Timber sale near Butte Falls draws universal accolades

When environmental activist George Sexton is asked about the 58-million-board-foot Rustler timber sale planned for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, he has a one-word reaction.

"Fantastic."

"It does feel weird saying this," added the conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an Ashland-based environmental watchdog group. "If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be applauding a 58-million-board-foot timber sale, I certainly wouldn't have believed it."

Likewise, timber industry advocate Dave Schott would not have expected joining Sexton in applauding the same timber sale.

"This sale is very welcome to see coming out of the forest," said Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

"It's not close to any population areas, so it's a natural area to get timber out," he added. "This will help mills survive. Logs are hard to come by on private land right now."

Both Sexton and Schott agreed the thinning planned in the High Cascades Ranger District will spur forest health while reducing the threat of a catastrophic wildfire. Fire suppression over nearly a century has resulted in a buildup of unnaturally dense vegetation in the area.

Located in the upper Rogue River watershed, the sale covers a little more than 8,700 acres some 15 miles as the crow flies southeast of Prospect and about eight air miles east of Butte Falls.

Enough small-diameter timber is expected to be thinned from the sale to build roughly 5,500 average-size homes. The plan doesn't call for building any new logging roads. Most of the larger mature trees will be left standing.

The primary purposes for the project are to improve forest health, reduce high-intensity wildfire risk to rural communities and forest resources, support the local economy by providing jobs and improve habitat in riparian areas, according to Kerwin Dewberry, ranger in charge of the district.

No administrative appeals were received during the 45-day comment period following the final decision made in March, he noted.

"I think there was a lot of support because we had good collaboration by all the factions along the way," said Dewberry, a biologist by training.

"We had a good working relationship — they gave us a lot of feedback and we listened," he said. "But I have to give a lot of credit to the partnerships, and being able to talk things through."

He said the decision was based soundly on federal laws.

"I also wanted to make sure the decision was closely tied to the (1994) Northwest Forest Plan," he said.

The first timber is expected to be available for bid by as early as September, he said, adding the project will take up to 10 years to complete.

"I am very excited about the outcome for this project," he said. "I think we are going to have a lot of good work out of it. Not only will there be a lot of small-diameter trees coming out, but there will also be some fuel breaks and other things as well."

Dewberry's decision calls for density thinning on 6,473 acres, pre-commercial thinning on 1,584 acres, fuel treatment on 647 acres and meadow enhancement on 7 acres.

Noting he would like to see the local U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District follow suit, Sexton said he gives a lot of credit to Dewberry's leadership.

"My hat is off to him," Sexton said. "There were a lot of issues and comments to deal with in this planning process. He melded the concerns together to protect the old trees, watersheds and wildlands while producing a vast amount of timber from small-diameter thinning.

"He was able to hit that sweet spot," he added.

"The Forest Service has been doing a pretty good job of late getting timber out," Schott said. "But this is definitely one of the better sales they've planned for the long-range future."

The full document for the Rustler timber sale is available at www.mailtribune.com/rustler-timber-sale.

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

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