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Groups want to protect old growth trees in Glendale timber sales

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
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GLENDALE — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plans to log some 3,000 acres of Medford District timberlands on both sides of Interstate 5 just north of Glendale has drawn fire from the environmental community.

Opponents to the Westside Project in the Glendale Resource Area say it focuses on old-growth timber at a time when most public land managers in the West are concentrating on small-diameter harvests near rural communities to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

But BLM officials counter that the area has been identified under the 1994 Northwest Forest plan guidelines as "matrix," meaning it is to be used for the purpose of growing and harvesting timber. They are also quick to observe the project will include a variety of logging methods, from thinning to regeneration harvests.

Two timber sales contained in the project will be offered in auction on Sept. 21. They include the nearly 14-million-board-foot Chew Choo timber sale on 421 acres and the nearly 2.5-million-board-foot Caboose sale on 353 acres. The average diameter at chest height of trees to be harvested on the Chew Choo is two feet; the average on the Caboose is 14 inches.

Two other timber sales will be offered in fiscal year 2007 that begins Oct. 1.

George Sexton, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said the group isn't opposed to all logging, just logging the large trees.

"The vast majority of these acres contain straight-up classic old growth," Sexton said. "These are giant Doug firs that are not only older than the BLM, but our country.

"This is the type of forestry that was in vogue in the '70s," he added. "These are 300 and 400-year-old Doug firs."

The center, along with other concerned groups, sent a 44-page comment to the agency outlining what it sees as problems with the project. Other groups signing the document included the Cascadia Wildlands Project, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Siskiyou Regional Education Project and Umpqua Watershed.

"This is certainly headed to litigation," Sexton said. "It's a shame. We'd like to see something a little more democratic. Close to 80 percent of Oregonians believe that what little old growth remains on public land should be retained."

Some of the larger trees that will be cut are more than 70 inches in diameter at chest height, he said.

"We would like to see a more sustainable timber program," he said, noting a 1991 inventory of federal forestlands in Southwest Oregon revealed there were at least 6 billion board feet of timber 12 inches in diameter or less that could be cut.

"Cutting those trees would provide jobs, a sustainable supply of wood fiber, reduce the fire danger and be non-controversial," he said.

Katrina Symons, a forester who has been the field manager for the Medford District's Glendale Resource Area for the past two years, acknowledged the project may be controversial in some circles but that its goal includes much of what Sexton outlined.

"Instead of going for project specific timber sales, hazardous fuels treatments or riparian thinning, I wanted to transition us over to a landscape approach so we could have better cumulative effects," she said of the project.

"The Westside Project is really the first big attempt in this resource area in analyzing a host of forest management actions at a watershed scale," she added.

It includes timber sales, hazardous fuels treatment and road decommissioning as well as road building, she said.

The alternative the agency created following a comment period earlier this year would treat 3,009 acres, including using commercial thinning, overstory removal and regeneration harvest. Another 988 acres will include fuel reduction work, she added.

The larger Chew Choo sale would involve a regeneration harvest that calls for leaving six to eight large trees per acre, although they typically leave one to two additional trees for wildlife cavity nests, she said.

"That is truly the matrix older stand removal," she said, noting the district resource management plan does call for removal of stands greater than 100 years old in the matrix areas.

The stands marked for regeneration harvests include trees that are 100 years old or older, she said.

"From George Sexton's standpoint, anything greater than 80 years old is considered old growth," she said. "From the federal government's standpoint, you don't get old-growth until you hit 250, 300 years old."

She disagrees with project opponents that it will result in increased fire risk. The slash produced by the logging will be burned within a year, she said.

"But this area is for timber production," she said, reiterating. "Matrix lands are for timber production."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com

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