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Jack Shipley's dream of a collaborative approach to managing public forests in the Applegate Valley is coming to fruition after nearly 20 years. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Moving beyond discord

For Jack Shipley, the stars above the public forestlands of the Applegate Valley have finally aligned.

"Maybe we all got tired of fighting — the other method certainly wasn't working very well," surmised Shipley, 70, an Applegate Valley resident who long has supported a broad-based collaborative approach to managing local public forests.

"Maybe all the stars have finally come together."

A proposed 80,000-acre pilot project to improve forest health and reduce catastrophic wildfires while producing timber harvests in the Applegate Valley on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District appears to be moving forward.

In fact, the BLM's Medford District intends to sell some timber from the project in September — just a little more than eight months from now.

For a federal land management agency, that's warp speed for timber projects, which normally take years from proposal to sale.

"It's a very, very aggressive timeline," acknowledged John Gerritsma, field manager for the Ashland Resource Area.

"Our goal is to sell something in September," he said, noting the specific product has not yet been determined. "But we are taking advantage of previous environmental work that has already been done in some units."

The project is community-driven, he said, adding it was proposed by the Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative, originally known as the "Knitting Circle," and the Applegate Partnership.

Both are broad-based community groups dedicated to resolving conflict in the woods. Shipley is the immediate past chairman of the partnership, which he helped form in 1992, and the current chairman of the collaborative, which began meeting in 2005.

"We tried to get something like this 18 years ago — persistence pays off, I guess," he said.

"The Forest Service and the BLM are working with them to help find a community solution for forest management issues," Gerritsma said.

The Applegate restoration project and a similar one in the BLM's Roseburg District were presented to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last summer by forest ecology professors Norm Johnson of Oregon State University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington. The local collaborative had sent a letter to Salazar nearly a year ago with a similar suggestion.

During a meeting with project proponents last month in Washington, D.C., Salazar gave his blessings. The local project will be in the mid-Applegate Valley on the BLM land and would include portions of watersheds in the Chapman and Keeler creek drainages.

The project in the Roseburg District will be on land in the Myrtle Creek drainage in Douglas County. However, unlike the local project, it will be agency-driven, officials said.

A third collaborative project involving the Coquille Indian tribe near Coos Bay also is under way.

"With our project, we want to provide habitat needs for the northern spotted owl while producing a product for the market," said collaborative executive director George McKinley in a telephone interview from Florida.

In addition to protecting the environment, the project would recognize the important role of forest workers and adjacent communities, he said.

"This is a unique opportunity for community members to help inform agencies about their hopes for forest management," he said. "I think we have a real opportunity here to create a more socially acceptable forest management for the future."

Given the focus by Salazar, the project is gaining national attention, McKinley said, adding it has received bipartisan support from Oregon's congressional delegation.

"This is the kind of stuff we've been talking about for 20 years," Shipley said. "Instead of fighting about jobs versus owls, we all come to the table and have both. This will be ecologically driven but will include jobs."

A steering committee involving representatives of the timber industry, environmental groups and others is being formed, he said.

"The steering committee would make sure this thing keeps moving, keeps it dynamic," he said.

The plan also calls for establishing a technical committee of specialists from the agencies, he said.

Humans have suppressed wildfires in the region for nearly a century, creating forests that are unnaturally overstocked and prone to explosive wildfires during the summer, Shipley said.

"That put us on a crash course with an ecological disaster," he said. "The unintended consequence is that we have created a scenario for catastrophic fires.

"We removed a component that is necessary to forest health."

Shipley and others have been talking to the land resource agencies for years about the need for landscape level treatments that include thinning the smaller trees in overgrown areas.

"This way, when we have a fire, it wouldn't necessarily be catastrophic," he said. "Conceivably, we could even let it burn in some instances."

However, letting it burn would depend on the location, time of year and potential threat, he cautioned.

Shipley is quick to observe there will be those who oppose the project.

"But we have moved beyond the 'cut or no-cut' argument," he said. "We are saying there needs to be active management on the landscape. We want to move forward and do something proactive.

"The intent is 50 years from now we have a legacy that we have left for our children and grandchildren," he added.

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

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