Friends of Mount Hood Newsletter
Dear Friends of Mount Hood!
Looking back over the past year, it feels that we have been in one of those holding patterns you hate to experience when flying. The good news is that we are in the final stages of two hugely important projects. The outcome of one is theoretically settled, but the fate of the second is yet to be determined.
Here are the items we have been following for the past year, and some new issues we are keeping an eye on.
Government Camp-Cooper Spur Land Exchange
We have lived with this for so long we simple call it “the land swap.’ As an avid FOMH supporter you are familiar with the story, but for other readers here is a brief review.
This project started in 2002 when FOMH banded together with other like-minded groups to stop development of an all-seasons destination resort on the relatively undeveloped north side of Mount Hood. After much litigation and hard work a compromise was forged, and in 2009 the US Congress enacted a law ordering the Forest Service to complete a land exchange of privately held north side land for public land adjacent to the village of Government Camp on the south side of the mountain. The exchange made sense since it protected the north side and directed commercial development to Government Camp.
Bizarrely, five years later, the US Forest Service had still not completed the paperwork for the exchange. In 2015, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the USFS was in violation of the 2009 law. Since the filing of the lawsuit progress has been made.
The action is finally in the land valuation phase. The valuation of the Government Camp land has been completed, and we are waiting for the Cooper Spur results. Once this is done the actual exchange should happen relatively soon. However, bear in mind that this has been 15 years in the making with many twists and turns. Stay tuned!
Polallie-Cooper Hazardous Fuel Reduction Project
The US Forest Service has been proposing the need for forest thinning on the east side of Mount Hood for the past 20 years. They state that this project on the east and west sides of Highway 35, near the Cooper Spur road junction, is the last untreated Wildfire Urban Interface area on the east side of the mountain. Interestingly, the project area is immediately adjacent to the Cooper Spur private land that is part the land exchange (see above).
FOMH has reviewed the pros and cons of this project, and we have submitted comments of concern to the USFS. One concern is that the 2009 federal law designated the Crystal Springs Watershed for drinking water protection, and it is included in the fuel reduction boundaries. After reviewing all the public comments, the USFS decided to not log in the watershed while the land exchange is still unsettled. Another concern is that a part of the project land along the East Fork Hood River is adjacent to designated Wilderness and is being proposed as a Wilderness addition.
The USFS has completed its review, and proposes to start the thinning project, minus the Crystal Springs Watershed. Much concern has been raised about logging mature stands of trees in sensitive areas of the project. At the least, FOMH asks that treatment in these sensitive areas be delayed until issues such as the Wilderness addition are more thoroughly addressed. We will continue to follow this matter closely.
Timberline Mountain Bike Park
As all should know, Timberline Lodge is near and dear to FOMH. But, did you know that in 1937 when the Lodge opened, then college student Kate McCarthy (future founder of FOMH) was a dining room waitress?
When FOMH heard in 2009 that plans were being laid to go after a lift-assist mountain bike facility at Timberline the alarm was sounded. Many Lodge fans strongly held the view that a commercial bike facility was not compatible with the traditions and legacy of the historic Lodge, and it would be in competition with other bike facilities already operating at lower elevations. But, it was the high elevation erosion causing watershed pollution affecting protected species that united everyone in opposition.
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by FOMH and three other groups. Our team of attorneys at Crag Law Center have been masterfully pleading our case in federal court ever since. Just last month, on October 14, the court listened to the final arguments prior to making its decision, which will be forthcoming by mid-December.
Judge Aiken provided her own summation of the case when she posed this interesting set of questions to the defense attorneys.
“There are competing uses in the forest, aren’t there?” And competing needs. And that’s what this case is about, isn’t it?”
We will post her decision on our website, friendsofmounthood.org, as soon as we have it.
At the final hearing Judge Aiken also posed another interesting question to the government attorneys.
“Just be careful what you wish for. Because what if this was an ATV park? You have to balance your approach when you’re trying to introduce new sources of revenue in the forest.”
It was intriguing that the judge brought up ATVs because FOMH has concerns about the new breed of electric mountain bikes that are really ATVs in all but name. Mountain bikes with 52 v. electric motors, and larger, capable of reaching 50 plus mph are on the market.
Since these are clearly motorized vehicles they are not allowed in Wilderness areas. However, since they are a fairly new beast there is a lot of confusion on where they can and cannot be used. So far, the USFS and BLM are classifying them as motorized vehicles, and prohibits them on any trail with the symbol of a motorcycle with a slash. We agree with this approach as we do not see any difference between a gas powered trail bike and one with the engine switched out for an electric motor.
So far, the Oregon State Parks has taken the same position. This means that e-bikes are not allowed on the networks of paved trails found in most state parks. However, State Parks is apparently receiving push back as some do not see an issue with e-bikes on paved bicycle/walking paths.
Even though the initial agency approaches are positive, this is new technology and advocacy groups with differing views are going to be lobbying. FOMH will keep in contact with our two US Forests about e-bikes. As the hiker said, ‘We want to stay ahead of this trend.’
In the past decade, the mountain has experienced three major fires, Blue Grass Ridge, Gnarl Ridge, and Dollar Lake. These burns are slowly recovering, and mostly with minimal human intervention. But, the recent Gorge fires resulted in a different reaction. In September, Rep. Greg Walden introduced a Bill that would bring a heavy hand to the recovery of this burn.
The US Forest Service follows prescribed forest rules and regulations for fire recovery, and these policies are bringing about the recovery of the past burns. There is no need for Walden’s bill, which would order immediate clear cutting of dead trees.
FOMH, along with other conservation groups, including the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, are opposing Walden’s bill. While some immediate treatment is needed to protect trails and hikers, the same recovery philosophy being used on the other burns should also apply to the Gorge.
These are examples of the important work you support with your generous donations. Always remember, as we approach our 30th anniversary, that FOMH is an all-volunteer group. There are no salaries or overhead so every dollar of your donations goes to the ongoing fight to protect and preserve our beloved Mount Hood.
Please go to our donate page if you choose to continue supporting the work of FOMH. It is our hope that you stay with us so together we can maintain Kate’s legacy.