Bear Camp Road deal more than it appears

    Your editorial of July 16 raises serious public policy questions regarding the Forest Service's recent barter agreement with South Coast Lumber in Brookings to repair Bear Camp Road and prepare it for logging trucks.

    You described what appears to be a good deal for South Coast Lumber Company and for those who travel the winding Bear Camp Road between Galice and Agness, the most convenient road for those boating the Wild Rogue River.

    As purchaser of the Green Knob Timber Sale, South Coast Lumber gets to cut down, mill and sell publicly owned national forest trees for a fraction of their monetary value, and the public gets their scenic backroad repaired and brought up to standards necessary for log truck traffic.

    This Green Knob Timber Sale may seem benign at first glance. But to me it looks like an integral part and the first step of the agency's expanding plans to log in the Shasta Costa watershed.

    Specifically, the Forest Service is now writing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the new Agness Shasta Costa Project. The mapped project area includes all of the Shasta Costa basin as well as the area of the Green Knob Timber Sale.

    Most notably, the Forest Service is proposing actions such as logging 10 million-30 million board feet of trees, many of which would be hauled away on Bear Camp Road. It endorses cutting old-growth trees in forests set aside in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan as “Late Successional Reserve” and “Key Watershed” areas. These designations were made because Shasta Costa Creek is one of the top two tributaries to the lower Rogue River for supporting salmon with clear, cold waters.

    I'm wondering why the Forest Service didn't notify the public that the Green Knob reissued timber sale was rushed ahead and excluded from this larger planning process.

    What is at stake is the integrity of the Shasta Costa watershed's surface and groundwater temperatures, so necessary for salmon survival. Temperatures are already under stress from previous reduction of shade in riparian areas and drying trends stemming from global warming.

    So why wasn’t the logging along Bear Camp Road included in the Forest Service's larger project analysis for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement?

    This lack of transparency by Forest Service leadership has been troubling me for months. The public should have been involved, or at least informed.

    Let's look at some history.

    The Forest Service Organic Administration Act of 1897 provides the statutory basis for what became our country's national forests. The Act prioritizes two things (in this order) to improve and protect our public forests: (a) securing favorable conditions of water flows and (b) furnishing a continuous supply of timber.

    In 1975 researchers estimated that 75 percent of the aquatic habitat for coho salmon and steelhead in the Rogue River basin had been destroyed since white man's settlement.

    In 1991 the Forest Service wrote the first Environmental Impact Statement for logging in Shasta Costa. The proposed timber sales originally started out with a broad “forest restoration” objective, but ended up being oriented toward maximizing revenues. Shasta Costa survived that threat, because thousands of citizens spoke out, and the adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan established the Late Successional Reserves and Key Watershed areas instead.

    Recently I participated in the Wild Rivers Coast Forest Collaborative, a Forest Service advisory committee of stakeholders in Curry County. The collaborative's initial project decision was to work with the Forest Service to develop a plan to restore oak savanna ecosystems in the Shasta Costa Creek watershed. Our group's proposal suggested methods such as thinning plantations, removing invasive species and reducing fuel loads.

    Unfortunately, this focused plan was substantially amended by the Forest Service, and what began as a restoration project for oak savannas has expanded into a major timber cutting proposal with logging in Late Successional Reserve and Key Watershed areas.

    This would be a dangerous precedent for undermining the Northwest Forest Plan's protections for public forests west of the Cascades.

    The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and its Gold Beach District have suffered massive budget cuts in recent years, so their level of operations now also depend on their ability to sell timber and receive funding under the KV formula for sharing timber sales revenue. Thus there is increasingly strong pressure on regional and local Forest Service management to get the cut out.

    I firmly believe that many of the agency specialists engaged in today's planning process were working for an environmentally viable outcome, but the forces from the timber industry, Association of O&C Counties and Forest Service budget requirements have been strong.

    Consequently, the public needs to be vigilant in scrutinizing all Forest Service timber sale proposals, starting with the Agness Shasta Costa Project, that would set a precedent of weakening the Northwest Forest Plan. We still need protected Late Successional Reserves and Key Watersheds to assist the survival of salmon runs across the Pacific Northwest.

    — Jack Churchill has lived in Agness for 25 years and traveled the Bear Camp Road. As a political economist, he had an extensive career in administration of land and water programs for the US Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and EPA, as well as the State of Oregon. He helped author the Oregon Water Management Act, which became the basis for the state's Watershed Councils.



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