BLM shelves Nedsbar timber sale

The Bureau of Land Management has pulled the controversial Nedsbar timber sale off the table and plans to tweak it in hopes of making it economically viable.

The agency kept the sale open for sealed bids after none came forward during an auction for timber buyers Thursday in Medford. BLM originally intended to keep it open for 30 days, but it opted late Friday to see whether it can make the sale more financially appealing to bidders.

"We're going to pull it back and see if we can work on the economics of it," BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said. "We'll look at everything to see if there's some tweaks or changes to improve this sale."

The proposal called for logging 3.4 million board feet of timber from small, scattered units, and represented the lion's share of the roughly 5 million board feet of timber the BLM planned to sell as part of the Nedsbar project, which also includes noncommercial forest thinning.

Appraised at $68 per thousand board feet of timber, the sale received no minimum bids of $231,014.60 during Thursday morning's sale, which drew protests by the Applegate Neighborhood Network. The group viewed the sale as too heavy-handed for the land and said it was crafted without addressing community desires.

Industry representatives have said the sale went unbid because of a combination of low volume per acre and high extraction costs that included expensive helicopter yarding.

"I don't see anyone coming up and grabbing it the way it is," said Andy Geissler, a forester for the American Forest Resource Council. "It's good to hear it's getting a makeover."

That makeover likely won't include an increase in volume, so BLM foresters will have to either drop the minimum bid price or shave logging costs by dropping units with the lowest volume per acre and reducing prescriptions that rely on helicopters, Geissler said.

Geissler said he doubts the BLM will completely walk away from Nedsbar after two years of planning.

"I'm curious to talk to them about how badly they want those stands treated," Geissler said. "Ecologically, they need to get treated."

Applegate Neighborhood Network board member Chris Bratt said his group hopes to be invited to the table so a rebuilt Nedsbar has a chance to be consistent with the community's values.

"That would be smart on their end, and we'd welcome it as well," Bratt said. "If they're really talking about cooperative collaboration with the community, that's where it will start."

Bratt said the BLM would do itself well to come in with a sale closer to the roughly 1 million board feet proposal the network put forward as a community alternative, plus bolster it with logging of dying trees that pockmark the watershed after three years of drought.

Bratt chided the agency for being "stuck" on producing timber for the industry and payments in lieu of taxes to Jackson and Josephine counties and others funded through the O&C Lands Act.

"To them, everything else is secondary," he said.

Whittington said if changes to the sale are substantial, the agency would add another round of public comments. If not, BLM could advertise for another round of bids at an auction similar to the one Thursday, he said.

How long the revisit takes will depend upon the extent of the review and any changes, he said.

"As we move forward, we'll definitely let folks know what we're thinking before we go to bid," Whittington said.

Meanwhile, the agency will analyze the Applegate Neighborhood Network's administrative appeal, which is called a "protest" in BLM terms. That analysis will include looking at whether to move forward with some of the noncommercial fuels-reduction projects on 1,027 other acres that comprise the Nedsbar Forest Management Project, Whittington said.

The earliest any of that could begin is next spring or summer, Whittington said.

The entire Nedsbar commercial timber sale struck a nerve among Applegate activists and others, and the push-back to the agency's plans included anonymous threats of tree-spiking and promises of civil disobedience against whoever bought the trees for logging.

The current plan calls for logging timber scattered over 1,112 acres on O&C and other lands, including logging within a 5,000-acre wilderness study area near Bald Mountain. Revenues from logging on O&C lands feed coffers in Jackson and other counties.

Some of the proposed logging units would be visible from the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, which is a state designated scenic trail, and in the area of the proposed Jack-Ash Trail linking Jacksonville and Ashland.

The project calls for the construction of .42 miles of new permanent roads and 1.33 miles of new temporary roads that would be decommissioned when the projects are done.

Under the original plan, loggers would use five current helicopter landings, seven new landings and four skid trails to get logs out of the woods, and log trucks would use 61 miles of existing roads as haul routes.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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