Back into the woods

Those who have despaired of ever seeing the timber industry and environmental groups find common ground in the forest have reason to celebrate. Not only have the two sides agreed on a major timber sale, but they've done it with the cooperation of the Bureau of Land Management — not the Forest Service.

Witness the Vine Maple timber sale in the BLM's Butte Falls Resource Area. The sale will auction 6.75 million board feet of timber Sept. 13.

The sale is part of the Friese Camp ecological forestry project, which covers more than 2,000 acres and eventually could produce 20 million board feet of timber.

Not only that, but much of that timber is of a size that fits the capacity of local mills, which are no longer equipped to handle really big logs. The largest old-growth trees will be left alone, which pleases the environmentalists, but the trees that will be cut are ideal for local mills, which pleases the industry and supports local jobs.

The techniques involved in this forest restoration thinning project were developed by professors Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington and Norm Johnson of Oregon State University. They, along with timber industry representatives and environmental groups, persuaded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to try their "ecological forestry" approach two years ago.

So far, the concepts involved have been implemented in the Applegate Valley, in Douglas County and in Coos County.

If the pilot projects prove the approach works, this kind of timber harvesting could break the gridlock over public-land logging that has eliminated good jobs and devastated county budgets across southwest Oregon.

What is remarkable about this latest timber sale is not just that it will proceed without the courtroom battles that have plagued logging projects for years, but that it is being done on BLM land. The Forest Service — under the Agriculture Department, not the Interior Department — has long been considered friendlier to environmental concerns than the BLM, which has tended to emphasize resource extraction over ecosystem preservation.

The Vine Maple sale — and, ultimately, the larger Friese Camp project — could restore not only a forest, but the reputation of a federal agency as well. And that's no small accomplishment.

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