'Common ground' reached on praised BLM timber project

An ecologically-based timber sale the Bureau of Land Management is offering in the Butte Falls Resource Area has drawn rave reviews from both the timber industry and environmental camps.

The Vine Maple timber sale includes more than 6.75 million board feet of timber that will be put up for auction Sept. 13 in the BLM's district office in Medford.

"This is a good project — more than we've seen the BLM look at in volume in single jobs for quite a while," observed Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

"One of the encouraging things is the volume is in decent-size timber," he added. "It looks like a good mix of trees that mills can get a good product from. There is going to be a lot of interest in this sale."

Joseph Vaile, program director for the Ashland-based environmental watchdog group Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, also praised it.

"From the outset, this project was based on restoring the forest, protecting the old-growth trees and removing roads that are bleeding sediment into streams," Vaile said.

"This is the common ground where we can restore forests, supply timber and support logging jobs," he said.

The sale, which includes forest restoration thinning on 479 acres, is part of the Friese Camp ecological forestry project covering some 2,200 acres, which could ultimately produce some 20 million board feet, according to BLM officials.

The sale incorporates 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 already under way in southwestern Oregon, explained Robyn Wicks, a natural resource specialist with the BLM's Butte Falls Resource Area.

"We took a lot of stuff from the pilots — for instance, we are leaving the big trees and including the skips and gaps," she said.

"The skips and gaps" refers to small, cleared areas adjacent to undisturbed islands that the two nationally-known forest scientists have included in their restoration forestry approach.

During a tour of the Friese Camp forestry project in April, Franklin and Johnson noted that ecological forestry is based on integrating ecological, economical and cultural objectives.

Along with environmental groups and timber industry representatives, the two persuaded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2010 to try their dry-forest restoration approach on three pilot projects in southwestern Oregon as a way to end gridlock in public forests.

Since then, three pilot projects have been launched in the region, including Pilot Joe in the middle Applegate Valley and one each in Douglas and Coos counties.

Like the forest restoration approach, the goal of ecological forestry is to preserve the largest trees and improve forest health, including protecting northern spotted owl habitat, while producing wood for mills and county coffers, and reducing wildfire devastation, according to Franklin and Johnson.

"The Vine Maple sale will mean the counties will receive revenues," Schott said. "It's definitely a good start. It will sell."

Because no mills in Jackson and Josephine counties cut large-scale trees anymore, the trees in the Vine Maple sale, which average 15.9 inches in diameter at chest height, are excellent for local mills, he said.

"This is very positive," he reiterated.

"The difference is that they started by automatically taking the big trees off the table," Vaile said of the BLM sale planners. "This is a great example of trying to balance the problems of meeting the needs of older forest stands with needed restoration."

The BLM's Friese Camp 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.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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