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Scattered Apples settlement restricts logging

By By PARIS ACHEN
Mail Tribune
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Nearly 25 percent of the Scattered Apples timber sale in Williams will not be logged under a legal settlement between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Williams residents and a conservation group.

Approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene, the agreement canceled logging on 152 acres, leaving in place mature trees home to old-growth species, such as the northern spotted owl.

"We believe we developed a much better project than what was in place," said Lesley Adams, outreach coordinator for Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, one of the plaintiffs. The settlement "is a great example of the BLM working with conservationists and the community to come up with a plan everyone can support."

The agreement ended a seven-month legal mediation between the BLM Medford District and the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs sued the BLM in February 2004, claiming the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act during the environmental assessment of the timber sale.

They also challenged the agency’s rejection of a community alternative for the project that would have set a 12-inch diameter limit for trees and focused on restoration activities, such as thinning and stabilizing stream banks.

Hogan ruled last December that the BLM had failed to satisfy the law’s requirement to consider the project’s impact on spotted owls and their habitat, soils, water, fisheries and aesthetics.

He ordered a legal mediation between the two sides at the request of the plaintiffs. The mediation began last April.

"The BLM could have always moved forward with another timber sale, so we felt the best way to approach the timber sale was to stay out of the most precious areas in the Williams (Creek) watershed," said Joseph Vaile, a biologist with the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

The agreement calls for leaving at least 60 percent tree canopy on the remaining 471 acres in the project. That will mean saving some of the oldest, largest trees marked for harvest, said Abbie Jossie, Grants Pass field manager for the BLM Medford District. The BLM biologist and forester will collaborate with the plaintiffs in selecting which trees will be saved, she said.

"That’s where there still may be some disagreement there on the ground, but everyone agrees that’s the way to retain the largest trees," she said.

The settlement sets a six- to-18-month timeline for removing slash after logging. There is also a provision for community oversight.

"The plaintiffs can ride along with the contract administrators during the logging activity, and we agreed to provide the opportunity for them to come visit the post-harvested units and provide a monthly summary of the activities in the community newsletter," Jossie said.

A committee made up of representatives from the local, county, state and federal governments, landowners, community members, interest groups and the Williams Creek Watershed Council will be formed to serve as a liaison to the BLM. The extent of the committee’s involvement in BLM projects in the Williams watershed has not yet been determined, Jossie said.

"The goal is to improve communication in the valley and work together on the project," she said.

Williams resident Spencer Lennard said the new project is better than the original but will still cause problems in the watershed.

"It’s still ecologically destructive, increases fire risk, stresses out (wildlife) and costs taxpayers money but all to a lesser degree," Lennard said. "It’s not a restoration project."

BLM officials have repeatedly stated the bulk of the timber sale has focused on commercial thinning to reduce the fire risk and improve forest health.

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

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