Small-diameter timber sale fetches high price

The Middle Friese timber sale, an ecologically based tract that offers a small-diameter harvest on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, sold at auction for nearly twice its appraised value.

The 488-acre timber sale in the Butte Falls Resource Area, which appraised at $809,624 — or $263 per thousand board feet — sold for $1,404,932. The 4.06-million-board-foot sale was purchased Thursday by the Murphy Company, one of three qualified bidders.

The sale is part of the Friese Camp forest-management project covering some 2,200 acres that BLM officials said in 2012 could ultimately produce some 20 million board feet. The project is in a checkerboard pattern a dozen miles long and half that wide among private land parcels, much of which is timber-industry land.

The project sale employs many of the ecological concepts that forest ecology professor Jerry Franklin at the University of Washington and Norm Johnson, his counterpart at Oregon State University, have included in their pilot timber projects in southwestern Oregon.

The sale includes small, cleared areas adjacent to undisturbed islands that the two nationally known forest scientists have included in their dry-forest restoration forestry approach.

Their goals include preserving the largest trees and improving forest health, while producing wood for mills and county coffers and reducing wildfire devastation.

"This one seems to have worked out pretty well," Medford District spokesman Jim Whittington said of the Middle Friese sale. "It has been a big experiment for us. We didn't know how it was going to work, since it was a different approach. It was also in a different stand with different rainfall than the other pilot projects."

The jury is still out on whether the system will work on a broader landscape basis over time, he said.

George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a conservation watchdog group in Ashland, said the sale represents a breakthrough in the gridlock.

"I am pleased to see such a market for small-diameter restoration thinning — three different companies wanted it," he said. "This is a good sign for the counties. You don't have to clear-cut or log big timber to get a harvest."

Because the sale is on O&C lands, it means income for the 18 Western Oregon counties that receive timber-based payments from former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands, he said.

"I'm encouraged the way the Butte Falls Resource Area is going," he said. "They are not going after big trees, not building roads. They are doing what will benefit fire-suppressed stands, and they are getting sales out."

The American Forest Resources Council in Portland had administratively protested the Friese Camp project, but later withdrew the protest, noting it had made its point. The timber-industry group supports more regeneration logging as well as harvest of larger trees, explained council president Tom Partin.

"The volume to our members is pretty darn important," he said.

It was that factor, not the support of the timber-harvest approach, that resulted in the Middle Friese sale being sold, he observed.

The Williams Thin sale, appraised at $422,442 or $192.50 per thousand board feet, was also sold Thursday. The 2.38-million-board-foot sale went for $478,075 to Boise Cascade, one of two qualified bidders.

— Paul Fattig

Read more in the Mail Tribune this weekend.

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