Idaho Panhandle National Forests removing hazard trees at Sam Owen Campground

The Sandpoint Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is currently engaged in the removal of hazard trees at Sam Owen Campground, which is situated on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, just south of Hope, Idaho along Highway 200.


The identification and mitigation of hazard trees and other known public safety issues at developed recreation sites is an annual responsibility for National Forest managers. Following an intense windstorm last September that toppled many trees, putting several campers in danger and crushing one vehicle, employees have been identifying and removing trees with structural damage that makes them likely to fail. One of the identified hazard trees has a bald eagle nest. Working with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Forest Service made the difficult decision to remove the hazard tree in the interest of public safety, and the removal occurred this 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.”


A "hazard tree" is a tree that has a structural defect that makes it likely to fail in whole or in part. Trees can be defective from age, fire, disease, or from structural damage that occurred during a windstorm. Falling trees are an ever-present hazard in the forest, but when they occur within a developed recreation site, such as a campground, the Forest Service has a legal obligation to mitigate the threat to visitors.


Bald eagles were removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007 but they are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Normally, the Forest Service would make every effort to avoid and protect the tree until any potential offspring fledge from the nest. There is no indication that the nest contains any eggs, so the decision was made to remove the hazard tree now before the eagles start laying eggs and while the eagles have the opportunity to relocate to a new nest to raise their young.


The Forest Service is working with state and federal agencies, local communities, and indigenous Tribes to discuss the tree removal. The campground is expected to reopen to the public once the hazards have been addressed.