photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock
The roar of chainsaws split the chilly morning air in Sisters on Monday, April 29, as the long-awaited Highway 20 hazard tree logging project got underway. Towering ponderosa pines, brown and brittle, wavered then came crashing to the ground along the roadway, one after another after another.

The project, expected to be completed May 22, will ultimately remove 2,100 trees — mostly ponderosa pines — that were killed due to the application of an herbicide along the highway.

Sisters Ranger District Project Manager Steve Orange described some challenges as loggers started work close to the edge of Sisters. There was a high concentration of trees to be cut, and traffic control managers tried to keep delays down to five minutes to avoid stacking traffic through downtown Sisters.

“We knew it was going to be choppy with the short traffic closures,” Orange said. “Overall, for Day 1 we’re feeling pretty good.”

Orange expects the crews will hit a rhythm as the work proceeds up the highway. He said the greatest density of trees in the 12.5-mile project area are in the first few miles moving east to west.

“Sixty percent of the trees are in the first five miles,” he said. “Two miles to five miles is the bulk of the work.”

The Oregon Department of Transportation will provide traffic control during the project, which is expected to run from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the workweek. ODOT says that motorists should anticipate delays up to 20 minutes.

Goss Co. LLC was awarded a contract for $225,300 to do the work. The 2,100 trees that are being removed were killed or damaged by the application of the herbicide Perspective. In addition to falling, there will be a limited amount of tree-topping to leave wildlife snags in the area.

The problem with the trees near Sisters began developing from 2013 to 2015 when Perspective was used along the highway corridor to remove brush within the Oregon Department of Transportation right of way. The herbicide harmed ponderosa pines and other trees in the area where it was applied.

An assessment by the U.S. Forest Service determined that thousands of trees in the corridor west of Sisters are dead or dying.

The downed logs will be decked in multiple areas across the forest. Sisters District Ranger Ian Reid told The Nugget that the agency is still awaiting a final ruling from the Oregon Department of Agriculture as to whether the logs can be sold as saw timber.

Implementation of a statewide rule that would limit the use of the weed-killer believed responsible for the death of the trees along Highway 20 was stalled in March by a last-minute request from Bayer, the company that produces it. The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s new permanent rule slated to be adopted on March 22 would prohibit the use of the chemical in areas where the roots of desirable trees — like ponderosa pines — may be present.

Until a  new permanent rule is in place, the Forest Service won’t know what uses will be allowed.

“We’ve had three potential buyers show interest already,” Reid said.

If the logs are sold for that purpose, there will be a sealed bid process, he said. A sale could go forward this spring or early summer.

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