Expert: State Hazard Tree Removal Program Working

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An independent forester hired to do a hasty review of the state’s controversial hazard tree removal program has concluded that 96% of the 2,200 trees he recently examined were appropriately marked for removal.

He said the program also has the necessary protocols in place to identify which trees damaged by the 2020 wildfires are hazardous, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. And he said the arborists and foresters who were supposed to be marking those trees have the appropriate qualifications called for by the state.

The report is likely to satisfy the Oregon Department of Transportation and its main contractor monitoring the program, CDR Maguire. But the forester’s report, released Monday, contradicted or didn’t vet some allegations whistleblowers made to lawmakers.

Galen Wright, president of Washington Forestry Consultants, was hired under a $48,000 contract to review the post-wildfire tree removal program after landowners, former employees on the project and other advocates told lawmakers that CDR Maguire was inexperienced in the type of work and mismanaging the program.

Some of the allegations included widespread mismarking and overcutting of non-hazardous and live trees by unqualified personnel, drug use by workers in the field, inadequate safety protocols and alleged instances of fraud over reported work hours and documentation of trees being cut.

So far the state has marked about 83,000 of 140,000 trees it currently estimates it will need to cut down and remove as a result of nine large wildfires last year, most of which ignited Labor Day. Contractors have felled about 41,000 of those trees to date.