Logging proposed near Crater Lake National Park sparks a timber wars reprise
A logging proposal just outside Crater Lake National Park has reignited the Northwest's logging wars in miniature, pitting timber groups anxious for jobs against environmentalists who have gathered 10,000 comments in opposition
The U.S. Forest Service's proposed Bybee timber sale covers 16,215-acres, running up to the western border of Oregon's only national park.
A coalition of Oregon environmental groups has lined up against the project. The sale would cut 300- to 400-year-old trees, said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
It would run new logging roads into fingers of forest last logged more than 60 years ago, Sexton said, effectively functioning as wilderness in one of Oregon's highest-value recreation areas.
In recent years, environmental groups have agreed to two similarly sized thinning projects in southern Oregon's national forests, in part to help reduce fire risk.
But the Bybee proposal goes well beyond thinning of young trees, Sexton said, with trees up to 4 feet in diameter on the potential cut list.
"I'm worried that it will re-open that Pandora's box, back to where we either file a lawsuit or see logging of all the old-growth adjacent to the park," he said. "This is going back to a model that wasn't working for anybody."
Timber groups say the cut is primarily thinning and invisible from Crater Lake's rim. It would both improve tree health in the crowded forests and support southern Oregon mills desperate for more wood, said Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.
Annual growth in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is outpacing the annual cut by at least 10 times, Schott said. And the logging would fall in so-called "matrix lands" designated for more logging under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which was adopted after the northern spotted owl came under the Endangered Species Act.
The Bybee proposal "plays right into what (environmental groups) have been asking for," Schott said. "It's not like they're going to cut down every old, big tree there is. Nobody in the agencies is proposing big clear cuts anymore."
Bybee would produce up to 45 million board feet of new timber from 3,600 acres of forest in the High Cascades Ranger District, mostly logged by tractor or other ground-based equipment, and include up to 13 miles of new roads.
The logging will increase fire, insect and disease resistance, the Forest Service says, increase tree diversity and boost the vigor of the remaining trees.
National forests in southern Oregon's relatively dry section of the Cascades are getting overcrowded, Schott said, with more trees competing for water and nutrients.
"We have more and more stems and weaker and weaker forests," he said.
The Forest Service says clear cuts would be limited to three-quarter acre patches that "would blend with the vegetation in Crater Lake National Park," which has openings from past wildfires and other natural processes. In the long run, the service says, it will create more natural appearing stands adjacent to the park.
The Forest Service also notes loggers will not enter old-growth forests as defined by the Northwest Forest Plan. That definition includes roughly 200-year-old trees, lots of species, large snags and heavy accumulations of large logs on the ground.
Environmental groups see that as doublespeak.
Planned thinning and so-called "overstory removal" to free up the forest undergrowth won't distinguish between older and younger trees, said Charlie Fisher, a field organizer with Environment Oregon.
"We're trying to prevent piece-by-piece destruction of some of the last remaining old growth," Fisher said.
Environmental groups also argue that ground-based logging will damage already vulnerable soil in the headwaters of the Rogue River, increasing sediment runoff that muddies streams. And the Forest Service hasn't disclosed the precise locations of new roads, making its assessment of environmental impacts incomplete.
The service could reduce fire and cut insects and disease by concentrating on thinning white fir, a shade tolerant species that can help fuel fires, following up with prescribed burns, Sexton said.
Environmental groups have also pitched a new, 500,000-acre federal wilderness in and around the park to improve habitat for species such as Roosevelt elk, black bear and bald eagles. Logging and road building could jeopardize that proposal, they say.
Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands have also challenged the proposed D-Bug sale north of the park, which includes 16 million board feet and nearly four miles of temporary roads.
The public comment period on the environmental assessment for the Bybee sale ends Thursday. The Forest Service can pick one of the logging options laid out in the assessment or choose to do a more exhaustive environmental impact statement.