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Chainsaws in the Colonel Bob Wilderness?

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Apr 27, 2010 08:15 PM |

Here in the Washington, we reckon with blowdown on a massive scale. Our cold and wet mountain winters generate huge snow and ice loads in the crowns of trees, and heavy winds often topple these top-heavy giants.

colonel bob view

Come spring many of our favorite trails resemble an interrupted game of pick-up-sticks. Volunteers and agency staff are called in to clear these routes and re-establish tread damaged by these blown-down monsters. The prevalence of blowdown in our region has even spawned an entire generation of crosscut saw obsessives - er, enthusiasts - dedicated to the ancient art of sawing through huge down trees with nothing but an artfully-sharpened blade, core muscle strength and keen ability to analyze potentially dangerous tension points in these jackstraw tumbles.

Every now and then, blowdown occurs on such a massive scale inside federally-protected wilderness that the Forest Service is compelled to request a chainsaw waiver that would allow them to use motorized and mechanized equipment in wilderness in the interest of clearing trails more quickly and safely.

The Olympic National Forest is analyzing a situation like this one in the Colonel Bob Wilderness. The Colonel Bob Trail is in truly rough shape, with a great deal of blowdown that has both blocked and damaged the trail. This is the result of a heavy rain and wind event in December 2007. Roughly 1.5 miles - between miles 1.7 and 3.2 - of the Colonel Bob Trail is currently impassable to equestrians and hikers. The Pacific Ranger District expects that the project can be categorically excluded from the documentation requirements of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

And that's rub. Generally speaking, I'm agnostic on the question of occasional chainsaw use in wilderness, as long as requesting waivers for chainsaw use does not become the default position for land managers. But I have serious concerns about categorically excluding these projects from analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Wilderness means something. It's a place where we escape the trappings of civilization for at least a while. One of the things we go to wilderness to escape is motors. And while there are good arguments, particularly around safety, for the occasional, very judicious use of motorized equipment in wilderness, it seems to me that we should subject projects that could impinge on the integrity of the Wilderness Act to very rigorous scrutiny. NEPA analysis provides that scrutiny.

WTA will be asking the District to revisit the question of whether they ought to conduct this project without, at minimum, an EA. We encourage you to contact the District and let them know how you feel about the Colonel Bob and the appropriateness of this project, whatever your views. The more of us who weigh in, the more thorough and appropriate the project will be in the long term.

You can comment on this project by email at, or by snail mail at Pete Erben, Pacific Ranger District, PO Box 9, Quinault, WA  98575.  If you have any questions about the project, or would like to receive more information, contact Pete Erben at (360) 288-0202.

And if you'd like to know more about WTA's work with National Forest land managers on projects like these, don't hesitate to contact me at, or by phone at (206) 625-1367.


Colonel Bob Trail/Chainsaws

If a chainsaw waiver can not be granted to log out all of the blown down trees, they could do what was done several years ago on the Boulder River Trail west of Whitehorse Mtn., also in a wilderness area, use dynamite. The Forest Service blew large fallen trees off the trail since chainsaws could not be used. So instead of hearing the motor of a chainsaw cutting through a tree, we could hear explosions instead. George Chambers

Posted by:

George & Sally on Apr 28, 2010 10:03 AM

Colonel Bob Trail/Chainsaws

george & sally, as far as I know, the FS does not blast *instead* of sawing. Each District only has a limited number of certified blasters, if any. Blasting is done on projects where using a saw is too dangerous for the crew, or a cross-cut saw can't do the job (i.e. a jackstraw of laterally shattered cedars). When a chainsaw waiver is denied, they use a cross-cut saw on appropriate logs, even if it takes days to log out a trail.

Jonathan - chainsaw use aside, NEPA isn't used to protect serenity of Wilderness, rather it's used to protect the environment, isn't it? Chainsaw use in Wilderness is an issue within in the Forest Plan, so why are NEPA processes involved?

What are the FS processes to obtain a CE - do they need a EA or EIS on file for future reference, or is the decision of the District Ranger acceptable?

I like the current FS plan where each log out waiver request is treated separately.

Thanks, Jonathan. I hope my questions are clear. If not, I hope the UW doesn't take my English degree back.

Posted by:

Kim Brown on Apr 05, 2011 08:24 PM


I have seen signs of the use of blasting cord on the Colonel Bob trail. So whats the big deal. This eviro BS has gone so far as to make intelltigent people seen like idiots. I have volunteered in ONP parks and NFS trail work for 20 years and never once used any hand tools. As for Col Bob it is closed just because of stupid and nothing more. Take your x-saws and stuff em. The trail will remained closed until stupid expires.

Posted by:

"Richard Bogar" on Apr 05, 2011 08:24 PM

ngie on Chainsaws in the Colonel Bob Wilderness?

10 years later, the trail was still largely indicative of a game of interrupted pickup sticks, but also largely washed out trail and such. Birb and I hopped over approximately 50+ blowdowns on this trail.

There is a point where the land managers need to give up on the existing trail and find better ways to pass routes through areas. A route through this beautiful area might need to be surrendered to the wilderness--many people choose Pete's Creek Trail to visit Colonel Bob Peak instead of Colonel Bob Trail.

Posted by:

ngie on Feb 08, 2021 08:17 AM