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Crews cutting down trees damaged in fall windstorm

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | February 25, 2021 1:00 AM

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HOPE — Thousands of hazardous trees are being removed from the Sam Owen Campground on the Hope Peninsula, including one which housed a bald eagle's nest.

Removal of the trees — all damaged in last September's devastating windstorm which ravaged the area — was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service's Sandpoint Ranger District.

"Around 5,000 trees were identified as 'hazard trees' through this effort and they are all being removed from the campground," Patrick Lair, USFS public information officer, told the Daily Bee. "The trees are being sold to 9 different purchasers in northern Idaho and western Montana where they’ll be utilized as wood products."

Forest managers are mandated to mitigate threats, including hazard trees, to visitors at developed recreation sites. Hazard trees are those with a structural defect that make them likely to fail either in part or in whole.

Following the intense windstorm which toppled a large number of trees, endangering several campers and crushing a vehicle, USFS officials said employees have been identifying and removing trees with structural damage that makes them likely to fail. However, one the identified trees had a bald eagle nest. Working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, USFS officials said they made the difficult decision to remove the hazard tree in the interest of public safety, which took place Wednesday morning.

“There is really no good answer in a situation like this,” said Sandpoint District Ranger Jessie Berner. “The location of the tree, directly between the lake and campground, makes it very difficult to put a closure in place and expect that people will avoid the area. We didn’t feel we could be successful in keeping visitors safe this season if we left the hazard tree in place.”

Bald eagles were removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007 but are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Normally, the agency would make every effort to protect the tree until any potential offspring fledge from the nest.

However, officials said there was no indication the nest contained any eggs. As a result, a decision was made to remove the tree before the eagles start laying eggs and while they have the opportunity to relocate to a new nest to raise their young, USFS officials said.

"In this case, the nest was destroyed when the tree came down, but on the positive side we were able to confirm there were no eggs or young in the nest," Lair said. "The eagles will hopefully relocate and still have time to reproduce this spring."

Any feathers found will be collected and delivered to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and remains of the nest will be swept up and burned in place, he said.

Work to remove the hazard trees began in January and is ongoing and takes place when conditions warrant, including on some weekends, Lair said. Work was paused when conditions became too wet to operate without damaging soil in the area.

Crews are currently working in the campground loop areas to enable Sam Owen, which has been closed since its normal September shutter date, to open by early summer. Crews will then move on to the areas north and east of the loop roads. Lair said USFS officials hope to finish the entire project by this fall.

The entire campground has been closed since September which is when it normally closes for the winter.

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(Photo by HILLARY MAIN)

A few of the trees knocked down in a devastating windstorm that hit the Hope Peninsula last September. Crews are in the process of removing about 5,000 trees damaged in the storm.

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(Photo by HILLARY MAIN)

A few of the trees knocked down in a devastating windstorm that hit the Hope Peninsula last September. Crews are in the process of removing about 5,000 trees damaged in the storm.

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(Photo by HILLARY MAIN)

An individual works to remove a tree blocking a roadway last September after a devastating windstorm hit the area. The trees was one of many knocked down in the storm and thousands more were identified as potential hazards and are in the process of being removed.

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(Photo by HILLARY MAIN)

In this September 2020 photo taken by Hillary Main, a boat at Sam Owen Campground lays under a tree knocked down in a massive windstorm. Thousands of trees in the area that were damaged by the storm are now being removed by crews, U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday.