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‘Old growth’ or not? Oregon Wild, Forest Service face off over logging plans near Phil’s Trail

(Update: Adding video, comments from Oregon Wild, Forest Service, Deschutes Forest Collaborative Project)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The environmental group Oregon Wild sounded the alarm Friday and started a petition, claiming the Forest Service is pushing ahead with what's become a controversial plan to log some of the last remaining old-growth trees in the popular Phil's trail area west of Bend.

Erik Fernandez is a wilderness program manager with Oregon Wild, and he’s taken some issues with the plan. 

“That's really disappointing, to see these are some of the last big old trees we have,” Fernandez told NewsChannel 21 at the site. 

The group made public a petition Friday to convince the Forest Service not to allow logging of what they believe are “old-growth” trees near Phil's Trail. The definition of "old growth" is an old argument of sorts, from decades of what became known as the "timber wars."

And in this case, according to Jean Nelson-Dean, the public affairs officer with the Forest Service, he’s not exactly right.

“They feel they are old growth trees," she said, but to the Forest Service, "they do not demonstrate what are considered the characteristics of old growth Ponderosa pine.”

Nelson-Dean said roughly five or six trees were marked with blue paint in 2019, as part of an environmental analysis. 

The Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, chaired by Bend Mayor Sally Russell and Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang, visited the area last month and later said found these trees are "larger and older" than the trees "all stakeholders have agreed are appropriate for removal."

Project representatives said they do "not feel that the mark in this unit was consistent with the overall vision."

The logging of these pines is part of the West Bend Project, a multi-faceted effort to reduce wildfire danger.

But Fernandez doesn’t see it that way.

“With this project, the public has been told this is all about fire risk reduction and fuels reduction -- and yet they’re going to be cutting the most fire resistant trees, these old-growth trees that have the thick bark that protects them from fire,” Fernandez said. 

Nelson-Dean understands the idea, but said it’s more complicated. 

 “Younger trees are going to be more vulnerable to fire,” Nelson-Dean said. “That doesn’t necessarily make these trees ‘old growth’.”

The timber from these larger trees has already been purchased. 

Fernandez said, “Now there's not as much money to be made in cutting down those small trees, and there's the rub.”  

But Nelson-Dean disputed that it's all about timber revenue, from the Forest Service perspective.

“That’s not how we operate,” Nelson-Dean said. “There's no particular advantage to us within the Forest Service either way.”

Nelson-Dean said she understands the group's frustration, and said the Forest Service wants to work with the public on future projects, as long as talks begin before the trees are sold.

“This didn’t meet your expectations -- we didn’t meet your expectations for what you wanted,” Nelson-Dean said of the message to those in the collaborative project. “Let’s talk about that and see what we can do and we need to do it before the timber sale gets sold.”

Here's the response statement issued Friday by the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project co-chairs and Vice Chair Ed Keith:

Longtime stakeholders of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project (DCFP) have raised concerns about some larger trees marked for commercial thinning within the West Bend project on the Deschutes National Forest. (The trees in question are within Unit 5 of the Euro stewardship contract). 

Both the Forest Service’s West Bend NEPA planning document and the DCFP’s recommendations for restoration in dry Ponderosa pine forests reflect a desire to promote more large and old tree structure in open stands – a stand condition that we have a deficit of since the aggressive old-growth logging and fire suppression of the early and mid 1900s in the region.

After hearing about the tree marking in this unit within the West Bend Project, the Steering Committee of the collaborative did a field trip in late February to review the unit. We found that there were trees marked for removal that were larger and older than the typical 60-80 year old second growth ponderosa pine that all stakeholders have agreed are appropriate for removal in order to bring densities to sustainable levels and to accelerate the growth of remaining trees. The trees in question were not necessarily old-growth, but were older and larger than the standard “black bark” trees (60-80 years old) that are very common throughout the West Bend Project. 

A number of DCFP Steering Committee members did not feel that the mark in this unit was consistent with the overall vision of the West Bend NEPA document or the DCFP recommendations and suggested that retaining the oldest and largest trees would move these stands towards the desired condition of large and old pine in open stands faster. During the field trip, we begun the discussion of how our recommendations and monitoring processes within the Collaborative and how the process of translating planning to implementation within the Forest Service could be refined to reduce the likelihood of marking that does not match our shared vision in the future. 

For context, within the West Bend Project there were 14,500 acres of commercial treatments with fuels reduction planned. The majority of those acres have been implemented at this point and the DCFP has tracked that implementation closely through the years. Within the 14,500 treated acres, we can only point to about 10 acres where we had concerns that trees inconsistent with our vision were being removed. In the ideal world, that number would be 0 acres, but if 99 percent of the acres commercially thinned are moving our forest in the right direction, then we don’t think it is appropriate to vilify the Forest Service for the 10 acres which could be inconsistent with the overall intent and vision of the DCFP.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

The DCFP Steering Committee will reconvene on Tuesday to continue our discussion of how to refine our and the Forest Service’s processes to ensure that even higher percentages of implemented treatments meet our vision.       

For more on the history and goals of the West Bend Project and the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project’s work on it, please see a letter to the editor written by the Deschutes Collaborative Steering Committee in 2013:

Phil Chang and Sally Russell, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project Co-Chairs

Ed Keith, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project Vice Chair

Author Profile Photo

Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.



  1. Most times trees are marked to cut because the total number of trees (usually measured in total basal area) exceeds the carrying capacity of the site to maintain those trees. Over time, if the amount of tree growth is not reduced to within its capacity, trees health will decline. They will be subject to insect and disease attack. Many will die and leave a tinder box situation for wild fire. Managing trees is not much different than gardening. If you try to raise to many of anything in a limited space, you’re going to create problems. Take the time to ask the Forest Service why they are cutting these trees. You might be pleasantly surprised by their well thought out plan.

    1. New York Phil tells Bend residences “burn baby burn”. Chang boy wants Deschutes Country to be more like his home town New York City.

    2. They’ve done a surprisingly nice job thinning out the Phil’s Trail area over the last few years, I’d be shocked if they suddenly started screwing everything up. I would much rather them thin it out than have a fire torch one of my fav places on Earth

  2. They are big enough to be more fire resistant than the smaller trees crowding in around them.

    Besides, how are they going to grow enough to meet this arbitrary “old growth” size threshold if they are continuously being cut down before they can grow any bigger?

    1. Good work Outsider, you have proven Californians are Useful Idiots. Your leader KBG Putin is proud of you and your liberal followers. Keep up the good work and Oregon could be the next Ukraine.

      1. So you have nothing to say about the subject of the report.

        Got it, you’re just blathering on about unrelated topics that are rattling around inside your head. Please get back to us if you develop a coherent argument on the subject at hand.

  3. Oregon Wild just needs to go away. I have listened to them speak. They will not happy until all of us are fenced out of our public lands. They especially panic if there is slight chance that some of us in the public might benefit from harvesting trees or anything else.

      1. A’lot of loggers are required to brush rake when they are done logging. It’s proven that raking debris from the forest floor reduces the chance of fire and if it does catch fire the heat. So Yea, there is that, that most ignorant want to be environmental clowns like to make jokes but haven’t a clue.

      2. Been raking the forest for decades. What do you think they do after thinning, leave all the small limbs and brush laying around? Ever see those huge burn piles, how do you think they get there?

  4. I’m pretty much a leftie, but the more I hear about positions of Oregon Wild, the more I think they’re clueless city dwellers; e.g., what’s wrong with putting a foot bridge over the Deschutes south of town in order to connect up hiking trails? In this case, anyone who knows what they’re talking about would know that the trees in the photo are in no way “old growth”. I once owned a woodlot on the wet side of the Cascades, and some of the 3rd- and 4th-growth trees were that size.

  5. What part of Old Growth don’t these unconscionable greed mongers understand? As if we are up to our necks in old growth. Does right and wrong never some into question for these big business fat cats? Is everything always about your bottom lines and dollar signs?

    1. Do you understand that older trees are cut down and or dug out of the ground every day in Bend? Every flipping day. Old Growth Junipers, not Ponderosa Pines yet no one says a single word about them because everyone treats them as weeds. IF you were to understand the difference between a healthy forest and what you have been told is a healthy forest, you would walk away from these eco freak groups knowing them for the emotional predators they are.

      1. Not that I agree that the Old Growth Junipers should be allowed to be cut down but there is a reason they are thought of as weeds.

        “Across the region (Central Oregon) juniper populations exploded. Given the opportunity, juniper trees outcompete the grasses and shrubs of the sagebrush steppe. … The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has called juniper “one of our most noxious invasive species.”

        1. The point is, Old Growth is Old Growth, just because one is a major commercial species and the other species not a major commercial species should not make a difference. The torons see the big Ponderosa Pines but look past the Junipers. There is an old juniper on horse ridge judged to be over 1600 years old, the oldest living thing in Oregon. How many of those Junipers in the Bend area could be 600 or 700 plus years old, and they get cut down without a thought. As for the Juniper weeds of the last 100 years, slaughter them and burn the piles.

        2. Do u realize how many gallons of water a juniper tree sucks out of the ground!? All of 30 gallons if not more. When I was a little kid I have pictures from around Central Oregon & there’s a fraction of the trees we have now. With the big Drought why isn’t the state making efforts to thin em out?!

      2. Thank you Oregonn8tive! Great point, what tree(s) are important in the forest. 🤔 What is the difference between habitat and forested landscape? What is the Mayor doing about oversight of native juniper clearing for development? I wonder the culmination of juniper verses ponderosa pine. You, may be on to something….

    1. Exhibit A lewlew exhibit A what do you think that had to be done to build your house frigging A!
      Old growth is considered trees thar are at least 150 years old I highly doubt those trees marked are anywhere close.

  6. @CODude,
    That’s our new “old growth” because we’ve cut down d’mn near everything, so yes, that’s the new old growth. It’s not as old as the old growth used to be because this state and region has a history of cutting down almost everything. So to say it’s old growth is to say that is some of the oldest trees we have still got and therefore we shouldn’t be aiming to cut it down given the state’s lack of true old growth. And that isn’t even to account for the state’s current drought crisis, just another factor stressing our forests already. The last thing we need to do is mark yet more trees for short term harvest.

    1. You’re just babbling on. You type a lot of words but truly never really say anything coherent. There’s really no such thing a new old growth. You should listen to Hootmon. He has finally said something I can agree with.

    2. Lewlew You are almost amusing but not really. There hasent been much of anything cut due to tree huggers shutting down logging for the past 35 plus years. Instead it has been going up in smoke.
      Short term harvest?
      If you really want to save the trees you should give up all your toilet paper and use cotton. Either way you are full of it

    3. ‘sounds like you to get out to the woods more. These are 2nd growth trees at best. Head down to Crater Lake NP to see some real old growth. Heck, even some of the Ponderosa stands west of Sisters along Hwy. 20 put these to shame. Or head up to the Hoh Rainforest in Washington State to see some real Pacific NW monsters. All this pearl clutching over 10 acres out of 14,000 is mostly a PR project for Oregon Wild.

  7. Chop all those problem trees down and build fences with the wood to keep out the horse riding people that think they know better then everyone else including Oregon wild and lewlew.

  8. The selection of trees is based entirely upon the amount paid by the “harvesters” to government employees and their elected masters, like Russell and Chang.

    1. I believe that trees are actually marked by the forest service, or their third party consultant, to achieve the desired outcome of said project. Then, bids for that timber sale are submitted on whatever trees, and mix of trees, are in that unit. So in theory, timber companies are entering into the picture after the fact. They themselves are not out there with paint selecting the trees that they want to take. And as far as large trees being the most profitable…….not entirely. Todays mills are not set up to process the largest trees nearly as efficiently as they once were. Large trees in todays world are usually only more profitable than a tree in the 10”-12” range if the buyer is using them to produce clear wood products like molding or trim. In that scenario, large trees are more profitable because they are the only trees with that clear wood.

    2. Forest Service employees are in the Dep’t of Agriculture and local politicians are not their “masters”. Locally, they report to the Supervisor, Holly Jewkes.

    1. Um… welcome to ktvz, I guess.
      I’ve seen several of your posts here now, and not one of them is on-topic or adds anything positive to the conversation. I think you’ll find many kindred spirits here, unfortunately.

  9. Those trees aren’t even close to being old growth, ponderosa that size are just going to pulp mills so liberal newspapers can print their fake news on.

  10. @Martha,
    I understand why they cut Juniper stands down, they are incredibly water hungry trees and suck the groundwater dry. It’s the non-invasive/native trees that should be left alone.

    1. The question of whether these trees are old growth or not should be left up to the arborists. Maybe I just don’t understand the reasoning here of why these Ponderosas need to be cut. I’m reading above that it’s due to fire reduction but these trees seem larger than the ones being cut in the fire reduction work going on outside of town. They look more the size of the ones left standing. And on the other hand, to leave the forests alone at this point means that we accept that they’re going to burn.

  11. @Redmond,
    Rough sawn lumber planks dating back to circa 1890s. There’s no wall cavity, just plank walls and as you can imagine it doesn’t retain heat very well.

    1. So you have an incredibly inefficient house when it comes to energy use but you are all for “saving the environment” by not cutting down trees that aren’t considered “old growth” by every definition due to your argument that someday they will be old growth? Yet you actually have no idea why they are trimming them (spacing, fire breaks etc). Sounds like you need an informed opinion versus just an opinion. All to common around here.

  12. Get er done cut them down. Same people who don’t like our oil but ok to come from someone’s else’s back yard. Vote out all Democrats or kiss your ass bye bye.

  13. @Redmond,
    But not everyone is rich, Redmond, and not everyone can afford to totally retrofit their pre-19th century house with uber expensive building materials. I do what I can, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have an opinion.

    1. True it just makes you hypocritical when talking about policies involving environmental concerns but again based on what you have written it is obvious that you have an opinion it just isn’t informed.

      1. You don’t have to attack people because you don’t like their opinion especially considering that most of your opinions could be considered ill-informed by many.

        1. Oh dear Martha….I don’t even know where to begin the incorrect statements you have made based in the history we have witnessed. I follow a pretty easy rule to not comment on anything I have no experience with. You on the other hand…

  14. gil says:
    Vote out all Democrats or kiss your ass bye bye.
    But Gil, are Republican really doing so much better in their own states? Could not you say that their ‘business as usual’ and ‘profits at all costs’ policies are directly responsible for our current climate crisis and predicament we find ourselves in now?

  15. @Redmond,
    Okay, I will keep that in mind “informed” opinion police officer. Thank you for your leniency, I’ll crawl under my rock now and let you real informed people do your magic.

    1. Cute response. Everyone is informed on certain items. I was just pointing out you obviously have no idea what you are talking about in this case.

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