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Smoke, haze and hypocrisy

While smoke hangs in the air and fires still burn in the mountains around us, the Medford District Bureau of Land Management has been busy not just fighting the fires, but also approving the first timber sales proposed under the 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP).

Meanwhile, the timber industry, the elected officials that serve them, and public land managers have been busy promoting rhetoric to support their push for “active management,” a supposed panacea to smoke and fire, and a subtle euphemism for industrial logging disguised as “forest restoration.”

According to the BLM, implementation of the 2016 RMP “will contribute to restoring fire-adapted ecosystems in the dry forest landscape of Southern Oregon by increasing fire resiliency. The Proposed RMP will increase stand-level fire resistance and decrease stand-level fire hazard from current conditions.”

Yet, through the smoke, the haze and the misleading rhetoric, the BLM has proceeded to approve the Clean Slate timber sale near Selma and the Griffin Halfmoon timber sale near Howard Prairie Lake, just outside the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

These timber sales have been designed to maximize timber outputs and reinstitute clearcut logging (rebranded as “regeneration logging”) on public lands. Both timber sales were specifically approved to produce timber for the BLM’s annual O&C timber quota, while admittedly increasing fuel loads, and future fire severity.

The Griffin Halfmoon timber sale has proposed to conduct nearly 757 acres of “regeneration” logging, replacing mature forests with young plantation-like stands. Although some overstory trees will be retained, canopy cover retention could be as low as 10 percent to 20 percent following the commercial logging operations. The majority of the harvest area would be replanted with commercially valuable species. These plantation stands have been shown to significantly increase fire severity while providing little habitat value.

The Griffin Halfmoon timber sale will also remove 918 acres of northern spotted owl habitat and an occupied nesting site for the great grey owl. According to the environmental analysis, proposed commercial treatments “would have negative effects to habitat suitable for use by fisher for denning and resting and for some fisher prey species due to the removal trees and other vegetation.”

The Clean Slate timber sale has proposed to eliminate 450 acres of northern spotted owl habitat and 175 acres of late successional forest dominated by large, old, fire-resistant trees. This includes some of the last stands of old-growth forest in the watersheds above Lake Selmac and the Deer Creek Watershed. Although the BLM claims these are not “regeneration” harvest units, they will be logged to between

25 percent and 35 percent canopy cover with up to 30 percent of each unit consisting of small clearcuts called “group selection harvests.”

These group selection harvests will be planted like little plantations and will quickly become choked in brush. The drastic canopy reduction will necessitate the removal of 2,085 large, fire-resistant trees over 20 inches in diameter and will encourage the highly flammable regeneration of young trees, shrubs and sprouting hardwoods.

Both timber sales propose to convert currently mature, fire-resistant forest into young, regenerating forest that is both highly flammable and susceptible to high-severity fire effects. Perhaps for this reason, both timber sales contain the exact same language in their environmental assessments regarding fuel loads and future fire severity. The BLM states, “For the first one to five years after harvest, these stands would remain a slash fuel type until the shrubs, grasses and planted trees become established. After the establishment of regeneration, these stands would move into a brush fuel type. Brush fuel types are more volatile and are susceptible to high rates of fire-caused mortality. Stands could exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread, and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control ... For five to 20 years following planting, the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands.”

These timber sales are neither fuel reduction nor forest restoration, but they are “active management,” and they will actively make fires more severe and harder to control. After a summer of fire and smoke, the residents of Southern Oregon should demand more from their public land managers. I’m not sure what makes me choke more: thick wildfire smoke or the hypocrisy of BLM timber sale planners who are making the situation worse.

Luke Ruediger is the Siskiyou conservation director for the Klamath Forest Alliance.

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