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Hazard tree marking nearly complete on OR-126

The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire in Lane County left over 23,500 dead or dying trees within striking distance of OR-126 along the McKenzie River. As part of its statewide effort to ensure the safety of Oregon roadways, Debris Management Task Force (Task Force) crews have been working to assess and remove hazard trees since beginning work in the corridor in January.

As part of the hazard tree assessment effort, each tree in a burn area is evaluated multiple times to determine if the tree is likely to die in the next three to five years and if it is within striking distance of the roadway – generally within 1.5 times the tree length of the road. Arborists took a conservative approach to the tree assessments when determining which trees needed to be removed immediately, leaving several hundred trees on a “watch list” to see if they would survive the extensive fire damage.

Arborists are nearing completion of their inspections of the watch list trees and expect to mark about 350 additional trees for removal.

Task Force master arborist Russel Clark explained what he and his team are looking for in their assessments of a tree’s likely survival and whether it is an imminent hazard to the road:

"Red foliage, early dropping of foliage or lack of foliage is going to be a good indication the tree is on its way out. I'm going to look for any evidence of beetles, or if the bark is easy to peel off or is just peeling off the tree itself. Once you get that criteria for the tree being declining or dead already, then you check the distance to the road. If it's within the spec, we're going to tag it for removal to reduce risk to the right of way."

In a telling demonstration of how some trees have survived while others will not, Clark points to two nearly identical Douglas firs on the bank of the McKenzie River near Finn Rock (pictured below). The seemingly twin trees stand side-by-side with nearly identical bark burn, roots and foliage canopy. The needles of one tree, however, have turned entirely red over the summer, indicating the tree is dead.

"I have no tools in my toolbox to make that tree survive," Clark relented.

Now marked with a blue dot, that tree, along with the remaining 350 dead and dying trees that are within striking distance of the highway, will be removed in November.

The several-week time period between when the trees have been marked and when they will be removed was timed to give people the opportunity to see the markings and understand why a second wave of tree cutting along OR-126 is necessary.

"Our biggest goal here was to make sure residents had time to evaluate the markings. We know this is a stressful time for everybody out here," said Joel Zeni, project manager for the hazard tree removal contractor Suulutaaq, Inc. "We want to make sure, before we leave, all the remaining hazards are taken care of, but we wanted to give people time to see them."

Residents and travelers along the McKenzie River corridor should expect traffic control and associated delays on OR-126 when the tree removal resumes next month. Work will start near McKenzie Bridge and proceed downriver.



Wildfire waste and debris removal

The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to remove hazardous waste, and ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires safely, efficiently, and as quickly as possible. The Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management are leading the effort, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistance.

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