Search Results for ‘400 year old trees cut down’

Jan22

Roseburg BLM Clearcut Logging Plan Challenged

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2014
 
Contacts:
Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild  –  sp@oregonwild.org  –  (503) 283-6343, ext. 211
Francis Eatherington, Cascadia Wildlands  –  francis@cascwild.org  –  (541) 643-1309
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild  –  dh@oregonwild.org  –  (541) 344-0675
 
Roseburg BLM Clearcut Logging Plan Challenged
Conservationists go to court to stop controversial clearcutting plan in White Castle forest; century-old trees on chopping block in sale that mimics Wyden O&C logging plan.
 
(Eugene, Oregon)  –  Two conservation organizations filed a legal challenge today aimed at blocking a controversial plan to clearcut 100-year old trees on publicly-owned Bureau of Land Management lands in Douglas County. The White Castle logging project targets century old forest, including some trees over 150 years old, using a controversial logging method euphemistically referred to as "variable retention regeneration harvest."
 
"No matter what you call it, a clearcut is still a clearcut," said Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild. "Clearcutting century-old forests that offer habitat for threatened wildlife on public lands in Oregon is not only immoral, in this case it's illegal."
 
At stake are 438 acres of publicly-owned forest in the South Myrtle Creek watershed, near the community of Canyonville. The Roseburg BLM District plans to use a controversial logging method known as "variable retention regeneration harvest" to clearcut over 187 acres, including trees over a century old. Bulldozing roads and other destructive activities associated with the project would target additional trees over 150 years old. Federal biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have acknowledged nearly 200 acres of habitat for threatened wildlife would be damaged or destroyed by the logging.
 
"The BLM's White Castle clearcutting plan is a throwback to the logging epidemic that ravaged Oregon in the 1970s and 80s," said Cindy Haws, a former Forest Service biologist who owns land downstream in the Myrtle Creek watershed. "This kind of aggressive clearcutting harms our salmon and native wildlife, and increases the risk of mudslides and pollution of our rivers."
 
Despite controversy surrounding the sale, the BLM is claiming that clearcutting the White Castle forest will benefit the environment by removing large areas of mature and old-growth trees to create open spaces. They claim that since they intend to leave a few patches of trees around the edges and in small clumps, it isn't really a clearcut.
 
A similar and related clearcutting project, known as the Buck Rising, was carried out on Roseburg BLM lands last summer and has been highly controversial. Pictures of a Buck Rising clearcut appeared in an anti-clearcutting billboard on I-5 near Eugene, and citizen activists have occupied a portion of the White Castle forest with a tree-sitting protest, braving frigid temperatures, rain, and high winds in an attempt to protect the area.
The legal challenge raises a number of issues, including:
 
  • The destruction of almost 200 acres of forest habitat for threatened wildlife.
  • Failure to conduct a complete analysis of likely environmental damage from clearcutting.
  • Failure to consider environmentally responsible alternatives, including thinning smaller trees instead of clearcutting older forests.
  • Failure to consider the existing clearcuts that scar the watershed.  Though BLM claims the logging is needed to create open patches and young forest, their own data shows that 27% of the forests on federal lands in the region are under 30 years old.
 
"The BLM wants to clearcut this forest to try and placate politicians and logging interests, plain and simple," said Francis Eatherington with Cascadia Wildlands. "They are trying to use euphemisms like 'variable retention regeneration harvest' to put lipstick on the pig."
 
The BLM is facing intense political pressure from logging corporations and some politicians to increase clearcutting, despite the fact that the agency has largely met its timber targets for the last decade by thinning young forests instead of clearcutting older ones.
 
A bill proposed by Senator Ron Wyden in late November would expand projects like the White Castle clearcuts to more than a million acres of public land in Western Oregon to generate money to bail out some county governments facing budget shortfalls. Wyden's bill overturns key provisions of the Northwest Forest Plan, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and like the BLM, has used the opinions of two prominent forestry professors to justify such logging.
 
Photos of the White Castle forest can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)
 
Photos: Buck Rising (top); White Castle (bottom) by Francis Eatherington.

 

Sep02

Cascadia Wildlands Leads Ground-truth Expedition into Fabled Tongass National Forest

by Alaska Legal Director Gabe Scott [updated 9/8]

 
TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, ALASKA— Lots to report from our ground-truthing trek last week into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. We spent a week on Wrangell, Revilla and Prince of Wales Islands with colleagues investigating proposed and active old-growth logging projects.
Whole mountains and valleys are being clearcut on Cleveland Peninsula.

Whole mountains and valleys are being clearcut on Cleveland Peninsula.

 
This was a trip to the edge of the cresting wave of old-growth logging in Cascadia. We visited the largest old-growth sale in a generation, the Big Thorne Stewardship Project, as well as the next big sale coming down the pipe on Wrangell Island. The world should know about the old-growth clearcutting that is still happening in Alaska. You’ll especially want to hear about these wolf pups on Prince of Wales.
 
For the week in the Tongass I was joined by Oliver Stiefel, an attorney at CRAG and co-counsel on most of our pending Tongass litigation; Jacob Ritley, a cinematographer who offered his skills to help document what is going on; and the incomparable Larry Edwards, the southeast Alaska forest campaigner for Greenpeace. We met up for a couple days driving and flying around Wrangell Island, then down to Ketchikan to look at the Saddle Lakes road. From there we ferried over to Prince of Wales Island for several more days in the woods.
Oliver Stiefel of CRAG wishing that the legal system worked faster. On the ground at the Big Thorne sale, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Oliver Stiefel of CRAG wishing that the legal system worked faster. On the ground at the Big Thorne sale, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Tongass at the Crossroads

Things are happening on the Tongass.
 
The big new Forest Plan is out, vaunted as a “transition” out of old-growth logging and into second-growth logging. It’s a nice idea, but the actual plan is to prop up old-growth logging for several more decades. We expect to be filing our administrative objection to the plan in late August.
 
The biggest old-growth sale in a generation, the Big Thorne Stewardship Project, is being rapidly cut while our appeal for an injunction waits for a decision by the 9th Circuit. Over 6,000 acres of old-growth is being logged, nearly 150 million board feet, on north central Prince of Wales Island.
 
The next of the big logging project, the 5,000-acre Wrangell Island Project, is moving down the pipeline. There is still time to prevent that mistake as the agency reviews comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
 
Construction is beginning on the Saddle Lakes road out of Ketchikan, which would further threaten the imperiled wolf population on the Alexander Archipelago.
 
And that's just on Forest Service land. On State and private land, it’s even worse.
 
The purpose of a groundtruth expedition is to provide a reality check for the schemes layed out on paper. The truth on the ground on the Tongass is even more striking and urgent than we had feared. The Forest Service is mowing down forests in a last gasp, while the industry scrapes the bottom of the barrel it has emptied. Old-growth logging is directly threatening the imperiled Alexander Archipelago wolf, including one pack in particular.

Wrangell Island – Scraping the barrel

Wrangell, Alaska is a great little town in a beautiful setting. It sits at the north end of a big island, separated by inlets and narrows from even more remote islands and mountain wilderness of the Stikine. It’s a great place to visit, accomodating but not overrun by tourists. Wrangell has busy small-boat harbors and lots of salmon fishing, a nice main street and neighborhoods, surrounded by post-card views of ocean inlets, forested islands and high mountains. They have a new ship yard, which is turning out to be a brilliant economic move for the isolated community, keeping boats and people working in town through the winter.  
 
The purpose of our visit was to look at the next big old-growth timber sale, the Wrangell Island Project. It proposes logging on 5,309 acres, almost all untouched old-growth. This is one of the large, long-term sales originally ordered by our old friend Mark Rey to re-establish the logging industry.
On the chopping block, Wrangell Island Project.

On the chopping block, Wrangell Island Project.

 
In Wrangell we met up with a local homesteader, who in summers works a “John Muir tour” for cruise ship passengers. This was a personal highlight because I’d always wondered where exactly it was above town that John Muir lit his famous fire in 1879. (Quick history tangent: In Travels in Alaska Muir describes charging up a mountainside on a black night in a howling rainstorm, then lighting a fire using only a small candle and a pocketknife in the driving rain.  He wanted to observe the trees’ wildness in the torrential storm. Being John Muir, his fire made a flame so huge it illuminated the low clouds over town. The townspeople were apparently much-alarmed by the weird light, suspecting spirits or a new kind of omen.)
 
There used to be a mill in Wrangell. At least then one could see some logic in a 65 million board foot monstrosity, but Wrangell’s foreign-owned mill skipped out on their long-term contracts decades ago, and an American effort to save it went bankrupt in 2004. The town has moved on. Today there are a few small mills, which is all to the good, but those guys only need a few acres a year. Wherever the market for a huge influx of Wrangell Island logs is, it certainly isn’t in Wrangell.
 
As we flew and drove around the island it was clear that the best forests have already been logged away. From a timber point of view, the game is over. Obviously. The Wrangell Island Project targets the best of what remains, which means these stands were rejected by timber companies over and over through the years. But it also means that these forests have become critical for the remaining wildlife. We saw some gorgeous old-growth stands. Not much of the high-volume stuff that is so critical for winter habitat, but some gorgeous high-elevation and north-facing stands. Lots of the stands we saw that have been marked for cutting surely will lose money for whoever logs them. Why log five acres of old, gnarled-up cedar and snag to get one truck-full of logs? Kind of a head-scratcher, honestly. 
 
This sale is so big, and so little of the big tree forest is left on Wrangell, that this project would remove the long-term possibility of local, economic logging. The last gasp of the timber beast could actually kill the beating heart of the small-scale, Alaska-style logging operators. It is the classic Alaska story of the resource being hauled away, leaving nothing for the locals (let alone the wildlife) to get by on when winter comes. It doesn’t make sense.
 
We’ll try to stop that happening on Wrangell. Our coalition submitted detailed comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement days later. We are hopeful that logic, reason and law will prevail.

Ketchikan

Next we flew to Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, to look at the Saddle Lakes Project. Saddle Lakes was an old-growth timber sale and road-building project east of Ketchikan. After we challenged the project legally the Forest Service dropped the logging portion. But the State has insisted on going forward with the road connection between Ketchikan and Shelter Cove.
Saddle Lakes Road, Revilla Island.

 Area of proposed Ketchikan-Shelter Cove Road, Revilla Island.

I'll admit, the Shelter Cove road does have a certain logic to it. The backcountry is scattered with remote networks of logging roads. Some people want to link them up to where people can easily drive them. Ketchikan is a remote island town with a good size population, and people here do all of their playing in the outdoors: hunting, fishing, trapping, and berry-picking. One of the most popular directions residents go is out the White River Road. Not long ago that area was clearcut, on an epic scale, by the Alaska Mental Health Trust. But just beyond that are a whole heap of fantastic inlets and valleys and forests and rivers to explore.
 
With Shelter Cove road the Forest Service and State of Alaska are trying to connect Ketchikan with the network of logging roads to the east. Those roads ultimately head north, and ultimately the State hopes to link all those road systems up. The new road linkages would also facilitate additional clearcutting and other development on USFS, State and private lands.
 
The trouble is that, first, nobody is maintaining those roads. They slough off into streams and the culverts commonly block passage for salmon. And second, linking remote roads with big towns is a sure-fire way to cause the wolves to be hunted and trapped out of the area. Alexander Archipelago wolves have been hit so badly by the one-two punch of cleartut logging and aggressive wolf hunting that they are on the cusp of extinction. Keeping remote areas remote is the only way they might survive.
 
And that is why we’re challenging the road in Alaska District court.
 

Prince of Wales Island

You guys, seriously, this place!
 
For lovers of wildest Cascadia, Prince of Wales Island is just about the coolest spot on earth. They should set the Jedi training temple here in the next Star Wars. People would be sure it was CGI. The trees are big, the rivers are clear, the forest is boundless.
 
We were here to examine the Big Thorne sale. At over a hundred million board feet from over six thousand acres of old-growth it is the largest old-growth timber sale in a generation. We’ve challenged this sale in court, but lost our bid for an injunction in the Alaska District Court. Cascadia and several others have appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The case has been fully briefed and argued, and currently sits on the judges’ desks waiting for a decision.  
On the chopping block. Looking northeast at Snakes Lakes, North Thorne River, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

On the chopping block. Looking northeast at Snakes Lakes, North Thorne River, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

 
It is impossible to convey the truth on the ground in this place with words. To know the place we’re talking about I need you to suspend your disbelief and re-activate the childlike side of your imagination. Picture an ancient wooded glade out of a fairy tale— all stately green trees drooping moss, gentle blue rivers teeming with fish, perfect meadows where Bambi is learning to walk. It’s a place where cute little wolf puppies—the hope of a dying breed— were born this very spring live under the roots of an old-growth tree at a quiet blue lake ringed in green.
 
Got it? Now, I'm telling you, this place is real. 
 
The forest naturally is world-class. Forest to take your breath away.  Tall, straight, towering Sitka spruce; huge western hemlock all wild and twisted. There were even shore pines and alders of alarming size; trees that told you this is a good place to be a tree. And the cedars, oh the cedars. Red and yellow cedar lace the forest, dripping with moss and lichen and bark. And the dead trees were even more beautiful, towering totems weathered by centuries, swirling with color.
 
Wildlife thrives here too. Prince of Wales is notoriously thick with black bears, though we saw little sign. The island is snaked through with rivers and lakes rich with trout and salmon, a fisherman’s post-card around every bend. Sitka black-tailed deer are naturally abundant, feeding humans and wolf and gladdening the forest scene. The several towns and villages on the island are spectacularly set, and have deep history. It's a place where stores advertise "Sundries." The abundance that Prince of Wales is blessed with has also been a curse. It is here that logging has been, and continues to be, the most intense.  
 
When the Tongass old-growth industry dies here, it is not going to be for lack of trying.  Old-growth forests are falling fast and furious this summer on Prince of Wales and nearby Cleveland Peninsuala. We saw massive new clearcuts on National Forest, State, Mental Health Trust, and ANCSA Corporation land. Whole valleys, mountainsides, and peninsulas are being leveled.
Alaska Mental Health Trust logging on Prince of Wales Island.

Some of the recent private-land logging on Prince of Wales Island.

 
If the forests are being mowed down, how can it be that the industry claims to be starving for trees? The need for logs to mill is the whole basis of the Forest Service timber sales, the new Forest Plan, and Senator Murkowski’s various crazy ideas about giving away federal land for deregulated logging. It’s all to feed this mill you see below you—Viking Lumber—the last industrial-sized old-growth mill in all of Southeast Alaska. 
 
How that is, it became obvious when we looked at it, is that the trees being cut here are mostly all exported away as un-milled, "raw" logs. The piles of logs lined up at the dock for export dwarfed the mostly-full Viking yard. 
The Viking Lumber Company mill at Klawock, Prince of Wales Island. Viking is the last remaining large mill in Southeast Alaska.

The Viking Lumber Company mill at Klawock, Prince of Wales Island. Viking is the last remaining large mill in Southeast Alaska.

 
Visiting the active logging units of the Big Thorne sale the scale of ecological devastation was evident. Logging crews have been targeting the old-growth clearcut units, cutting them as fast as they can.
 
Which brings me to the wolf pups. In their zeal to get the forest cut down before any legal injunction, logging crews have ended up harassing a particular pack of the imperiled Alexander Archipelago wolves. We’d heard rumors of this prior to our visit, so spent days trying to track them down.
 
This small pack gave birth to pups this spring near a lake. Their parents, like most all Alexander Archipelago wolves— Islands wolves—had excavated a spacious den under the roots of an old-growth tree. They wanted peace, quiet, safety, and enough food. It is especially important that these pups make it, because the Islands wolf population on Prince of Wales has plummeted to under 100.
 
For several years the wildlife biologists with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and at the U.S. Forest Service have been aware of this particular den. One of the logging units in the Big Thorne sale was identified by ADF&G early on as overlapping with the mandatory 1,200’ buffer around that den. To guard the wolf den locations, ADF&G was sent the maps by the Forest Service, re-drew the unit boundaries to provide the 1,200’ buffer, and sent them back, all in secret.
Tracks of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Tracks of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

 
Foresters preferred a different unit layout. By the time the guys with chainsaws showed up, the secret about the wolf family, who was known to be about to give birth to pups in that den, and mandatory logging buffer, were apparently forgotten.
 
Just prior to the pups being born, loggers cut down the forest on the other side of the lake. The wolves also might also have noticed the hundreds of acres being mowed down just over surrounding ridges, and the heavy-lift helicopters thundering overhead.
 
The last reliable information on this wolf family, which we obtained by FOIA just after returning, was that the pups were born, but had been forced to abandon the den.
The agency apparently was able to measure from stump to den, proving that the logging had invaded the mandatory (and paltry) 1,200’ buffer zone around active dens.[*UPDATE: more recent intelligence indicates the logging actually remained 18ft inside its buffer. GWS 9/8]  Think of that. Logging an old-growth hillside, with helicopters no less, only 1,200’ from a den where you know there are baby wolves of an imperiled species.
 
We never were able to locate the den, but I think we did find tracks from that pack next to an adjacent lake. They might be looking for a new den, or out hunting. Their territory is getting awfully limited. It is becoming harder and harder for a wolf to find a place that is not either a road or a clearcut. With aggressive hunters blaming them for trouble hunting deer, and new clearcuts and roads encroaching on every side, these wolf pups have a tough road ahead of them finding a new home
 
We'll be rooting for them, and doing everything we can in the human world to make their road easier. Stay tuned for Jacob's stunning images and video from our trip, and updates on the wolf packs search for a new home. 
 
 
 
Tongass Expedition: Images
 
Tongass Expedition: Video coming soon
 
(PS: Stay tuned for video, and more still footage, from the expedition that we plan to release soon.)
 
 
Aug28

Elliott State Forest: More Information and Actions

Elliott-Tim G 61316-6820[11]TAKE ACTION NOW and help us stop the Land Board from selling the Elliott State Forest to a private timber company.
 
Update* On July 3 during a work session in Salem, the Capital Construction Subcommittee of the Joint Ways and Means Committee unanimously advanced $100 million in state bonding revenue to protect the 82,500-Elliott State Forest and keep it from being privatized. The vote followed a May 9 State Land Board meeting, where Governor Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read, and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson voted 3-0 to keep the Elliott in public ownership through the use of state bonding capacity and the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Coast Range Forest.*
 
The Land Board has one proposal in front of it, from a private company, that would privitize the Elliott. The Governor has proposed a plan that would utilize up to $100 million in public bonds. Treasurer Read flipped his February 2017 position and now supports the Governor's plan. We now need a vote that scraps the privitization proposal, otherwise we are at risk of the Land Board continuing to work with Lone Rock Timber and partners on a way to buy the forest, most likely resulting in this coastal rainforest being converted from the hidden gem of Oregon to a massive clearcut.  (Image Credit: above photo by Tim Giraudier)
 
Join us in Salem on May 9th for the next Land Board meeting. The Land Board will be meeting in Salem on May 9, 2017 at 10am. We'll be joining friends and allies working to save the Elliott to show our support for the keeping the Elliott public. Wear green. Carpools are being organized from Eugene and Cottage Grove.  
 
Contact the State Land Board Directly. Calls directly to the State Land Board urging them to reject the proposal to privitize the Elliott State Forest are still incredibly useful. The Land Board has two new members, Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, that need to hear from you to know that the public wants a real solution for the Elliott that keeps it in public ownership, decouples school funding from forest management, and permanently protects the mature forests of the Elliott and the Spotted Owls, Marbled Murrelets, Coho Salmon, and other wildlife who depend on them.
 
#SaveTheElliott
 
State Land Board Members:
 
Kate Brown, Governor
Phone: (503) 378-4582
160 State Capitol, Salem, OR 97301-4047
Link to "Share Your Opinion": http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx
 
Dennis Richardson, Oregon Secretary of State
136 State Capitol, Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 986-1523 Fax: (503) 986-1616
Email: oregon.sos@state.or.us
 
Tobias Read, Oregon State Treasurer
159 State Capitol, 900 Court Street NE, Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 378-4329  
Email: oregon.treasurer@ost.state.or.us
 
Jim Paul, Director Department of State Lands
775 Summer St. NE, Salem, OR 97301-1279
Phone: (503) 986-5224
Email: jim.paul@state.or.us

 

Background on the Elliott
 
The Elliott State Forest is a 93,000-acre publicly owned forest located just inland from the mouth of the Umpqua River. The Elliott State Forest lies immediately south of Devil's Staircase in the Oregon Coast Range. Loon Lake is on its east border, Reedsport is near its northwest corner and Coos Bay is near its southwest corner. Surrounded by massive swaths of privately owned industrial tree farms, the public forests of the Elliott offer rare, native habitat that has never been logged. As a consequence, this coastal rainforest offers some of the finest remaining habitat in the Oregon Coast Range for a host of threatened and endangered species, including Coho salmon, marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl.  
 
Much of the Elliott burned in the settler-started 1868 Coos Bay fire which burned across nearly 300,000 acres from Scottsburg south to Coos Bay. The forest has grown back naturally since the fire with the forest nearing 150 years of age today. Residual pockets of old-growth that survived the fire, some up to 500 years old, can also be found. Currently, this forest and the animals that live there, are in jeopardy. The Oregon Department of Forestry, the state agency in charge of our Elliott State Forest, auctioned off the rights to clearcut up to 850 acres of native forest to the highest bidder each year until they were stopped by a lawsuit in 2013.
 
The Elliott became the first state forest in 1930. It is named after Francis Elliott, Oregon's first state forester, who worked for many years to create the forest by trading scattered state "school fund" lands for one large block of land. Until recently, the forest was being sacrificed in a "clearcuts for kids" scheme and has left the Elliott a fragmented landscape which will have disastrous consequences for two older forest dependent species in particular: northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. 
 
Northern Spotted Owl
 
In 1993, there were 69 spotted owls on the Elliott. Recognizing that the Elliott owl population was in pretty good shape in spite of its peril elsewhere, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made a deal with Oregon in 1995 to allow them cut timber in the forest provided they took steps to maintain a viable population of spotted owls in the forest.  The FWS set the number and the State of Oregon promised to protect 26 spotted owls through 2055 (by not clearcutting their nest sites). In exchange, Oregon could “take” (kill) 43 owls. This deal is known as the 1995 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
 
Operating under the HCP the owl population on the Elliott plummeted down to 26 owls by 1998. The ODF had taken all the owls they were allowed to take over the 60 year period in just the first few years.  Today, about 25 northern spotted owls (11 pairs) live on the Elliott State Forest. However, in order to increase the cut on the Elliott, the state of Oregon went out on a limb and recently abandoned the HCP and broke the mitigation promises it made as part of the 1995 HCP. The new 2012 Elliott plan called for a nearly 40% increase in clearcutting with an average of 850 acres of native rainforest clearcut each year. The new plan did not have the support of the federal fish and wildlife experts.
 
Marbled Murrelet
 
The murrelet is a remarkable seabird on the brink of extinction. Like all seabirds, murrelets have webfeet and eat only fish. Unlike other seabirds, murrelets depend on big trees near the ocean to nest and raise its young. It doesn't build a stick nest. Instead, it lays an egg in a depression of moss on a large limb. Since most of Oregon's coastal forests have been converted to young tree plantations, places with big trees, like the Elliott, are critical to the murrelets continual survival. 
 
Murrelets are very secretive in where they lay their egg. Murrelet surveys can detect nesting murrelets in an area, so the entire area must be protected, as the exact nest tree site is usually impossible to find. Large protected areas are also important because 90% of nest failures are due to predation from jays and crows (corvids), which can predate nests on edges of forests, but not deep in forest interiors. Murrelets simply need old trees near the ocean in forest patches large enough to protect them from predation. 
 
Because much of Oregon’s Coast Range has been previously clearcut and is seriously fragmented, optimal interior forest habitat list limited. The Elliott provides prime nesting habitat. When the seabird is detected in the forest, the state of Oregon is required to protect it by designating a Marbled Murrelet Management Areas (MMMA). However, the size of the MMMA's the state designated got smaller and small each year. These inadequate reserves, and other problems, were litigated by Cascadia Wildlands and our partners. In 2013, the lawsuit was settled when the State Land Board agreed to drop 28 old growth timber sales on the Elliott and Tillamook State Forests.
 
Salmon and Other Fish
 
The Elliott State Forest is home to a number of threatened and rare aquatic species in the Umpqua, Coos, and Ten Mile Lakes watershed. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says the Elliott supports "the highest Coho production on the Oregon Coast".
 
Ten sensitive fish species are present, or likely present in the Elliott, including Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, chum salmon, steelhead trout, coastal cutthroat trout, Umpqua chub, Pacific lamprey, western brook lamprey, river lamprey, and the Millicoma longnose dace.
 
The new 2011 Forest Management Plan was found inadequate for aquatic species by the federal fish experts and was subject to a number of critical reviews. The state of Oregon did not substantively change its streamside forest management approach even after getting the critical feedback.
 
Climate Change Mitigation
 
Scientists have found that coastal temperate rainforests in Oregon, like the Elliott, has the potential to store more carbon per acre than virtually any other place in the world, including tropical rainforests. Cascadia Wildlands has highlighted the Elliott's incomparable ability to store carbon as a possible funding source for school children. When logged, these old forests release extreme amounts of harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the global climate crisis. Cascadia Wildlands also advocates for restoration thinning in the forest's dense tree farms to generate revenue for school children.
 
 Selling the Elliott
 
When the Oregon Department of State Lands settled our marbled murrelet lawsuit, they determined that correctly avoiding murrelet nests means Oregon can only log 15 mmbf a year on the Elliott. This is too little for their liking (they want to log 45 mmbf a year). Seneca put up these signs as soon as they purchased part of the Elliott State Forest.
 
Because of the new restrictions on harming murrelets, the State Land Board made a decision on December 10, 2013 to sell 2,714 acres of the Elliott State Forest by competitive bid to "test" this as a solution for the entire Elliott. (They received over 1,200 comments from Oregonians asking them to protect these important lands instead).
 
Three of the five parcels were auctioned in the spring of 2014. The bidding closed on March 28. The winners were Seneca Logging, who bought East Hakki Ridge (788 acres) and Roseburg Forest Products, who bought Benson Ridge (355 acres) and Adams Ridge One (310 acres). 
 
The state did a timber cruise which found that the timber on 2,714 acres dropped in value, from $22 million dollars down to $3.5 million dollars because of logging restrictions that should be in place for the marbled murrelet habitat. But the same report disclosed the result of interviews with the timber industry, which said they could clearcut it in spite of the restrictions, because they could "skirt the law without consequences".
 
As a result of the decreased value due to murrelets, the spring sale of the three parcels were priced at 80% under the cruised value, and sold for that amount to timber interests. The Oregonian reported that Seneca Lumber Company bid on the Elliott just to stand up to "eco-radical" environmental groups, "elitists sent in from D.C.", that the marbled murrelet is not endangered, and they will clearcut the part of the Elliott they purchase (East Hakki).
 
Because of the large discount on the first three parcels, due to the presence of murrelets, the state lost almost $8 million dollars that the timber interests will gain if they succeed in clearcutting them (we've threatened another lawsuit, if they try this).Old Growth Tree in Sale Parcel
 
All of the five parcels have important Coho salmon streams. Adams Ridge Three (scheduled to be sold later this year) has been determined to be the best Coho salmon producing stream in the entire Coast Range. This is in line with the other valuable ecosystem services these coastal forests provide the public. For instance, murrelets were found on all 5 parcels. These forests are also valuable for recreation, clean air and clean water. In fact, scientists have found that these rainforests can sequester more carbon per acre than any other place in the world, including tropical rainforests.
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec01

Oh Deer: Reading between the O&C Lines

By Bob FerrisBob and Deer
 
Before I even thought about wolf and bear advocacy, I worked on deer (at right).  In those pre-wolf times I fully immersed myself in all things Wallmo, was the first through the gate of Clover traps and pioneered some tranquilizer dart capture techniques for black tailed deer. Some of this is rusty now after nearly 30 years but it is coming back quickly as I sort my way once again through the complicated minefield of deer biology from the informative and authoritative to the twisted and spun.  All of us need to do this as we consider the O&C packages and what the timber industry wants you to believe about deer in relationship to clearcuts, herbicide use, replanting regimes and the value and function of old growth.  
 
To sort this out for myself I looked at three primary documents and then spent a lot of time on Google Scholar.  The core documents were: 1) Habitat Guidelines for Black-Tailed Deer: Coastal Rainforest Ecoregion (2008) written by the Mule Deer Working Group (MDWG) and sponsored by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; 2) Oregon Black-Tailed Deer Management Plan (2008) written by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) staff with heavy input from a myriad of stakeholders including hunting, agricultural and timber interests; and 3) Wildlife in Managed Forests: Deer & Elk written for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) by a two-person consulting firm in Hillsborough, Oregon with strong connections to the forest industry whose founder recently wrote that "deer and elk are controversial" (see page 13).
 

I have thought a lot of how best to characterize these three documents so that folks will understand their significance and their fundamental, but sometimes subtle differences.  The best I could come up with—and I understand that it borders on hyperbole—is to think of the above clip from the movie Jaws.  When you watch this piece think of Richard Dreyfuss as the MDWG trying to put forth science and commonsense.  Then think of Roy Schneider’s character as the ODFW trying to hold onto the concepts of science and commonsense while negotiating the desires of stakeholders who might not fully understand either.  And then there is Vaughn played by Murray Hamilton—think of OFRI as Vaughn: the entity that represents the financial interests involved and will not tolerate the public disclosure of any information that might be detrimental to economic activity regardless of the impacts.  
 
This impression of a scientific and commonsense spectrum—from rigorous to weak—is only reinforced when one goes to the literature cited sections of the three documents.  For instance, the MDWG work written by deer scientists—mainly with graduate degrees—cited more than 120 different papers and studies in its 47-page document (2.63/page).  This is followed by the ODFW work that justified their declarative statements with 80 separate works in their 53-page opus (1.51/page).  Then there is the OFRI work that employs a scant 15 cites in its 27-page document for a density of about one cite per every two written pages (0.55/page).
 
And while the literature density issue is telling in the OFRI document, there are several other measures to look at that are illustrative of the relative quality of the scholarship employed.  For example, fully one third of the documents cited have the same lead author indicating a narrowness of investigation and less than a third are from peer-reviewed scientific journals with the rest being from what is generally called “gray literature” including a popular website.  Certainly there will be those who see these criticisms as picky, but when dealing with complicated and contentious issues pickiness, depth of scholarship, and the credentials and biases of the authors are important.  
 
"Forestlands used primarily for the production of wood fiber have many characteristics that more closely resemble agricultural lands with intensively managed, even-aged, monocultures and understory plant species that are controlled with herbicides, rather than unaltered forest habitats. Collectively, these characteristics come at the detriment of black-tailed deer in the Coastal Rainforest Ecoregion." (MDWG report page 15)
 
"The results suggest that current commercial forestry practices are compatible with the maintenance of ungulate forage species."  (OFRI report page 12)
 
The above two quotes demonstrate the fundamental disconnect between the MDWG and OFRI worlds.  This is really not surprising when you consider that the former values deer populations and considers them ecological assets while the latter vacillates between viewing them as economically damaging pests and tolerated players (i.e., controversial).  There is no true mystery as to why each party embraces their interpretation of the dynamics but this is really not a case of equally valued “he said-she said” positions because one is broadly employing a methodology to find answers while the other is using a narrower and less complete approach to justify their desired actions (i.e., clearcuts, herbicide use, dense replanting regimes and short rotations).  
 
I fully acknowledge that this is complicated stuff and most of that complication comes from the multi-dimensional nature of black-tailed deer habitat and life-cycle needs as well as their adaptability.  If you are looking for something that can be distilled down into a simple x and y axis then black-tailed deer ecology should probably not be your field of endeavor.  
 
If you are still game, let’s start with some suppositions about their optimal habitat.  If polled, most deer biologists would probably agree that black-tailed deer do best in a diverse matrix of old-growth forest punctuated by small openings created by fire or blow downs with the former providing cover, security and protein-rich winter food and the latter abundant food for the rest of the year.  Certainly the ones involved with the MDWG subscribe to this or something very similar.  
 
"Thus, disturbances such as logging, fire, and windthrow can stimulate forage production. In the absence of management, succession towards closed canopy forest leads to decreases in overall understory biomass, until gap-phase dynamics associated with old growth stands yields patchy increases in understory production within the canopy gaps. Heavy restocking of stands, as is typical of commercial timberlands, can drastically reduce the period of post-disturbance understory proliferation. Modeling of stand dynamics and forest succession at a landscape scale in western Washington suggested that ungulate forage production peaked in the 1960s and declined thereafter through the recent past (Jenkins and Starkey 1996)." (MDWG report page 14)
 
Forestry proponents would smile at my description of what black-tailed deer need and claim that this is wonderful as their modern management provides clearcuts next to maturing forests.  Perfect, right? Well that would be partially true except that the deer take a hit when the clearcuts are large (>50 acres), planted with 400-450 Douglas fir per acre, and sprayed with herbicides.  Moreover, maturing forests if they are less than 200 years old and have a fairly closed canopy may provide some cover but do not have the robust understories that provide the needed high-protein browse necessary for winter survival.  
 
"Instead of eating large quantities of low quality forage like grass, deer must select the most nutritious plants and parts of plants. Because of this, deer have more specific forage requirements than larger ruminants." (MDWG report page 3)
 
For deer, food quality is equally as important as quantity.  Deer like other ruminants have multi-chambered digestive systems that are marvels of evolution, but the systems have their processing limits and if the food quality is low in terms of nutritional factors like protein then deer will have full stomachs but they essentially starve.
 
Herbicide Impact on Black-Tailed Deer Food
“Nonetheless, some impact of herbicides is intuitive when various types of commonly used herbicides, their target species, and intended effects are compared to a partial list of plants comprising the diet of black-tailed deer (Table 1 [see above], Brown 1961, Crouch 1981a, U.S. Forest Service 1987, Rue 1997).” (In MDWG report page 16)
 
“Black-tailed deer roam forested areas of western Washington and Oregon, but some say their numbers are declining. Scientists suspect that’s because these deer are having trouble finding food to eat.” Managing Black-Tailed Deer Through Their Diets by Courtney Flatt in Northwest Public Radio, June 1, 2012
 
 “Now, after logging, herbicides are used to kill the competing vegetation and the forest plantations are re-seeded heavily.
 
“The broadleaf shrubs, trees and forbs eliminated by these efforts [herbicide use] are the very plants that comprise the blacktail deer diet,’’ Holman said.” Blacktail Deer Populations Hanging On, But There's Reason for Concern by Allen Thomas in The Columbian, October 9, 2009
  
“Basically, Westside deer do well in varied habitats that aren’t sprayed with herbicides…” More On Western Washington Blacktail Study by Andy Walgamott in Northwest Sportsman November 19, 2012 
 
When herbicides—which are not prohibited in the O&C bill approved in the House—are used the timber folks will argue: 1) that deer do not avoid vegetation sprayed with herbicides; 2) that deer will absorb the chemicals, but that does not matter to the deer or us; and 3) that the biomass of palatable vegetation stays the same in the switch from leafy and woody vegetation to grasses and forbs (weeds). But food quality is not addressed in any of this.  
 
Fortunately multiple studies are underway in western Washington to look specifically at herbicide use and its impact on black-tailed deer. While we await the findings of these studies, there is ample evidence of risk and impacts that prudence would demand that no acceptable O&C bill should allow for herbicide use.  
 
 "Similarly,because public sentiment generally perpetuates the view that any timber harvest is good for deer, management objectives or regulations that would benefit deer habitat are largely absent from forest management. An emphasis on deer habitat conservation and improvement should be incorporated into all forms of land use planning activities." (MDWG report page 39
 
So what is the take home message here?  I think the core message—if you are concerned about black-tailed deer (and elk too)—is to be very, very wary of any legislative proposals that turn large portions of the O&C lands over to anything approaching commercial-style management without express consideration and mitigation of the impacts of large clearcuts, herbicide use, and restocking densities. Moreover, if these schemes do not include well-defined mechanisms to increase understory production and dedicate significant stands within these logging areas to longer rotations through a system of distributed stands with old-growth characteristics then, from a black-tailed deer perspective, they should be questioned or opposed.  
 
In all of this I would also urge folks to be cautious of sportsmen’s groups arguing that black-tail deer declines are the result of the spotted owl or the resultant Northwest Forest Plan–they clearly have not looked at the issue long term.  Similarly, groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that seem to walk in locked step with the timber industry or claim that the problem is a lack of clearcutting need to spend a little time in the literature.  For just as hunting is not always conservation, in spite of claims to the contrary, timber management is not usually done for the benefit of wildlife–quite the opposite is true.  
 
Aug07

Hard Slog Ahead as US Seeks Breakthrough in Timber War

E&E News by Phil Taylor

ROSEBURG, Ore. — On a mist-veiled mountain in western Oregon, pink ribbons mark Douglas fir trees that federal officials hope will revive the area's teetering timber industry and potentially spark a biological renaissance.

The Bureau of Land Management this summer plans to begin selling more than 8 million board feet of lumber across 285 acres. The project, albeit small by historical standards, hopes to shift the paradigm in Pacific Northwest forestry.

The Northwest Forest Plan may have saved the northern spotted owl from old-growth logging, but it couldn’t anticipate a growing threat from the owl's eastern neighbor. Meanwhile, timber-dependent counties in western Oregon are approaching a fiscal cliff as federal aid nears its end. Counties want more logs, but environmentalists want protection for owls. E&E explores the confluence of wildlife, the economy and politics in western Oregon.

The Myrtle Creek project is part of a broader Obama administration push to restore western Oregon forests, boost supplies for local mills and revive funding for cash-strapped counties.

The sale is one of three "ecological forestry" pilots that seek a middle ground between light-on-the-land thinnings and the industrial clear cuts BLM abandoned decades ago.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this year announced BLM will pursue a handful of additional ecological forestry projects, and the Forest Service, which manages most Pacific Northwest forests, may also follow suit.

Officials are cautiously optimistic the projects will break through the appeals, lawsuits and court battles that have hung over these forests for decades.

The pilot hopes to appease environmentalists who have opposed harvesting old-growth or virgin stands and a timber industry clamoring for bigger logs.

So far, nobody's satisfied.

"They purposefully picked something politically contentious," said Paul Henson, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Oregon office in Portland.

"They're older trees that haven't suffered from previous entry," he added. "It's a test."

Environmentalists have so far opposed the pilots, arguing that they would allow clear-cutting that would stunt the development of old-growth habitat important to northern spotted owls and endangered sea birds and coho salmon.

"It's our next best spotted owl mature forest habitat," said Francis Eatherington, conservation director for the Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands, which in July filed an appeal to halt the Myrtle Creek sale and has filed a separate appeal challenging the agency's Coos Bay pilot.

Meanwhile, the timber industry argues that the pilots, while an improvement over tree thinnings, fall short of BLM's statutory mandate to provide maximum sustained logging on its forested lands.

"We wish we could believe the promises of Secretary Salazar and this administration when it comes to providing a sustainable level of timber, but their track record over the past three years has been abysmal," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council.

"We are offered nothing more than more planning, process and empty promises while the forests of Oregon and the communities that depend on them suffer."

The Portland-based group is separately suing BLM in a federal district court in Washington, D.C., claiming the agency is failing to sell at least a half-billion board feet of lumber annually, as called for in the Western Oregon Plan Revisions and mandated under the 1937 O&C Lands Act.

So much for breaking through the protests and lawsuits.

Abe Wheeler, a BLM forester in his early 30s, said he's not surprised the Myrtle Creek sale has drawn fire from both sides.

On a cold, drizzly afternoon in May, Wheeler pointed to a 108-year-old stand of Douglas firs slated for harvest in the upcoming sale. Decades from now, the trees will be old enough to harbor owls and other old-growth-dependent species, conservationists argue.

"Environmentalists will say it's not old growth, but it will be, and it's older than the younger stands, so it will be sooner than them," Wheeler said. "And it's all true."

And while the trees are on "matrix" lands that the Northwest Forest Plan set aside for commercial timber sales, including clear cuts, some are on tracts that have never been harvested and which the Interior Department has proposed as critical habitat for the spotted owl.

In addition, the sale would allow "variable retention" regeneration harvests that call for certain areas to be clear-cut, a break from past BLM sales that has angered environmentalists.

But in contrast to private timber lands, where entire stands are slicked off to make room for future saplings, loggers at Myrtle Creek will be required to preserve roughly 40 percent of the trees, including pockets of old growth, dead snags and downed debris important to a variety of wildlife.

Wheeler pointed to a pair of Douglas fir trees whose tops were lopped off in a windstorm. While commercially valuable, the trees will be protected in order to provide nesting cavities for owls, other birds and rodents that favor rotting trunks.

"When the tops break, it allows fungus spores to get down into the top, and the rot begins working its way down the core," Wheeler said. "That's why they will be retained. They're ahead on the rot."

And unlike private timberlands that are quickly reseeded and sprayed with herbicides as soon as they're cut, the harvested lands in Myrtle Creek will be left largely unmanaged for the next few decades in order to allow the growth of sun-loving shrubs and fruit trees that will attract species such as songbirds, butterflies, deer and elk.

The "diverse early seral" habitat and the species it attracts have become scarce in the Pacific Northwest due in part to industrial logging and post-fire management, said Jerry Franklin, a professor from the University of Washington who designed the Myrtle Creek sale with Norm Johnson of Oregon State University.

"We're trying to create conditions for early seral vegetation, which is highly diverse — shrubs and nuts and seed and fruits," he said. Such diversity, he added, can be found along utility corridors or in the forestlands wiped clean by the eruption of Mount St. Helens. "We have stopped doing any harvests that make these kinds of openings."

He described the diversity of Oregon forests as a deformed upside-down bell curve: Diversity is high when the forest is young but plummets as the trees grow up, the canopy closes and the forest goes dark. Diversity returns as the forest turns to old growth, albeit only after hundreds of years.

New clear cuts?
Still, critics also argue that the pilots at Myrtle Creek and Coos Bay mark the first time in roughly a decade that BLM has allowed regeneration harvests, in which trees are intensely cut and seeds are planted to begin the next crop.

In contrast, restoration thinning projects, which environmentalists across the West have broadly supported, remove a smaller number of younger trees to allow surrounding stands to grow faster, accelerating the creation of old growth.

O&C lands: a primer
The O&C lands are a checkerboard of timber-rich federal tracts that run along Oregon's Coast and Cascade ranges from Portland to the California line.     

The lands in the mid-1800s were given to the Oregon and California Railroad in return for an agreement to build a line from Portland to San Francisco and to sell the lands to settlers in 160-acre tracts for $2.50 per acre.

While the rail line was built, the company failed to sell the tracts as promised, prompting Congress in 1916 to reclaim the title to about 2.9 million acres.

In 1937, Congress passed the O&C Lands Act, which directed the Bureau of Land Management to manage the timberlands "for permanent forest production," while also protecting watersheds, providing recreation facilities and supporting local economic stability. It also dedicated 75 percent of revenues from O&C forests to the 18 surrounding counties. Today, counties receive half of all O&C revenues.

Historically, the timber payments made up a significant portion of revenue for county governments, which were free to use them as they saw fit. As a consequence, Oregon's O&C counties to this day have some of the lowest property tax rates in the country.

The law initially required at least half a billion board feet of timber be cut annually. But harvest goals fluctuated wildly, rising to 1.2 billion board feet in 1983 before plummeting to 211 million board feet a decade later with passage of the Northwest Forest Plan to protect northern spotted owls and other wildlife.

The George W. Bush administration in 2008 proposed "Western Oregon Plan Revisions" allowing roughly 500 million board feet to be harvested annually, but the plans were scuttled by the Obama administration, which argued they were legally deficient. BLM earlier this year initiated a new multiyear planning process that will reassess harvest goals, while announcing timber pilots seeking a modest increase in logs.

The O&C counties have a lot at stake. While Congress for a decade has authorized the Secure Rural Schools program to compensate counties for the loss of timber revenues, the program is politically unpopular and is set to expire at the end of September. Over the past four years alone, rural schools payments for O&C counties dropped by nearly two-thirds, causing significant fiscal pain.

With timber sales unlikely to return to historical levels, some are proposing that management of O&C lands be transferred to a state trust, where federal laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act would be relaxed. Environmental groups, meanwhile, say counties and the state should raise taxes to help plug the gap, a proposal that voters have already rejected.

Long-term solutions are unlikely to emerge until at least the next Congress.

— Phil Taylor

Eatherington, who worked as a timber stand contractor before joining the environmental movement in the 1990s, said thinning projects have provided more than enough timber for BLM's Coos Bay district to exceed harvest targets over the past several years, and the Roseburg district came close to its target. Almost none of those sales has been appealed, she said.

"They made up this excuse that they need to break through gridlock," Eatherington said of BLM, an agency she worked for in the 1970s planting seedlings after clear cuts. "What's interesting is there's been no gridlock until right now."

Moreover, there's no scientific justification to return to regeneration harvests, she said. Early seral habitat is abundant on the private lands that pepper roughly half of BLM's checkerboarded O&C lands, she said.

Franklin and BLM dispute that point, arguing that private timberlands are intensely sprayed with herbicides and quickly replanted before early seral habitat can thrive.

Even so, Eatherington said, the agency has not made the case that species need more grass and shrub lands to survive.

"If the BLM could point out a moth, a butterfly that was in need of more habitat, and they provided that habitat and could show that they saved this moth or butterfly, then they might bring me along," Eatherington said. "But they can't, they can't point to one species that is endangered."

Fire suppression, which planners cite as a cause of diminishing early seral habitats, has had a negligible impact in the moist forests of Oregon's Coast Range, where fires are naturally less frequent, she said.

Environmental groups say BLM and the Forest Service could increase timber harvests 44 percent in the Pacific Northwest by expanding the use of "ecologically appropriate" thinning of mostly small-diameter trees in degraded forests.

But BLM officials and Franklin warn the agency is running out of forests to thin.

"One of the reasons the pilots are so important is we're doing more thinning than what is sustainable under the O&C Act," said Jeff Davis, a forest manager for BLM's Coos Bay district, who estimated the agency has 15 to 25 years of thinning left.

Over the past seven years, the district has thinned several times as many trees as what is called for in its resource management plan, Davis said. The status quo, he said, could irrevocably harm the agency's ability to meet future harvest goals.

"The Northwest Forest Plan calls for a certain amount of regeneration harvests, and we haven't done that in 10 years," Davis said. "Under the O&C Act, we made a commitment to the counties in Oregon that we would harvest timber and provide them some receipts."

Counties' financial misery
Western Oregon counties still reel from the loss of federal timber revenues that began in the 1990s when protections were granted to the spotted owl and other old-growth species across millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and northern California.

For the past decade, the 18 counties surrounding BLM's 2.4 million acres of O&C lands have relied on federal payments from the Secure Rural Schools program, which, while recently extended by Congress, continues to decline and is set to expire again at the end of September. Counties received just under $40 million from last year's payment, which is about one-third what they received four years ago.

And although nobody expects ecological forestry to match the revenues from Oregon's timber heyday — in which a majority of the state's old growth was liquidated — the pilots hope to provide a more sustainable revenue source in the absence of federal aid. Counties receive half of all revenues generated on O&C lands.

Amid the uncertainty, counties have already taken drastic steps.

Josephine County earlier this year released 39 inmates from its jail after voters rejected a $12 million tax increase to plug a shortfall caused in part by expired timber payments. Lane County late last month followed suit, releasing 96 of its prisoners and laying off 40 law enforcement personnel to cut costs.

Doug Robertson, a commissioner in Douglas County, which received about $10 million in rural schools payments in January, said other counties may not be far behind.

"The counties are mailing their keys back to the state," he said.

Although the pilots offer more trees — and potentially more profits — per acre than thinning projects, the harvests still fall short of what is envisioned under the Northwest Forest Plan, said Andy Geissler, western Oregon field forester for the American Forest Resource Council.

"We had these land use allocations, and timber was really put near the bottom of the list," he said of a Clinton administration plan that designated 13 percent of the federal forests for timber production and reduced overall harvests by more than three-fourths. "There was a huge compromise."

But neither BLM nor the Forest Service met its harvest goals, in large part because of lawsuits from environmentalists.

"Our problem is that compromise wasn't good enough, and [environmentalists] want more compromise," said Geissler, 32, a Long Island, N.Y., native who worked for Washington's Department of Natural Resources before joining AFRC. "That's why we try to stand firm on these sales, because we feel like the compromise was already made."

Requiring loggers to leave behind many of the valuable trees at Coos Bay and Myrtle Creek will increase costs for timber companies that already pay for road construction, hauling and environmental remediation, he said.

"Every board foot helps out, because these sales are extremely marginal," he said during a tour of timber operations in the Coos Bay district, where the smell of diesel and pine permeated the air.

Leaving forests in their natural state for 30 years, as the pilots propose, also means it will take much longer to produce the next harvestable stand.

"Instead of cutting the trees, regenerating and planting 400 trees per acre, which is kind of the standard, they're planting maybe 150 and encouraging that land to stay in brush, vine, maple, you know, salal, elderberry, all these brush species for a good 20 to 30 years," he said.

Will the logjam break?
While Salazar has touted the success of BLM's inaugural pilot south of Medford — a thinning project that sold for three times its appraised value and drew no appeals or lawsuits — the Coos Bay and Myrtle Creek pilots have drawn sharper scrutiny, casting doubt on whether the pilots will win over their most important constituents.

Salazar and others appear confident they will. Franklin, for one, said he and Johnson earlier this summer presented their ecological forestry model to the Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington, where timber sales have also significantly dropped.

"They're keeping a very low profile, trying to avoid controversy," Franklin said of the Forest Service. "But I think several forests are interested in trying this sort of thing."

The biggest legal test may be at Myrtle Creek, which faces heightened scrutiny because it is located among the roughly 10 million acres of lands the Obama administration has proposed as critical habitat for the spotted owl.

By the law's strict definition, critical habitat cannot be adversely modified. The Fish and Wildlife Service, however, has said such harvests are compatible with the owl's recovery plan.

While not expected to benefit the owl immediately — critics suspect it may even kill a few of the birds — the Myrtle Creek project will gird the forest against future threats, particularly wildfires and insect epidemics, officials say.

But the courts may have the final say.

"I have a hard time believing regeneration harvests would be able to take place in critical habitat," Geissler said.

Robertson, the commissioner from Douglas County where the Myrtle Creek sale is located, said he supports the pilots but doesn't believe they will pass legal muster.

"It can't be replicated across the landscape because of the environmental community saying, 'We have a way to stop this,'" he said.

"Unless you get these lands out from under the labyrinth of federal rules, restrictions, regulations and requirements, they can't be managed for their stated purposes," he added. "They just can't."

BLM's Davis expressed similar doubts, suggesting that environmental groups in the state appear unwilling to allow regeneration harvests to move forward on any federal lands.

"Saying there's some common ground we can compromise with, I'm not sure until you get a legislative fix," he said as the buzz of chain saws and the crackle of falling timber echoed through the forest. "People have certain values they're really not willing to compromise."

Environmentalists, meanwhile, say they supported the Medford thinning project but were shut out of the discussion over other pilots. The return to regeneration harvests — or clear cuts, depending on whom you ask — appeared to be a foregone conclusion, they say.

"The pilot process appeared to involve early involvement by a subset of stakeholders who drove the process toward certain outcomes (such as clearcutting) before the public was given a chance to influence these decisions," said a letter to BLM last summer from Oregon Wild, one of the state's largest environmental groups. "Regeneration harvest (aka clearcutting) of mature forests would likely not be on the top of the public's list of priorities."

In spite of the controversy, the success, or failure, of the pilots could be a bellwether for the future management of Pacific Northwest forests, where BLM and the Forest Service will soon revise management plans that govern timber sales across tens of millions of acres.

It could also help determine the fate of a controversial proposal by Oregon congressmen to transfer management of about 1.5 million acres of O&C lands to a state-appointed timber trust, exempting them from bedrock environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act consultations. The other half of the lands would be managed primarily for conservation.

The proposal, which is rooted in decades of frustration over the management of federal forests, could come to the fore in the next Congress if the pilots fail and alternative solutions are not found.

"If you can't practice light-touch, scientifically based modern forestry working with the most prominent forest ecologists in the Northwest, if not the world, then it certainly does beg the question of whether [environmentalists] are hard and fast at zero cut," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who authored the draft O&C bill with Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "We're going to have to look for an alternative."

While yet to be formally introduced, the proposal has drawn the support of Robertson and AFRC but is strongly opposed by environmentalists.

Geissler said the proposal would resolve decades of conflicts.

"We can't play together," he said of his industry and environmental groups, "so we have to be separated."

    
 

 

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