Restoration vs. exploitation: Forest Service leads the way

A decade ago the timber program of the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest had been embroiled in controversy for so long that many people thought that a solution that got logs to local mills while protecting wildlife and watersheds would never happen.

But the Forest Service found a way forward. While the Bureau of Land Management was busy trying to increase old-growth logging by spending millions on the (now defunct) Western Oregon Plan Revisions, the local Forest Service transitioned towards thinning of second-growth forests and dense fire-suppressed stands.

The results speak for themselves; communities are coming together to collaborate over restoration projects and the Forest Service has timber sale plans on the shelf that will keep loggers in the woods for years to come.

Change comes slowly to the BLM

Progress in reaching "win-win" solutions on BLM lands has been slower, but it is occurring. Recently both KS Wild and the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association praised the Friese Camp timber sale near Butte Falls. Conservation groups liked the focus on thinning fire-suppressed stands and the restoration of dry forest sites. Local mills liked that it would produce up to 20 million board feet of valuable commercial timber. It represented a leap forward for BLM forest management.

Unfortunately, the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry lobbying organization, opposes restoration logging on these public lands and has filed a challenge to stop the Friese Camp project. They argue that the BLM is thinning too much acreage, logging too little old-growth, and should go back to the days of "regeneration" clearcut logging.

The many values of BLM forests

It is also true that KS Wild challenged four BLM timber sales this year. We deeply believe that the few remaining old-growth trees on these heavily logged-over BLM lands should be retained; that the BLM should stop building new logging roads in at-risk watersheds when it cannot afford to maintain the network of existing roads; and that thinning dense young forests makes the most sense from a fire management perspective.

So we were thrilled to endorse the Friese Camp timber sale that implements dry forest restoration principles while producing significant commercial timber volume. In addition to Friese Camp, in 2011 and 2012, the BLM got it right in the Boomerang, McKnabe and Pilot Joe thinning projects. These sales produced timber while protecting wildlife and watersheds. We think this BLM is onto something with this shift towards restoration forestry.

The contention in today's opposing editorial piece that the Freise Camp Restoration Project is just like the Rio timber sale is simply false. Friese Camp protects old-growth trees and Rio does not. That is why conservation groups challenged the old-growth logging in Rio while the timber industry challenged the lack of old-growth logging at Friese Camp. The two sales aren't even located in the same forest types: Friese Camp would primarily log young white fir trees that are growing here due to fire suppression, while Rio targets fire-resilient native Douglas fir stands.

Looking for areas of agreement

As a conservation organization, KS Wild stands up for the wildlife and watersheds on our public lands. But we also have an obligation to stand with our communities and seek solutions. We are constantly looking for areas of agreement and ways to accomplish the twin goals of stewardship and timber production. When we endorse timber sales, it isn't because we think they're perfect, it's because we hope they will do more good than harm.

Indeed, we often live with timber sale practices that are not restorative in order to strive toward a greater social good. And when KS Wild recently offered to drop our legal challenge if the BLM would agree to modify less than 1 percent of the Rio timber sale by protecting massive old-growth trees greater than 30 inches in diameter, it wasn't because we support every other aspect of the project, rather it is because we try to recognize the many values that our public forests provide.

KS Wild agrees with forest scientists Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson that we should move past the old-growth logging debate. Decades of small-diameter restoration thinning can happen on our public lands. We can make forests healthier and communities safer from wildfire and provide a product to the mills. It is time to follow the lead of the local Forest Service and produce timber in a way that attempts to restore our forests rather than exploit them.

George Sexton is conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, based in Ashland and Grants Pass.

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