BLM denies protest of Grizzly Peak logging plan

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Tuesday denied a protest filed by four environmental groups against a plan to harvest about 2.5 million board feet of timber from the slopes of Grizzly Peak and portions of the Little Butte Creek watershed.

The agency has yet to issue a decision regarding two additional protests filed by residents in the area who are concerned about log-truck traffic, said Kristi Mastrofini, natural resource staff administrator for the BLM Medford District.

Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Rogue Riverkeeper, as well as Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, both of Eugene, filed the administrative protest on Dec. 5 against the Rio Climax Forest Management Project and the BLM's findings that no significant environmental impact would arise from the logging.

Their primary concern is construction of new logging roads and harvesting of some trees larger than 30 inches in diameter, said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, which led the protest.

The four organizations have not had an opportunity to review or discuss the BLM's decision, said Sexton.

"It's something we're going to take a real close look at," he said. "If the BLM is just dead-set on punching more logging roads in there, we'll probably try to get them to follow the law."

Sexton said the agency's 1997 Little Butte Creek Watershed analysis states there is already a high density of logging roads in the watershed.

He said constructing new roads will only add to the negative impacts past road building has had on streams in the watershed, which are tributaries to the middle Rogue River and host annual salmon runs.

If the project is given the go-ahead, a currently barricaded section of road a few hundred yards long extending off the parking lot of the Grizzly Peak trailhead would be opened for yarding and hauling logs off the hillside.

Log trucks will have a 10 mph speed limit in the area of the parking lot, according to the BLM's decision.

To move the logs from the woods, the plan calls for the construction of about one-and-a-half miles of permanent road, and less than a half-mile of temporary road.

The protest decision letter from John Gerritsma, field manager of the Ashland Resource Area for the Medford BLM, said the "Rio Climax Project includes Project Design Features and Best Management Practices designed to maintain and protect aquatic and riparian habitat at the drainage and watershed scales."

None of the three sales has been awarded because of the two pending protests, which should be addressed within the next few weeks, said Mastrofini, but they have all been sold.

Rio Power, with about 633,000 board feet of timber, was bought by Farmer Logging of Talent for $38,497.

Rio Rumble, with about 1.152 million board feet of timber, was purchased by Rough & Ready Lumber Co. of Cave Junction for $86,727.

Rio Sag, with about 797,000 board feet, was purchased by Greg E. Liles Logging of Medford for about $37,000.

About 17,550 trees total will be cut down and hauled to mills, Mastrofini said; of those, about 174 are more than 30 inches in diameter at breast height.

Most of the larger trees being cut throughout the units are Douglas fir infested with mistletoe, Mastrofini said. Some are being taken down to make room for mature ponderosa pine trees to continue developing, she said.

The project encompasses about 857 acres for harvest unit logging. Only about 475 acres of that are being commercially logged, Mastrofini said. The focus for the remaining acreage is stewardship contracting for fuels treatment, and will include thinning and harvesting some marketable logs to help offset the cost of fuels reduction.

Sexton said he isn't certain whether the groups will file an administrative appeal against the project until the protest decision is thoroughly read and discussed. That appeal would have to be filed within the next 30 days with the BLM's Interior Board of Land Appeals.

"Sometimes we have a lot better things to do than spend our time filing a useless appeal," said Sexton. "We knew that it was pretty unlikely that the BLM was going to seek to compromise or collaboration."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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