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South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Turns Focus To Upper Wsr, Gotchen Creek Area

Mt. Adams can be seen between burnt trees at the site of the Cascade Creek Fire that happened in 2012.

Mt. Adams can be seen between burnt trees at the site of the Cascade Creek Fire that happened in 2012. Photo by Amber Marra.

Last week, a group of residents who share a common interest in taking care of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest gathered around the Trout Lake Big Tree to collaborate on how to do so.

The group, which was brought together by the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative, consisted of foresters or former foresters, members of the lumber industry, fire ecologists, generally intrigued residents, and more. As they sat in the shade near the Big Tree trailhead, the group discussed potential courses of action as the U.S. Forest Service prepares a plan for the Upper White Salmon and Gotchen Creek area.

“We try to have as much diversity as possible,” said Jamie Tolfree, coordinator of the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative.

Born out of the merger of the Mt. Adams District Collaborative and the Lewis River Collabora-tive in 2011, the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative works with the Forest Service to move along projects that are on a 10-year action plan, according to Tolfree. Stakeholders within the collaborative range from Bear Mountain Forest Products and Port of Skamania County to Mt. Adams Resource Stewards and Gifford Pinchot Accountability Group, among many others.

The group either simply advises the Forest Service or goes as far as seeking grant funding to conduct stand exams in various parts of the Gifford Pinchot to expedite the process of stewardship sales.

“We’ve applied for funding from the National Forest Foundation and the Resource Advisory Council for money to perform these stand exams, which are the first step when looking at timber sales and assessing what the stands of trees look like, their health, their age, where we might need to cut some trees to make the forest healthy, things like that,” Tolfree said.

The collaborative also gets to advise the Forest Service when it comes to stewardship sales, which allow for the exchange of goods and services as long as forest restoration activity also takes place, according to the Forest Service Web site.

The Web site goes on to identify stewardship contracting as “intended to achieve key land-management goals that improve, maintain, or restore forest or rangeland health; restore or maintain water quality; improve fish or wildlife habitat; reestablish native plant species and increase their resilience to insect and disease; and reduce hazardous fuels that pose risks to communities and ecosystem values through an open, collaborative process.”

As a bonus, any money made through stewardship sales can be used to benefit projects throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

“One of the key things with these stewardship sales is that you can utilize funding gained from them called retained receipts to do forest restoration projects throughout the forest if you want. It doesn’t have to be tied to the project area or to that exact timber sale, so there is an advantage to that and gives us more freedom in some ways,” Tolfree said.

The South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative lists projects such as the “Coyote Thin,” a 5,000-acre thinning operation to promote forest health, the “Upper Swift Thin,” the “Wildcat Stewardship Sale,” and the “Pepper Cat Stewardship Sale,” as a few of multiple projects the group has worked on with the Forest Service.

The collaborative incorporates field trips, like the one held last week, to learn about the areas to be focused on and determine what action, if any, needs to be taken.

“I think we’re going to be looking at if it would be good to harvest trees or not to harvest trees. We’ll talk about interfacing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, because fires know no boundaries, and there is a concern with how we might interact with private land, as well,” Tolfree said prior to the field trip.

Much of the conversation throughout the trip was driven by research conducted in the Gotchen Late-Successional Reserve by Susan Stevens Hummel, a scientist who works with the research branch of the Forest Service. Hummel’s study focused on developing compromise between preserving habitat and making land management decisions that could reduce the threat of frequent, high intensity wildfires.

Jessica Hudec, a fire ecologist with the Forest Service, was on hand to comment on the second stop of last week’s field trip, which was at a portion of the forest burnt by the Cascade Creek Fire in 2012.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily trying to stop all fires, but rather those that come all at once so we don’t have a shrub field here in the future,” Hudec said.

On the third stop of the trip, the group briefly visited what is known as the “Stray Cat Unit” to learn about different treatments of late-successional reserves and attempt to come to a consensus on what changes they would like to see in terms of the what is in the future for the growth and composition of the trees in that area.

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