A log loader being used for thinning operations in the Ashland Creek watershed was marked with graffiti and its fuel deliberately contaminated last weekend, authorities said.
Crew members discovered the graffiti Monday morning and operated the loader for about an hour before it sputtered to a standstill, postponing work for the day, said Ashland Fire & Rescue Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers.
"Sometime between 6:30 Friday night, when the crew left the location, and 4 a.m. on Monday is when the vandalism happened," Jackson County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Andrea Carlson said.
"The suspects wrote some graffiti on the log loader and also dumped some fluid into the fuel tank to make the log loader inoperable."
A mechanic who was called to the job site to repair the equipment said the loader's fuel likely was contaminated with water, Chambers said. After replacing filters and removing the contaminated fuel, the equipment worked properly, he said.
Carlson said the phrase "kill cops not trees," was written on the side of the loader, which is owned by Columbia Helicopters.
"Dab squad" and a series of abstract symbols also were scrawled in permanent marker on the side of the loader, Chambers said.
An investigation into the incident is being led by the Sheriff's Department, Carlson said.
"Unfortunately, the crew on the scene there have never had any trouble in that area and they don't have any suspect information," she said. "We're looking into it the best we can, seeing if we can track anything down. At this point, there is not a whole lot of information to go off of."
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at 541-774-6800.
Chambers did not have a dollar estimate for the damage caused by the vandalism.
"That whole day was lost for production, and we're trying really hard right now to get this wrapped up and get those trails opened up," he said. "It's unfortunate that it happened ... . This is the first incident we've had on the project."
The last incident of equipment vandalism in the watershed was in May 2012, when a vandal slashed more than 1,000 feet of hose crews were using on a prescribed burn on city of Ashland forestland.
Without the setback, Chambers said, the watershed's popular trail system, most of which has been closed since helicopter thinning began in March, could have been opened on Wednesday.
Now, trails including Upper Alice in Wonderland, Caterpillar, Jabberwocky, Toothpick, Marty's, Catwalk, Eastview and the four corners area are scheduled to be opened on Friday, Chambers said.
The White Rabbit Trailhead will remain closed until early next week while the area is cleaned and trails rehabilitated, he said.
After thinning work on the project concludes today, crews will begin the months-long process of cleaning up slash and debris left behind during the helicopter thinning effort, Chambers said.
The thinning was part of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, a multi-year effort to thin 7,600 acres in the forested watershed above town to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. The project is a partnership among the Forest Service, the city, Lomakatsi and The Nature Conservancy.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.