Proposed Douglas Fir National Monument seen as threat to county, city

Audrey Gomez and Scott Swanson

A proposal to establish a nearly half-million-acre Douglas Fir National Monument in the forests east of Sweet Home has provoked a loud outcry from public and forest industry officials who say it’s a threat to the county as a whole and Sweet Home in particular.

They and others with interests in local forests say they are baffled and alarmed by the idea, particularly if the monument were to be enacted by President Obama.

The proposal is being condemned by the county Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Will Tucker said last week. Both he and Tracy Beck, forest supervisor of the Willamette National Forest in Springfield, said it had only come to their attention in January.

The proposal is the work of Andy Kerr and Stephen Sharnoff. The two said that they drafted the boundaries for the proposed monument themselves.

They want to create a nearly 762-square-mile reserve that would extend from just north of Detroit Lake, east to the Cascade crest, west to roughly the boundary of the Willamette National Forest and south to the hydrologic divide between the Middle and South Santiam rivers. (See related article on page 11.)

Logging would be limited to thinning necessary to get local forests back on track to what the writers envision becoming the old-growth stands they once were. Road maintenance would largely be discontinued, as would nearly all fire prevention.

The basic motivation behind the proposal is to re-establish old-growth forests over the 487,491-acre expanse of the monument.

Sharnoff described the benefits as “good for wildlife, good for the streams and rivers, good for helping mitigate climate change, good for outdoor recreation and good for the human spirit.”

Dr. Thomas Maness, dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry, has become very familiar with the region in question as he has worked to establish an Institute for Working Forest Landscapes there.

He said last week that “it’s hard for me to be real supportive” of the proposal for the national monument, suggesting that it would be too large and poorly located.

Maness said that he would be more supportive of a monument located further east, in the Mount Jefferson and Three Sisters area, where there would be more access to the tourist traffic that Bend already has.

“In my opinion, a lot of that low-elevation land is not what you’d want for a national monument. It’s a bit odd. Not that I don’t like a national monument; actually, I think something like that would be really cool.”

He also questioned the need for a Douglas fir national monument, noting that the species is abundant from Canada to northern California.

“I get it. There are some stunning Douglas fir forests in that region. But a lot of it is industrial land.”

Maness also noted that the proposed monument would throw a wrench into OSU’s institute, since the planned outdoor laboratory would occupy nearly half of the planned experimental forest.

The Creators

Kerr, who lives in Ashland, noted that when he lived in Corvallis in the 1970s, he spent “a lot of time” in the watersheds of the various branches of the Santiam River.

Kerr runs the Larch Company, a “for-profit, non-membership conservation organization that represents species who cannot talk and the human generations to come.” He bills himself as “a card-carrying conservationist” who splits his time between Ashland and Washington, D.C.

Through the Larch Company, he has advocated or is doing so for expansion or creation of a wide range of protections for lands in Oregon, including eastside forests, the Oregon Caves National Monument, the Wild Rogue Wilderness and Rogue Wild and Scenic River, the Chetco Wild and Scenic River, 2.6 million acres of new national forests and wildlife refuges in western Oregon.

He is also an advocate for recommercialization of industrial hemp in the United States, according to this website,

Sharnoff, a resident of Berkeley, Calif., is a well-known botanical photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines, among others. A major focus of his work is lichens; Sharnoff and his wife Sylvia have worked on or produced at least three field guides to lichens.

Lack of Communication

Tucker said Linn County officials became aware of the proposal after its third draft had been released, which clearly irritated him. Emails suggest Marion County officials became aware of it late last year.

Kerr and Sharnoff have not reached out to local county or forest officials, Tucker said.

“This is a complete go-around of local, county and state government,” he said.

Kerr told The New Era that, while the map was created in November 2015, “we have only recently began to float it. Stephen and I were on the map and boundary proposal, relying on our knowledge of the area.”

Sharnoff, in an e-mail to a reporter, which he said he was sending from the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference held last week in Eugene, said the initiative “only started last year” and they “have not approached any of the federal agencies directly yet, although I’ve had good discussions with some individuals, especially scientists, who work for the Forest Service.

“If you check the list of supporters on our website ( you’ll see that we have some of the most prominent scientists in the world supporting it, but the main push needs to come from Oregon.

“Some of the people I’ve spoken with about the movement have thought it was a great idea,” Sharnoff said.

He said they include Jim Furnish, former deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, who now serves as an advisor to the Western Environmental Law Center, and Tom Atiyeh, son of former Gov. Vic Atiyeh, who is active in the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, Friends of Trees, Conservation Biology Institute and now Restore Oregon’s chief development officer.

Sharnoff also said they have had no contact with private owners in the area, though he implied that they would.

“Our hope is that, eventually, the private blocks of timberland could be purchased by groups such as the Trust for Public Land and donated to the monument, but that would only happen if there were willing sellers.”

Kerr said he’s spoken to community organizations in Sweet Home and Lebanon in an “earlier era,” adding he has “not received any invitations.”

Sharnoff said he has no plans to speak in Sweet Home “for sure,” but said he has received contact from Eric Andersen, director of the South Santiam Watershed Council “and I might give a talk for them.

“I’m based in Berkeley, Calif., so I try to group the presentations in an effort to avoid having to make the drive too often.”

He said he plans to give “several talks” in Corvallis and Salem in late April.

In response to a public records request from The New Era, Tucker forwarded a string of emails between local officials regarding the proposed monument.

Upon learning of the proposal early this year, Tucker said, he contacted Tracy Beck, forest supervisor of the Willamette National Forest.

Tucker said it appeared many at the Forest Service were not aware of the effort.

Beck confirmed: “…this is a total surprise and we have no involvement that I am aware of.”

He told The New Era in an email that “I don’t have a lot to say about this National Monument proposal. I have only looked at the map and have not taken the time to read the proposal.”

Proposal Arouses Opposition

“Linn County is opposed to this,” Tucker wrote in the first line of an email to Rep. Sherrie Sprenger. “This is being proposed by groups not from Linn county, I think in response to our working to find a balanced approach to land management with BLM, Forest Service and the State of Oregon.”

Sprenger said she has “some folks doing some research about this,” and suggested she and Tucker meet about the issue in person. She did not respond by press time to requests from The New Era for comment regarding the status of that inquiry.

The location of the proposed monument and its size have county officials and private landowners concerned about how it will impact access to lands not included in the monument.

“We have a problem with it, that’s for sure,” said Dave Furtwangler, president of Cascade Timber Consulting, which manages 24,000 acres of forestland that would be literally surrounded by the monument.

“It’s a little hard to know where it’s going. Even if it doesn’t get designated, it could be an ongoing issue that keeps coming up in the future.”

He acknowledged that President Obama could sign off on the proposal “as a going-away present, but even if that doesn’t happen, we don’t expect the idea and concept to go away.”

“It’s pretty dishonest, they way they’ve presented it,” Furtwangler said. “Unfortunately, these guys have done things – especially Andy Kerr. A lot of things happened under his proposals, his ideas.”

Tucker noted that private and federal lands, most of the former controlled by Weyerhaeuser and CTC, create a checkerboard pattern north of the Menagerie Wilderness and east of Detroit Lake.

“This is a whole bunch of people that are not going to want to be losing the rights to manage their timber properties,” he said.

Impacts on Roads, Fire Control

Furtwangler said roads are one of a number of concerns he has with what he sees in the proposal.

“We have to have good roads for hauling logs and managing timberland,” he said. Currently, forest roads are managed and maintained cooperatively between CTC and the U.S. Forest Service, he said.

“If it’s a national monument, they’re not going to have an incentive to maintain those roads.”

Furtwangler’s other concerns are the approach to fire control in the document and the impact on private timber if even the limited logging taking place on National Forest land is halted.

An emphasis on “natural wild fire(s),” left to burn “naturally, until they run out of fuel or the rains come,” is another, “real major” concern, he said.

“The way they view fire, how they say ‘let the forests get back to their natural conditions’ – a fire is not going to stop when it gets to our property boundary. If they let the fire run, it’s going to affect us as well.”

Forest Management Concerns

Maness has additional concerns.

He has been working for several years with local forestry officials and private industry to establish the Institute for Working Forest Landscapes, described as a “world-class research and outreach center for healthy landscapes” that the College of Forestry is in the process of establishing in various locations throughout Oregon, including in the forest east of Sweet Home.

The purpose of the institute is to develop ways to better manage forest resources by balancing ecological, social, and economic needs. It is a response to “a change in attitude around the state,” said Maness, who is working to develop innovative forest policies and practices that balance traditional production with stewardship of natural resources.

“We’re really working with the Forest Service,” he said. “We really need a place where we can demonstrate what active management on national forest lands would look like, how it would benefit communities.”

What’s lacking in forest management policy is scientific knowledge, he said.

“Twenty years have gone by since the Northwest Forest Plan and we have made no progress on the spotted owl,” he said. “In my opinion, we desperately need to get out there and start doing some management on the national forestland and show how we can manage it – show new ideas, new ways of doing things.

“That’s what we need more than a national monument, in my opinion.”

Tucker agreed, in principle.

“The Forest Service is trying to balance management and conservation,” he said. “In fact, they’re redoing the forest plan. They’re trying very hard to find the best science of how to manage. This takes it out of that and just makes it protected land.

“By doing this, he creates a big chunk of land that will be set aside forever and managed, not as the Forest Service tries to manage, for multiple services, right now,” Tucker said.

Economic Impacts

The proposal states that thinning would continue in areas of the monument where forest health and diversity requires it. Sharnoff said those operations would provide “significant lumber industry jobs for 30 years or more.”

Furtwangler said he’s concerned that the “inevitable reduction of harvest” from federal lands in the area will impact mills and jobs.

“They’re competition for all of us,” he said of timber logged on public lands, “but that keeps our mills viable, healthy. If those mills weren’t in business, we wouldn’t have a place to sell our logs. We see that as important.”

If a monument were established, it would “definitely” have a negative impact, he predicted.

“A lot of people are involved in managing timber and mill jobs. I think the economic impact on our county would be considerable. That’s not their concern.”

Cutting of trees is a major focus of the proposal, which describes “vast stands of ‘successful’ Douglas fir plantations in the proposed monument” as “closer to biological deserts than real forests.”

Sharnoff said that although harvest on federal lands is currently “very little,” the question is “what will happen in 50 or 100 years, when a lot of the plantation trees in plantations are much bigger?

“Will the agencies then be able to resist the calls for another round of forest removal?”

Tucker said the impact of the monument “would be tremendous” in Linn County.

“People talk about the terrible land grabs done in other places,” he said. “This is one of those, where the impact to the private citizens will be dramatic.”

Maness expressed similar concern.

“What I worry about is that this monument includes 50,000 acres of private lands,” he said. “I’m afraid it would further depress the community of Sweet Home. It just seems like overreaching.”