The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) and Crook County today applauded the Ochoco National Forest’s decision to move forward once again with the Walton Lake Restoration Project, an effort to improve forest health, ensure public safety and mitigate wildfire danger immediately surrounding Walton Lake, the national forest’s most heavily-used developed recreation site.
The Ochoco National Forest recently addressed formal objections to the project, a final step towards implementing a plan that includes removing diseased conifer trees on the south side of Walton Lake. For the past several years, trees infected with laminated root rot have posed safety hazards to visitors, requiring the national forest to close portions of the recreation area to the public.
Crook County Judge Seth Crawford says the use of forest management tools are necessary to protect visitors from falling trees.
“Walton Lake is an important recreational asset in our community that is enjoyed by residents and visitors throughout the year, yet an unhealthy forest puts these visitors in danger.” Crawford said. “For years laminated root rot has weakened the root systems of infected trees which could break and fall at any time without warning. Crook County supports this project which addresses a clear public safety hazard, and we strongly encourage the Ochoco National Forest to proceed after years of litigation-driven delays.”
Irene Jerome, a forester working with AFRC, says the project will help promote the resiliency of forests within the project area while reducing the risks of severe wildfire and insect infestations. This will be accomplished by removing infected trees and those that are highly susceptible to root rot such as Douglas-fir and Grand fir, in favor of more resilient species including ponderosa pine, western larch and hardwood trees that historically occupied this area.
“For several years we have urged the Ochoco National Forest to follow regional guidance for the management of developed recreation areas by taking aggressive action to control laminated root rot,” Jerome said. “The Walton Lake Restoration Project will help contain this disease, mitigate bark beetle attacks and promote the growth of large pines and other trees. We are encouraged the national forest remains committed to this effort.”
This is the national forest’s third attempt to implement the project, which has gone through forest plan amendments, multiple rounds of planning, and litigation. In 2018, attorneys for anti-forestry groups convinced a judge to halt the project and were awarded over $180,000 in attorney fees. Supporters of the project say Ochoco National Forest has addressed concerns about the project and should move forward towards implementation.
“This is a good project that should have been done years ago. We appreciate the Forest Service continuing to pursue the right path.” Judge Crawford said. “We support the Forest Service’s recent action and look forward to the project’s completion, so residents and visitors can once again safely access and enjoy the entire Walton Lake recreational area.”