The controversial Nedsbar timber sale went unsold today at an auction following a protest by opponents, threats of tree-spiking and promises of civil disobedience against whoever bought the trees for logging.
No bids were entered for the first Nedsbar sale at the Bureau of Land Management auction, held at the agency's Medford office late this morning after about 75 protesters railed against the sale they believe would over-log sensitive areas in the Applegate watershed.
But that doesn't kill the sale, because BLM plans to keep it open another 30 days for sealed bids under a procedural process that could result in the sale actually going through.
Protest organizer Luke Ruediger of the Applegate Neighborhood Network said he believed a firm push-back from opponents in the Applegate helped lead to silence in the BLM bidding room, where Nedsbar was the fourth and final sale offered today and the only one not sold.
"I'd like to think it makes a difference," Ruediger said. "This is a step in the right direction. They might re-offer it, but (the failed sale) is great news."
Ruediger acknowledged that expected heavy logging costs, which included expensive helicopter yarding as well as cutting scattered throughout the sale area, also likely contributed to the lack of bids.
The 3.44 million board feet of timber offered on multiple logging sites was appraised at just over $231,000, according to the BLM. It was appraised at $68 per thousand board feet, as much as four times lower than other sales successfully auctioned today.
Andy Geissler, Western Oregon field forester for the American Forest Resource Council who worked with the BLM on crafting the sale, said he was "not shocked" that Nedsbar went unsold.
Geissler chalked it up largely to the high extraction costs, the low volume per acre and too much use of helicopters to haul out logs instead of building more roads to the logging sites.
"I was giving it a 50-50 chance," Geissler said. "(Helicopter yarding) is about as expensive as it gets. It's tough to make that work."
BLM spokesman Jim Whittington said the lack of sale today "was not terribly shocking at all" and that several sales in recent years have gone off bidless.
If a sealed bid comes in over the ensuing 30 days, the BLM will do a public notification and leave the sale open for a second sealed bid for seven days, Whittington says. If a second bid comes in, the agency would hold another oral auction like the one held today, he said.
If the open period ends without any bids, then the BLM "probably would pull the sale" and likely discuss with members of the timber industry what made them balk at bidding, Whittington says.
Only qualified purchasers were allowed in the auction room at the federal interagency office off Biddle Road for safety reasons following a week in which unidentified "anarchists" claimed to have spiked trees in the Nedsbar sale to create safety hazards to loggers and millworkers.
Also, regional timber buyers were flooded this week with form letters promising public repercussions for whoever bought the timber and vowing to disrupt logging with the help of activists from outside the area.
"In fact, highly organized activists have given promise to bring efficient, trained environmental defense to the hills and valleys that shaped their understanding of, and love for this planet," the letter stated. "It is up to you to dream of the creativity with which these forests will be defended."
Geissler said he seriously doubts whether the letter and its "veiled threats" played any role in today's lack of bidding.
"Those companies are not going to be scared by a couple letters mailed to their offices," Geissler said. "I don't think it phased them. It probably just bugged them."
Ruediger said he did not write the letter, copies of which were signed by several people giving return addresses in Ashland, Jacksonville and the Applegate Valley.
Outside the BLM office, up to 75 protesters — many of them dressed as bees — chanted and held signs deriding the planned logging.
"It's an analogy of how the system works," Ruediger told the crowd. "The public interest is left outside."
Ruediger said the bee images were the result of BLM officials purportedly saying that activists in the Applegate community "were like a swarm of bees."
"People have kind of taken that on," he said.