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Siskiyou among "endangered" forests

By by PARIS ACHEN
Mail Tribune
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The Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are among the top 10 endangered forests on federal lands, according to a national environmental coalition.

According to the report released Wednesday by the 135-member National Forest Protection Alliance, the Siskiyou National Forest is threatened by salvage logging of old trees and pristine, roadless areas burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire.

The Medford District of the BLM, among four BLM districts listed as one forest, faces environmental harm from the logging of old trees, the report states.

"This report illustrates the tug-of-war between those in the government and the Forest Service who continue to manage forests for private gain and those who want to manage public lands for the public," said Jake Kreilick, the alliance’s endangered project coordinator.

Officials with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (the two forests were combined administratively in 2004) and the Medford District of the BLM defended their management of the forests, saying they have done their part to maintain forest health while harvesting timber for the good of the economy.

In the report — titled "America’s Endangered National Forests: Lumber, Landfill or Living Legacy?" — Oregon led the nation in the number of at-risk national forests. The Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon also made the endangered list. The Umpqua National Forest in southwestern Oregon was put in the lesser category of threatened.

The goal of the report is to bring attention to forests facing environmental harm and encourage corporate and individual consumers to avoid buying timber products harvested from public lands, said Jeanette Russell, the alliance’s grassroots coordinator.

This year was the first time the Missoula, Mont.-based environmental coalition deemed the Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District of the BLM as endangered.

The Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres largely in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. A U.S. Forest Service plan to log 370 million board feet of fire-killed trees would increase the risk of fire, erosion and the spread of invasive weeds, the authors assert.

Patty Burel, spokeswoman for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said the agency follows all environmental laws.

"We are equally concerned with achieving a balance in forest management: restoring fish and wildlife habitat, producing forest products for markets and contributing to healthier communities," Burel said.

Karen Gillespie, spokeswoman for the Medford District of the BLM, disputed the report’s claim that the agency had clear-cut nearly 110,000 acres of trees in the last five years.

Gillespie said the BLM stopped clear-cutting in 1994. At least six trees are left on every harvested acre and more often, more are preserved, she said.

She said some old trees are harvested. "We understand there are some who do not support cutting larger, older trees, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t managing healthy forest ecosystems," Gillespie said.

The report was compiled through nominations by grassroots environmental groups, including Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Cave Junction-based Siskiyou Project. Staff from the National Forest Protection Alliance selected the endangered forests according to the number of threats and the scale of those threats based on nine criteria. They included water quality, number of roads per square mile, timber harvest volume, forest health, remaining old-growth and roadless areas, endangered species, economics and invasive species.

"We don’t look at all 155 national forests," Kreilick said. "In that sense, it’s not comprehensive, but we required a significant amount of work from the groups on the ground, citing evidence we could verify."

The annual report began in 2001 to give local environmental groups a chance to report what was happening in their respective forests, Russell said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4496 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

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