Commission outlines its suggestions for BLM plan

It's official — Jackson County says the Bureau of Land Management's draft plan for managing its forest lands in Western Oregon needs more work.

The Board of Commissioners' formal comments on the plan encourage the BLM to consider the fire potential on Jackson and Josephine county forest land as it prepares its draft Western Oregon Plan Revision, a 1,600-page document that's come to be known as WOPR.

"The management plan should reflect the fact that there is more fire risk in the Medford District than elsewhere in the planning area," the commissioners wrote. They also encouraged BLM to "focus to a greater extent on linking timber harvest to the reduction of fire risk with the goal of improving the fire resiliency of the forest. ..."

The commissioners also said BLM should rely less on clear-cutting in the Medford District; promote the use of small-diameter trees; recognize the effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife; and determine riparian protection zones on a site-specific basis to protect water quality and fish habitat.

The course BLM chooses is important because it will define how forests are managed on one-fourth of Jackson County's total land base. BLM administers about 455,000 acres (25.2 percent) of Jackson County's 1.782 million acres, according to data analysis prepared by Jackson County.

The BLM land includes about 391,000 acres (610 square miles) of "O&C lands" that are supposed to be managed under a 1937 federal law to provide a steady source of income from timber for the 18 counties where those lands are situated.

The commissioners' comments emerged from a series of meetings that included members of the county's natural resources advisory committee and others with expertise in areas such as forestry, ecology and economics. An additional 80 people were invited to a Sept. 18 workshop to talk about their issues of concern, and 32 attended.

"BLM asked us to please include as much public input as possible to give the document validity," said Commissioner C. W. Smith.

A "core group" of 12 people met three times, focusing on the elements of the alternatives rather than the alternatives themselves, said Lin Bernhardt, Jackson County's natural resources manager. The core group eventually reached consensus on the language of the comments.

"We thought (the process) worked pretty well," said Paul Kangas, a forestry consultant who serves on the county natural resources committee and the core group. Kangas said management practices that work well farther north aren't as successful in the hotter, drier, mixed forests south of Roseburg.

The plan revision is the result of a lawsuit filed against the federal government by the American Forest Resources Council, a lobby group that represents the timber industry. The suit alleged that the federal government had never met the timber volume it promised in the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994. The Bush administration agreed to an out-of-court settlement that required the BLM to look at ways to meet the plan's timber-production goals.

The BLM's preferred alternative in the draft plan calls for tripling the annual timber sale volume on its western Oregon lands and removing all green trees in harvest areas.

Neither the preferred alternative, nor any of the others, is satisfactory as written, the commissioners wrote. They encouraged BLM to adopt a Medford District plan that relies more on thinning and partial cuts than clear cuts.

Those comments drew praise from environmental activists who have often taken BLM to task for what they perceive as a focus on harvesting old-growth trees.

"I thought it was a pretty good little report they put together," said Rich Nauman, a conservation scientist with the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science and Policy. "I didn't agree with everything, but our organization has a lot more in common with them than the BLM alternatives."

"I feel like our interests were represented," said Joseph Vaile of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

Tim Reuwsaat, BLM's Medford District manager, said the county's comments will carry some weight because they address issues important to every resident of Jackson County. He encouraged people who are interested in the plan to submit comments before the Jan. 11 deadline.

He said comments should include "not just what you want, but why you want it."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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