In 2009, Congress passed a broad public lands bill that included a land exchange whereby Mt. Hood Meadows would transfer land it owned near Cooper Spur to the U.S. Forest Service, in exhange for developable Forest Service-managed land in Government Camp. This bill directed the U.S. Forest Service to complete the exchange within 16 months and was written so that only after the land exchange was complete would other provisions of the bill – specifically protections for the Crystal Springs Aquifer and the creation of a new Wilderness area – be enacted.
The land exchange process stalled over the past several years, leading to conservation and development uncertainty, community frustration, and a lawsuit against the Forest Service. On April 20th, the U.S. Senate passed the Mt. Hood Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act, championed by Senators Wyden & Merkley, as part of a series of amendments added to a broad energy bill. This bill was intended to re-invigorate the land exchange process.
Adding another layer of complication to management in this area, in 2015, Mt. Hood National Forest resurrected the controversial Polallie Cooper Timber Sale, first proposed by the Forest Service in 1999 but withdrawn in 2005 after strong public opposition. Ten miles south of the community of Parkdale, the Polallie Cooper planning area includes the Wild and Scenic East Fork Hood River corridor, portions of the proposed Tamanawas Falls Wilderness, Northern Spotted Owl critical habitat, a section of State Highway 35, the Cooper Spur winter sports area, several popular hiking trails and the Crystal Springs drinking water aquifer. Of the 3,000 acres proposed for commercial logging, approximately 1,900 of these acres include mature, old growth or never-logged forest.
After a public comment period in which over 3,000 comments opposed the Polallie Cooper Timber Sale, on March 7th, Senator Wyden & Representative Blumenauer sent a letter to Supervisor Northrop, outlining several concerns about the proposed project. Key among these concerns was the fact that none of the provisions of the Omnibus Bill were complete: “We have repeatedly expressed our strong concern and disappointment that the Forest Service has been long delayed in finalizing the land trade, which has impeded the exchange itself, and also the establishment of the Crystal Springs unit.”
On October 20, 2016 the US Forest Service released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Land Exchange, beginning a 90-day public comment period on the proposed exchange. On January 26, Bark commented on this document, along with several other organizations who are also part of the Cooper Spur Wild & Free Coalition (comments below). We are hopeful that the release of the draft EIS will result in the timely completion of the land exchange, thus ensuring the creation of new Mt. Hood Wilderness, and the Crystal Springs Watershed protection.