BLM announces Ore. timber plan

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to offer up to 230 million board feet of timber in Western Oregon this fiscal year as part of an interim plan to replace a withdrawn Bush administration timber harvest plan.

That includes offering 21.1 million board feet of timber in the BLM's Medford District in the coming year, generally reflecting what has been offered in the district each year for the past three years. However, the district's annual harvest goal is more than twice that — 46.7 million board feet.

The current federal fiscal year began Oct. 1.

In announcing what he described as a short-term plan to replace the Western Oregon Plan Revision — known as the WOPR — during a teleconference Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the timber will help keep Oregon mills open while a long-term forest plan is completed.

"In these tough economic times, we must do all we can to provide certainty for Western Oregon timber mills and communities while conserving our land, water, and wildlife," Salazar said.

Developed during the Bush administration, the WOPR was withdrawn by the Obama administration in July because it failed to adequately complete required Endangered Species Act consultation. The WOPR would have allowed some 502 million board feet of timber to be sold in the region. From 2005 through 2008, the BLM has offered an average 206 million board feet a year in Western Oregon.

Salazar said he is appointing a special task force to come up with a draft long-term timber harvest plan for Western Oregon by March. Until that plan is completed, about 200 million board feet of timber would be offered each year in the region, he said.

He also announced that federal land management agencies in Oregon have formed interagency teams to jointly review potential and proposed timber sales.

Both U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, who participated in the teleconference, applauded the plan. Both agreed the plan protects the environmental while providing needed timber to rural communities.

"This is not pie in the sky promises which the Bush administration was great at," DeFazio said, adding the plan offers "real timber, not false promises."

Observing the region's forestry policy has been in gridlock for decades, Wyden said the plan is a new approach in which agencies are working together to find a solution.

"This is going to be different," Wyden said, adding, "There will be an accountability."

But Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland, wasn't so sure. For instance, she noted, the Medford District sales include regeneration as well as thinning sales.

"A regeneration harvest is a euphemism for a clearcut — that's not sustainable forestry," she said. "My understanding is that this is a laundry list of sales provided by the state (BLM) office. And we've still got the same Bush administration appointees running the office."

However, she noted that some of the thinning sales likely would not spark any controversy. The environmental group supports small-diameter thinning projects that provide timber while reducing the unnatural build-up in fire-suppressed woods, she said.

"We're encouraged the Obama administration is taking forestry issues in the Pacific Northwest seriously," she said. "We're encouraged that Fish and Wildlife (Service) is more committed to the protection of wildlife. But we are still experiencing the same kind of dishonesty we've come to expect from the BLM."

In Portland, Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry group, offered another view.

"Unless we are willing to address head-on the fact that there is a limited amount of timber available in the form of non-controversial plantation thinning and the current economic realities of thinning sales, what the secretary announced today won't get us where he wants to go," he said in an e-mail statement. He noted the amount to be harvested in the Medford District is less than half the district's annual harvest goal.

"Although we applaud Interior's desire to put together a timber sale program that will protect endangered species while producing timber for the local mills, the program announced today really just avoids the Endangered Species Act consultation issue," Partin said.

The short-term plan rests too much on plantation thinning, he said.

"This amounts to cherry picking to boost current harvest and fails to do what is needed to improve forest health and reduce fire hazard in the long term," he said, adding the region naturally produces 1.2 billion board feet annually.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed by the timber industry and a labor union, challenging the Obama administration's withdrawal of the WOPR.

In the teleconference, Salazar said 46 of the Western Oregon sales, totalling 199 million board feet, have passed endangered species consultations by the Fish and Wildlife Service, meaning they likely will not end up in court. Another 16 sales, totalling about 31 million board feet, have not yet been approved by the agency, he said.

For additional information on the BLM's short-term timber plan, see www.blm.gov/or.

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

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