Notes from the Field: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project 2020 Summer Report

by Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project

Camas flowers
(High Buck sale, Umatilla NF)

Despite the pandemic, and the suffering and uncertainty people are facing at this time, we are seeing an even greater push from the current administration to increase ecologically destructive extractive projects on public lands (such as logging and drilling), eliminate or curtail public transparency and participation, and roll back or severely weaken environmental protections. Federal agencies such as the Forest Service are now regularly  proposing timber sales and other major projects with fewer opportunities for public comments, shorter comment periods, less public transparency, and less information regarding environmental impacts. 

White-headed woodpecker
(Elbow sale CE, Umatilla NF)

21” Wildlife Screens:

One of the projects the Forest Service is currently fast-tracking is their proposal to revise the 21” Wildlife Screens. The Forest Service is working to revise—and almost  certainly weaken—protections for large trees in eastern Oregon. Currently, the Forest Plans that guide management on these National Forests prohibit most logging of large trees (those ≥21” diameter at breast height (dbh)). This prohibition on logging large trees—known as the 21” Wildlife Screenswas put into place in the mid-1990’s because of the well-documented deficit of large trees across the landscape due to logging and mismanagement. The Forest Service is proposing changes to the 21” Wildlife Screens on six National Forests: the Deschutes, Ochoco, Malheur, Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Fremont-Winema National Forests.

View from the High Buck sale
(Umatilla NF)

Despite the struggles that individuals and local communities are facing during the pandemic, the Forest Service is pushing their proposal to revise the 21” Wildlife Screens through with an unusually short timeline. The Forest Service is also planning to conduct an Environmental Assessment, rather than a more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement—despite the fact that increased large tree logging across six National Forests would clearly have significant environmental impacts. By claiming that changes to the 21” Wildlife Screens will not cause significant effects, the Forest Service can skirt more stringent requirements which would otherwise force them to consider the cumulative impacts of their proposal and include longer public comment periods. In an unusual move for such a controversial and environmentally significant proposal, the agency did not invite the public to submit written ‘scoping’ comments, as is usually done.

In the years since the 21” Wildlife Screens were implemented, the Forest Service has repeatedly pushed for increased logging of large trees, and for less oversight and less public transparency. This push from the agency has become increasingly loud in recent years, usually in the context of timber sales and in their (now withdrawn) Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision.

The ecological realities on the ground have not changed since the 21” Wildlife Screens were implemented:

  • There is still a deficit of large trees on the landscape in eastern Oregon. The 21” Wildlife Screens have only been in place for 25 years, and so trees across the landscape have had very limited time in which to become larger and begin to ameliorate this deficit. Since the Screens were implemented, the Forest Service has also continued to misuse loopholes and log large trees.
  • Many species of wildlife depend on large tree structure in order to survive, and the 21” Wildlife Screens were meant to protect this crucial wildlife habitat.
  • Wildlife species such as Pileated woodpeckers, American marten, and numerous others still very much depend on large trees. Logging large trees will further threaten old-growth dependent species, especially species which are already imperiled or at-risk or depend on fir trees, complex canopies, and mature forests.
  • The Forest Service does not have any evidence to suggest that increased logging of large trees benefit wildlife or mimic the natural processes that forests depend upon, or result in the forest conditions the agency claims; or that it will not result in long-term and irreparable harm to wildlife, ecosystem processes, biodiversity, or water quality.
  • We need to increase carbon sequestration and retain large trees and mature forests, which store the most carbon. Logging large trees would increase carbon emissions, and is exactly the wrong direction for addressing climate change.

Black bear in a mixed-conifer forest with large firs, adjacent to the Elbow timber sale CE (Umatilla NF)

In order to allow species the best chance at surviving and adapting to climate change, we need to preserve wildlife corridors and large, unfragmented high-quality wildlife habitats. Preserving large trees are key to these efforts. Unfortunately, increased logging of large trees will exacerbate some of the negative ecological effects of climate change and further limit the available high-quality wildlife habitat. 

While the Forest Service has primarily focused their public messaging on logging Grand fir trees ≥21” dbh, the agency also logs large Ponderosa pines and other trees. For example, timber sales such as the proposed Crow sale on the Malheur National Forest also include logging of  ≥21” dbh  Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees (in this case, logging of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir is proposed on approximately 3,378 acres of forest). 

BMBP is working with Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center, as well as coordinating with other allied environmental organizations, to challenge the Trump administration and US Forest Service decision to revise the 21” Wildlife Screens, and to ensure that large trees and structure, mature forests, and wildlife  habitats are protected across the landscape. We and our allies will continue to be fully engaged and keep the public informed on this issue. 

Wildlands field surveys: 

Every summer, BMBP staff and volunteers field survey thousands of acres of proposed timber sales. Field surveying is the backbone of our work, and provides on-the-ground evidence for our public comments, objection negotiations, and potential litigation.

High Buck sale
(Umatilla NF)

2020 Field Season: BMBP has implemented strict social distancing protocols and safety measures during this year’s field season. We’ve had a busy and productive field season, and are very grateful for all of our volunteers, both returning and new. 

So far this year, with the help of 20 volunteers, we’ve surveyed the Cabin Butte timber sale (Deschutes National Forest National Forest (NF)); the High Buck, Davis Farm Bill Categorical Exclusion (CE) timber sales, and Elbow Insect and Disease Project CE timber sale; and the Laycock timber sale (Malheur NF). We also surveyed the second half of the Ellis timber sale (Umatilla NF) and spot-checked the Frost and Loco CE timber sales (Malheur NF). We are currently surveying the Crow sale (Malheur NF). These categorical exclusion or “CE” timber sales are  2,600 to 3,000 acres. The other sales range from 2,195 acres in the High Buck Sale to over 59,600 acres of commercial logging in the Ellis sale. The Ellis sale is currently planned for commercial logging over 59,600 acres, with up to 110,000 acres of unspecified management which may also include heavy removal or clearcutting of younger trees. The Ellis sale is currently mapped to commercially log old growth forest and never logged forest. These are only a few examples of the many timber sales across eastern Oregon.

This season we’ve been delighted to have the help of 14 returning and six new volunteers. Many thanks to our wonderful volunteers Cooper, Laura, Sunflower, Harvest, Alex, Ducky, Jack, Isabel, Sarah, Grace, Adam, Simeon, Sev, Kris, Midden, Tomorrow, Rachel, Karl, Sohie, and Will. We are expecting more volunteers to come out and join us in the woods for the remainder of the season.  If you are interested in volunteering with BMBP, please give us a call!

During the second half of the season, we plan to survey the Klone and Surveyor sales (Deschutes NF); and the last bit of the Ellis sale (Umatilla NF). 

Public comments and objections: 

In 2020, BMBP has submitted comments on nine timber sales, a livestock grazing allotment, and a wild horse  management plan. We submitted objections to one timber sale and are in the process of objecting to another. BMBP is currently tracking over 28 agency projects in different stages of planning. 

Checker mallow
(Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

We submitted public comments on the following timber sales: High Buck and Davis Farm Bill CE timber sale (Umatilla NF); the Klone timber sale (Deschutes NF); the Crow sale, Frost Project CE, Loco Project CE, Laycock Creek Firewise Project CE timber sales (Malheur NF). We also submitted comments on the Ochoco Wild Horse Herd Management Plan (Ochoco NF) and the South Silvies Complex Grazing Allotments Project (Malheur NF). BMBP and Earthrise Law Center also submitted comments, with Greater Hells Canyon Council, and Friends of the Clearwater, on the USDA’s proposed changes to the Council of Environmental Quality rules that guide the National Environmental Policy Act.

We submitted objections to the Upper Touchet timber sale (Umatilla NF) and are currently working on submitting an objection to the Walton Lake timber sale (Ochoco NF). 

Ruby-crowned kinglet
(Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

Spotlight on forests: ongoing threats, new trends, and the zombie sale

Categorical Exclusions: We have seen an increase in the Forest Service using “Categorical Exclusions” or “CEs” in order to fast-track sales and severely limit environmental analyses, transparency, and opportunities for public comment. Since last fall, approximately 17,530 acres of logging have been proposed under CEs on the Malheur and Umatilla National Forests. 

One of the CE sales that we are most concerned about is the Elbow Insects and Disease Project CE. Should this sale go through, logging would threaten mature forests and at-risk species. The project area includes stunning forests with abundant old growth, moist mixed-conifer forests, and never-logged areas. We are very concerned that logging would degrade and destroy the high-quality wildlife in these forests, and negatively affect species such as Northern goshawk, Black-backed woodpeckers, Mountain goats and moose, bears, and wolves.

Aquatic garter snake
(Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

The Zombie Sale– the Walton Lake timber sale: The Forest Service is, yet again, threatening the old growth forest around Walton Lake with logging. The Forest Service has recently published their Final Environmental Assessment for the Walton Lake timber sale. The agency is again proposing to log old and mature forests, including large trees (some up to five feet in diameter) in the very popular Walton Lake recreation area. The Forest Service would log all of the fir trees in some areas, creating a virtual clearcut.

Since 2016, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, represented by Tom Buchele of the Earthrise Law Center and attorney Jesse Buss of Willamette Law Group, have twice stopped the Forest Service from logging this area. Unfortunately the Forest Service is at it again–they are proposing (for the third time!) to log this majestic forest using flimsy rationales.

Mountain goat with her kid
(Elbow CE, Umatilla NF)

The Forest Service has repeatedly used the guise of public safety as an excuse to log in the  Walton Lake recreation area, despite the fact that the Forest Service continues to be free to deal with hazard trees in the area. Stated human safety concerns in this case appear to be public relations propaganda to justify virtual clearcutting of the most popular  recreational site on the Ochoco National Forest, and engage in highly profitable old growth logging that the majority of the public would not otherwise support. 

BMBP is filing an objection to the Walton Lake sale. We are committed to preserving the magnificent old growth fir forests around Walton Lake. If you submitted comments and wish to object to this sale, please do! You can contact BMBP to find out more information. However, be aware that you must have previously submitted comments on the sale during an earlier  comment period in order to submit an objection. If you did not submit comments on this sale during a previous public comment period, you are not eligible to submit an objection.

Mountain goat kid
(Elbow CE, Umatilla NF)

The Camp Lick timber sale: The Forest Service recently published its final decision on the Camp Lick sale (Malheur NF), which includes commercial logging in streamside riparian corridors, logging of large trees ≥21” dbh, plans to reduce mature and old growth forests and connectivity corridors, and logging of mixed  conifer forests that American marten, Pileated woodpeckers, and other species rely upon. Despite BMBP’s extensive efforts to convince the agency to drop or significantly modify this sale, they are instead moving forward with this ecologically destructive sale, which will log much of the remaining high-quality wildlife habitat in the project area.

Pink wintergreen flowers
(Elbow CE timber sale, Umatilla NF)

The Camp Lick sale is part of a back-to-back series of sales that equal over 49,900 acres of recent, current, and proposed commercial logging within the Middle Fork of the John Day watershed. These sales include the Big Mosquito, Magone, Ragged Ruby, and Austin timber sales, in addition to the Camp Lick sale. BMBP is extremely concerned about the negative effects to wildlife, water quality, and imperiled salmon and trout as a result of the widespread logging within this and other watersheds in the Malheur National Forest. The Forest Service has failed to adequately consider, for example, the cumulative impacts of these sales to species such as Bull trout and Mid-Columbia River steelhead, which are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, or to species such as Redband trout and the Columbia spotted frog, which are considered Sensitive.

Morels in the Ellis sale
(Umatilla NF)

The broader context: The unsustainable logging currently taking place in eastern Oregon is on track to convert many of our mature and native forests into tree plantations devoid of the habitat diversity needed to support wild ecosystems. Many native species that rely on complex mature forests are at-risk or imperiled, such as American marten, Northern goshawk, Black-backed woodpecker, Pacific fisher, and Bull trout. Native species are facing increasing threats, including local extirpations and possible extinction, due to habitat loss (including logging) and climate change.  

(Elbow CE, Umatilla NF)

Ecologically destructive, unsustainable logging directly threatens biodiversity and wildlife habitats, degrades water quality and stream ecosystems, and exacerbates the negative ecological impacts of climate change. Rather than increasing habitat fragmentation and degradation, and adding to the already out-of-control road networks on National Forests, the agency needs to protect core habitat blocks, connectivity corridors, cold water, and  high-quality wildlife habitats. Mature forests are more resistant to disturbances and climate change-related threats, and they sequester more carbon than logged forests.

Elk in the Elbow CE timber sale
(Umatilla NF)

The Forest Service continues to use fear of fires as a cover for increasing logging. However, severe and large fires are driven by heat, drought, and wind. “Fuels reduction” (i.e., logging) has little to no effect on such fires. Protected, unlogged forests are not at greater risk of severe fire than logged forests. Logging woodlands and forests in the backcountry will not make communities safer. Attempting to log our way out of  climate change and wildfire risk is not only ineffective, it also  comes at unsustainable ecological and  economic costs, and threatens to create boom-bust cycles in local communities. 

Ellis sale area
(Umatilla NF)

BMBP is working hard to challenge these and other ecologically destructive sales through our on-the-ground field surveys, public comments, negotiations, and potential litigation. 

Alliance-building, public outreach, and events:

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is working with Earthrise Law Center, and coordinating with allied environmental organizations including Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, and Central Oregon Landwatch, to challenge agency attempts to weaken the  21” Wildlife Screens, and the agency moving forward with fast-tracking this process during a global pandemic. The Forest Service is planning to publish the Environmental Assessment in mid- August. We will keep the public informed as things develop.

Last October, BMBP attended the North American Forest and Climate Convergence in the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. BMBP facilitated a weekend-long strategic action session on addressing false schemes for forest health. We also helped with some of the event planning and tasks such as registration during the event. The event hosted over 250 people, and fostered strategic ideas and actions. 

The recently formed PNW Forest Climate Alliance was inspired by the Convergence in Illinois. This alliance has several ‘working groups’ currently tackling a variety of work on forest and climate related topics. BMBP is part  of the rural organizing working group. We are excited to be working with folks from Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands and the southern Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club on reaching out to rural organizers, messaging, possible projects such as activist toolkits, and more.

Karen with old growth Ponderosa pine
(Ellis sale)

Unfortunately, many of our events this year had to be canceled due to Covid-19. Canceled events included our Annual Benefit, a speaking engagement at Evergreen college in Olympia, our participation in a youth action camp in the eastern US, workshops at the Earth First! anniversary gathering, and a stream ecology workshop. 

Due to the challenges this year has posed, we are publishing a Summer Report rather than a Spring Report. While we regret not getting updates about our work out sooner to our members and supporters, we are excited to be able to share pictures and updates from this year’s field season. 

(Austin sale, Malheur NF)


Due to the economic downturn and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, fundraising this year has been especially challenging. We are deeply grateful to everyone who has donated to support our ecological protection work– thank you! Many heartfelt thanks to the generous individual donors who supported our work, and to the Astrov Fund; the Burning Foundation; the Charlotte Martin Foundation; the Clif Bar Family Foundation; the Faegan Donor Advised Fund through Social Justice Northwest; Fund for Wild Nature; Millis Fund through Oregon Community Foundation; and the Oregon Deep Ecology Fund. 

We want to thank to Brenna McDonald at the Despacio Flamenco school and her students for their generous offer to perform at our Annual Benefit this spring. Unfortunately we had to cancel our benefit due to Covid-19. We were very disappointed, but we look forward to having Despacio Flamenco at our Annual Benefit in the future, when it becomes safe to do so. Many thanks also to Abigail Rhys,  Dave Parks, and Brenna Sahatjian for donating masks for our summer field season!

Please donate to help support BMBP’s field season and forest defense work. We are a very small non-profit organization, and every dollar goes a long way toward helping us engage in effective and hard-hitting ecological protection work. Particularly during these uncertain times, your donations are crucial for helping us protect forests and streams on public lands, and to our organizational stability into the future. With your help, we can continue our wildlands defense work.

Please give what you can— donations both small and large help keep our work going!

$10,000-$20,000 helps pay for our three staff members 
$5,000 helps cover transportation costs, including gas, truck repairs, and insurance
$2,000 to help cover legal expenses for a lawsuit to stop a timber sale or toxic herbicide use
$1,000 helps cover telephone communications
$500 helps pay for photo printing or copying
$250 helps cover postage costs
$100 pays for field surveying equipment
$25-50 subsidizes food for volunteers

We are also in need of in-kind donations such as non-perishable food for the field (such as nut butters, tea and coffee); field equipment such as diameter measuring tapes, digital cameras, and GPS units. If you have a four wheel drive truck you wish to donate which can handle Forest Service roads and is in good working  condition, please contact us.  

Send $ donations or in-kind donations to: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 27803 Williams Lane, Fossil, OR 97830. You can donate online at:

Thank you for supporting BMBP’s work to defend forests on public lands in eastern Oregon!

High Buck sale, Umatilla NF
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