Don't stop now

Conservation groups advocating thousands of acres of new wilderness isn't surprising news. What is surprising — and encouraging — is that the groups have hammered out a compromise with a timber industry coalition that had opposed the effort.

Finding middle ground on a stretch of the Wild & Scenic section of the Rogue River, where logging is unlikely to occur anyway, is relatively easy compared with the continuing battle over timber harvests on less remote forest lands. Environmental groups and the timber industry should seize the opportunity to build on this successful outcome and come together to tackle the thornier issues facing Southern Oregon forests.

Conservation groups have been pushing to expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness and secure Wild & Scenic designation for Rogue River tributaries for some time. A bill first introduced in 2008 and reintroduced last year contains the Wild & Scenic expansion but no new wilderness acres.

Now, after months of negotiations, the American Forest Resource Council, an industry group with lobbying clout in Washington, D.C., says it will not oppose adding 58,000 acres of wilderness and protecting 93 miles of tributaries through Wild & Scenic Rivers designation. The compromise reduced the proposed wilderness expansion by 13,000 acres and narrowed buffer zones along tributaries to one-quarter mile from the half mile called for in the existing legislation.

The industry group was concerned that such large buffer zones could set a precedent for other streams under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. AFRC also objected to including large swaths of matrix lands — those designated for potential logging — in the wilderness area.

The essence of successful compromise is that both sides give something in order to get something, and both walk away with a result they can accept.

In this case, conservation activists won an agreement from their traditional foes, the timber industry, not to oppose expanded wilderness protection. The industry prevented a doubling of restrictive buffer zones along creeks that could have led to greater restrictions elsewhere.

Oregon's congressional delegation should get behind the proposal and introduce a new bill.

The two sides, meanwhile, should continue talking to each other, but move from wilderness protection to timber harvest rules. The pattern of recent years, in which federal forest agencies propose timber sales and environmental groups sue to block them, is no way to manage public forest lands.

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