Firing away over forests

Environmental groups say the proposed Bybee timber sale on the edge of Crater Lake National Park is a return to the bad old days of rapacious logging. We're not convinced of that, but it's clear the proposal has prompted a return to the bad old days of overheated rhetoric — on both sides.

The U.S. Forest Service proposes to harvest 45 million board feet of timber from 16,215 acres adjacent to the park. The Forest Service says the work will improve forest health, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and provide jobs and logs for local mills.

Opponents throw around words such as "clearcut," "ancient forest" and "new roads through riparian zones" — hot buttons all.

A timber industry representative says the thinning proposed in previously logged areas work will be "an insurance policy keeping Crater Lake National Park from being consumed by wildfire." We'd call that inflammatory.

The "clearcuts" are closer to clearings — less than three-quarters of an acre in size, dotted across the landscape to mimic natural gaps that occur in healthy forests. the "old-growth" refers to some large, old trees that will be cut to help smaller trees thrive. Nearly all the timber to be harvested is smaller-diameter, second-growth forest that needs to be thinned to reduce fire danger.

The project does include 13 miles of new roads. But they will be temporary — removed and reclaimed once the logging is finished. Opponents say that's easier said than done — but at least it will be done.

Some environmental groups stress that portions of the sale area are part of a proposed new wilderness, and logging there would destroy wilderness characteristics. In fact, the portion included in the wilderness proposal is quite small, both in relation to the rest of the timber sale and to the proposed wilderness area.

In the decades since most large-scale logging was halted on national forest lands, environmental groups have worked vigorously to block many timber sale proposals. For them, compromise is something the Forest Service and the timber industry should do, not something they should do.

Yes, some large, old trees will be cut if the Bybee sale is approved. The Forest Service says they will be trees with diseases such as mistletoe that threaten to infect younger trees underneath.

The Forest Service says it's not possible to say exactly how many large trees will be cut because different alternatives are still being considered, but the amount of timber from large trees will amount to less than 1 percent of the overall sale volume.

That sounds reasonable to us. It's also reasonable for conservation groups to ask that the number of large trees cut be kept as small as possible. But their objection to cutting any old trees shouldn't be allowed to block small-diameter thinning of overgrown stands. Both sides ought to be able to come to an agreement that will allow timber to be harvested and forest health and fires resilience improved.

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