Salvage logging in full swing in private forests

GLENDALE — Salvage logging on land burned by last summer's Douglas Complex wildfire in southwestern Oregon is in full swing in privately owned forests, but not in federal ones.

Roseburg Forest Products has cut 8 million board feet of timber from its lands outside Glendale and plans to cut 32 million board feet more, the News-Review reported. One million board feet is roughly enough to build 50 homes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is still deep in the planning process and has no firm timber targets for the public land.

The difference highlights the contrast between industrial logging under the Oregon Forest Practices Act and logging on public land that must conform to federal environmental laws.

Phil Adams, timber manager for Roseburg Forest Products, said the company wants to harvest dead trees quickly before they lose value from rot. He is afraid that burned timber on BLM lands will turn into brush and stands of dead trees unless they are aggressively managed.

The company plans to spend $6 million planting seedlings and doing other restoration on 8,000 acres. He said that investment would be at risk if fire breaks out in the dead trees on BLM land.

The Douglas Complex fire burned 48,679 acres. Of that, 23,000 acres is private land held by 27 landowners. The rest is in the BLM's Roseburg and Medford districts. Most of the 19,000 acres in the Medford District is classified as matrix, where timber production is the primary goal. Most of the 6,000 acres in the Roseburg District is old growth forest reserve, where fish and wildlife habitat is the primary goal.

BLM Roseburg District spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said any salvage logging was likely to come from matrix lands. It would be late summer or fall before an environmental assessment is completed on those lands. Meanwhile, the old growth reserves are undergoing an assessment aimed at restoring fish and wildlife habitat and healthy forests.

The BLM has been working on removing logs cut in the course of fighting the fire, assessing and cutting trees along roads in danger of falling, and preventing erosion along fire lines and on steep slopes.

Federal environmental laws require participation of the public, which can create a lengthy planning process. Private timberland owners can start logging within 15 days of filing a plan with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Doug Heiken of the conservation group Oregon Wild said that while private timberlands are managed for profit, public timberlands are managed for habitat, clean water and economic benefit.

"Even dead trees provide life for a variety of wildlife," he said. The plan for recovering the threatened northern spotted owl says that when old growth forests providing habitat for owls burns, "the focus is on retaining things that take a long time to develop, such as large dead trees."

Conservation groups have been fighting salvage logging on public lands for decades.

In one significant case, a federal judge stopped the BLM from selling 23.4 million board feet of timber from 961 acres of old growth forest reserve burned by the 2002 Timbered Rock fire.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, saying the logging would violate the BLM's own management plans and a mandate to maintain and preserve old growth forest ecosystems, including trees killed by fire.

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