Ashland Council opposes BLM logging increase

The Ashland City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing a Bureau of Land Management proposal to boost logging on land it controls throughout Oregon.

The vote earlier this week came after the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, also known as KS Wild, told councilors the BLM plan would increase old-growth logging, reduce wildlife and stream protections and worsen the risk of wildfire.

The BLM began work on its Western Oregon Plan Revisions in response to a lawsuit charging it is not living up to the requirements of the 1937 OC Act.

That act requires BLM lands to be managed for a sustained harvest of timber to economically benefit local communities.

Counties share 50 percent of logging revenues, but logging levels fell after passage of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act in 2000 to provide payments in lieu of timber funding for counties.

That act expired in 2007, although Congress has given counties a temporary extension of limited funding.

The lack of funding led to the closure of libraries throughout Jackson County for much of last year and cuts in other services. Libraries remain closed in Josephine County, and funding for the Sheriff's Department and jail has been substantially reduced.

Projections questioned

None of the alternatives in the BLM's Western Oregon Plan Revisions would provide enough money to fully cover lost revenues to counties. But the BLM's preferred alternative would provide 94 percent of past payments, according to a BLM Web site.

Michael Campbell, a spokesman in the BLM's Portland office, said 18 counties in Western Oregon share $115 million from Secure Rural Schools Act payments. That amount will dwindle to $8 to $10 million if the act is not renewed and counties have to rely only on revenue sharing from current logging levels.

To meet OC Act requirements to provide funding for counties, the BLM has to increase logging. The agency can't generate enough money just off small-diameter tree logging, Campbell said.

"We can't generate receipts focusing solely on one type of timber production. Some of the timber that would be harvested under WOPR includes older trees," he said.

Stephanie Tidwell, executive director for KS Wild, said with the slowing economy and drop-off in construction activity, the BLM's timber harvest projections under WOPR are not accurate. The BLM also hasn't factored in the likelihood that conservation groups like KS Wild will appeal logging projects.

Rather than focusing on clearcuts and old-growth logging, the BLM should plan logging projects that target small-diameter trees, she said.

Forest Service a model?

Tidwell said the U.S. Forest Service has changed its old logging practices and now is rarely challenged by KS Wild. After years of falling short on harvest goals under the Northwest Forest Plan, the Forest Service is now meeting its targets.

"The Forest Service in recent years &

partly because of our advocacy &

has begun to focus on small-diameter logging, areas that have previously been logged and areas affected by fire suppression," Tidwell said.

She said the BLM has not made that shift.

"The BLM remains mired in an unsustainable past. We often find we support Forest Service projects while we're in court with the BLM," she said. "We think there's an opportunity for the BLM to have sustained logging."

Campbell said the Forest Service is not under the same 1937 OC Act mandate to provide steady timber harvests and share receipts with counties.

He said there have been cases where the BLM did focus on thinning but still got challenged in court. He pointed to the 500-acre "Annie's Cabin" thinning project near Salem, where the BLM worked with conservation groups and even agreed to light-touch helicopter logging.

"We still got appealed and litigated in court," he said.

In late 2007, the Grants Pass Daily Courier reported that 42 of 60 BLM Medford District timber sales have been litigated in the past seven years, with KS Wild involved in about 90 percent of those litigated cases.

The district's harvest was only 2.6 million board feet for the 2007 fiscal year, less than 5 percent of the amount allowed under the Northwest Forest Plan.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest sold 50 million board feet that year with no lawsuits, the newspaper reported.

BLM Medford District natural resources staffer Bill Freeland told the Daily Courier that if the district cut only trees that are 20 inches in diameter or less to hit the Northwest Forest Plan target of 57 million board feet per year, it would run out of those small-diameter trees in three years.

County voices concerns

Meanwhile, some county commissioners in the state are supporting the BLM's Western Oregon Plan Revisions in the belief that a new plan would alleviate the rural funding crisis.

Jackson County formed the Jackson County WOPR Core Group to review the draft plan.

In a January letter to the BLM, Jackson County Commissioner C. W. Smith, a Republican, said the group contained a diverse mix of stakeholders and experts.

All members agreed to a list of recommendations and agreed that none of the plan options developed by the BLM were acceptable.

"The management plan should promote the supply and utilization of small-diameter trees and biomass with the goal of economic viability," the group said in its report.

The group said the BLM's plan needs to reflect that there is greater wildfire hazard in southwest Oregon than in other parts of the state. The plan should focus more on logging that would reduce wildfire risk.

The group said the plan should rely more on forest thinning and partial cuts.

"A sustainable, predictable BLM timber harvest is important to job creation, county revenues and continued private sector investment in mill infrastructure," the group reported. "The ASQ (Allowable Sales Quantity) can be increased from present levels with sustained yield while still meeting other objectives such as fire resiliency and forest health."

The Jackson County group included foresters, a biologist, a firefighter, a Medford Water Commissioner and members of conservation groups.

The BLM hopes to release a final Environmental Impact Statement on the forest management changes this fall.

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