Furor at farragut
Removal of Douglas firs to improve viewpoint makes waves, and goal of re-establishing stands of ponderosa pines promises more
At Farragut State Park, Jokulhlaup Viewpoint offers visitors sweeping views of Lake Pend Oreille.
Logging last winter “opened up one of the few vistas that the public has at the park,” said Randall Butt, the park’s manager. Without an obstructing curtain of trees, visitors can look out over a panorama that includes Pack Saddle Mountain on the lake’s eastern shoreline and Bernard Peak, a favorite haunt of mountain goats.
But where others see mountains and water, the Kootenai Environmental Alliance sees a three-acre clearcut.
To improve the viewpoint, the hillside below was stripped of trees. Members of the Coeur d’Alene-based environmental group were dismayed to find stumps of 100-year-old Douglas firs in the logged area.
“I thought the filtered view was lovely,” said Janet Torline, KEA’s board president. “You could still see the lake through the trees.”
The tempest over the three-acre logging sale is part of a larger controversy about Douglas fir removal at Farragut. It’s a clash over the types and densities of trees that visitors expect to see in the 4,000-acre park, compared to what park managers say are more natural conditions.
In short, it’s a pine versus fir debate.
Douglas firs dominate Farragut’s waterfront, providing a shady canopy for hikers following a trail along Lake Pend Oreille. The forest is dark and cool, delightful to stroll through on a hot day. But the dense stands of fir are a fairly recent arrival, according to a park resource plan written by University of Idaho foresters a decade ago. In the past, wildfires thinned those sites, burning the firs and leaving open, savannah-like stands of fire-resistant ponderosa pines.
Re-establishing sunlit stands of pines is desirable in 732 acres of Farragut State Park, the resource plan says. A chunk of that acreage lies along the waterfront, stretching northeast from Beaver Bay, a popular swimming area.
“This isn’t a war on Douglas fir,” said Chip Corsi, regional supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which manages portions of the park along with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. “It’s about re-establishing a habitat type.”
After a century of fire suppression, open stands of ponderosa pine are increasingly rare in North Idaho, Corsi said. That limits habitat for certain types of bird species, such as the pygmy nuthatch, he said.
Last winter, Idaho Fish and Game logged 10 acres adjacent to the Jokulhlaup Viewpoint. The work was done in tandem with the parks department’s three-acre logging sale, which was purely an aesthetic project to improve lake views, said Butt, Farragut State Park’s manager. More logging projects could occur along the waterfront, as park managers convert Douglas fir stands back to ponderosa pine.
Kootenai Environmental Alliance and a group of neighbors who call themselves Friends of Farragut fiercely oppose those plans.
“We’re very adamant that the lakeshore not be logged,” said Barry Rosenberg, KEA’s former executive director. “They’re just starting to cut. Our intention is to stop them here, to not let them cut further.”
Back in 2003, Rosenberg and others spent eight months on a citizen advisory committee for logging in Farragut. Committee members recommended against logging near the lakeshore, citing the presence of 200-year-old Douglas firs and ponderosa pines in the park as evidence that a mixed forest had thrived there in the past.
Instead, the committee suggested controlled burns along the lakeshore to clear brush. In other parts of Farragut, they recommended leaving trees with diameters of 20 inches or more during thinning projects, so that big trees of all species would be protected.
Rosenberg said last winter’s 10-acre logging project looked suspiciously like a commercially driven operation, with high-value Douglas fir trees targeted for cutting. KEA has filed a series of public information requests with Idaho Fish and Game, asking for information about future logging plans at Farragut and revenue from past sales.
“We are very shocked and quite frankly feeling betrayed,” Rosenberg said. “This isn’t timberland; it’s a park.”
Butt, Farragut’s manager, said park visitors should revisit the logged areas in a few years. Prescribed fires are planned for the sites to mimic the small, creeping fires that historically burned through the area.
In about three years, Butt said the vision behind the logging will become apparent, with open, grassy glades and wider-spaced, healthier trees.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a remodeling project,” he said.