community, the wildlife and the forest in mind rather than the timber company’s bottom line.” He is “absolutely” in favor of the possible lawsuit against the USFS.

“Litigation may be the only real way to bring this madness to a screeching halt.”