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Another Delay on Siskiyou Logging Plan

By Ley Garnett

PORTLAND, OR 2004-04-01 (Oregon Considered) - Siskiyou National Forest officials are now saying their plan to log the site of the 2002 Biscuit Fire won't be ready until next month. The delay means that it's now unlikely the controversial project could go forward this year.

The plan will be released in the form of an environmental impact statement. Biscuit Fire Recovery Project spokeswoman Judy Mc Hugh says the agency has received thousands of critical public comments and it needs another month to finish the work.

Mc Hugh says the report will reduce the volume of the timber harvest by at least 25% and perhaps as much as 35%.

Judy Mc Hugh: The first reason is that we have found, as we've been out there, a great number of small streams too small to show up on the topographic map. We know anytime we go out in the field we anticipate finding some streams like that. In the fire area, however, we found more than we traditionally find in other places throughout the forest.

In its first draft report, the Forest Service proposed the largest federal timber project in modern history---more logging than was done on federal land last year in Oregon, Washington, and northern California combined.

But McHugh says surveyors have discovered that more trees survived the half million-acre fire than first thought.

Judy Mc Hugh: When we got out on the ground there were some more green trees and so we dropped those areas and they are no longer going to be harvested. And finally, what we see across the landscape is the continued effect of decay and deterioration, especially in the smaller diameter material.

Once the final report is issued next month, Mc Hugh says opponents are probably going to launch a legal challenge to the logging plan.

Judy Mc Hugh: There's generally an appeal period after an environmental impact statement, always an appeal period, and that appeal period when you add up all the various components of it, sums to a total of 105 days.

Dave Hill: In reality, if that's the schedule, we're looking at, in the summer of 2004, it is highly unlikely that there will be any salvage opportunities of fire killed timber.

Dave Hill heads the Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association, representing about 50 logging companies.

Dave Hill: :I'm very disappointed. It's a tremendous waste of a natural resource, a renewable natural resource at that.

Hill says challenges to the Biscuit logging plan would likely push any timber harvest into next year. Meanwhile he says the trees that burned in the giant fire in 2002 will continue to rot and lose commercial value.

Dave Hill: The likelihood of bidders wanting to take a risk on two or three year old fire killed timber is, I'd say, marginal at best. Not many people are going to bid on fire killed timber that has been sitting and decaying and staining and having insect problems going on three years.

But Don Smith who heads the environmental group the Siskiyou Project, says he expects the Forest Service will attempt to declare an emergency exemption for the project, so that the logging could begin this summer.

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