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June 2, 2004

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Biscuit fire salvage numbers drop

The final EIS calls for harvest of 370 million board feet and the addition of 64,000 acres of wilderness

By PAUL FATTIG
Mail Tribune

The U.S. Forest Service plans to salvage 370 million board feet of timber killed by the Biscuit fire in the Siskiyou National Forest.

In its final environmental impact statement released Tuesday, the agency axed its preferred alternative in its draft proposal from 518 million board feet on 29,000 acres to the smaller cut on about 19,400 acres. A half-million acres were burned by the lightning-sparked 2002 fire largely within the Siskiyou National Forest.

In addition, the agency eliminated any salvage within 174 feet of streams and proposed to increase the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area by 64,000 acres. No management would occur in the areas proposed for wilderness.

"We are only proposing to harvest dead trees ó no green trees," said Scott Conroy, supervisor of the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests. "And we are proposing to harvest on only 4 percent of the acreage (burned). On the flip side, that means 96 percent of the acreage will be left to recover naturally.

"I view this as a very protective alternative," he added. "Weíre meeting all the water quality standards."

 

The agency has determined the proposed harvest will not likely adversely impact native fish species or listed wildlife species.

Of the land to be salvaged, 4,500 acres are on matrix areas which are set aside for timber management, 6,750 are on late successional reserves set aside for old-growth dependent habitat and 8,150 are in inventoried roadless areas.

No roads will be constructed in the roadless areas and helicopters will be used to salvage logs there.

In the entire project, helicopters will be used to log some 78 percent of the timber. Skyline cable yarding will be used on 22 percent of the salvage.

The salvage would raise about $12.9 million for Uncle Sam, enough to pay for half the estimated reforestation costs of some $26 million, Conroy said. Environmentalists say the project will cost taxpayers millions.

Conroy estimated the proposal would provide wood to build 24,000 moderately sized homes, creating some 6,900 jobs and generating up to $240 million in income.

But the proposal was met with concern by both the environmental community and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who has supported expanding the wilderness area.

Dominick DellaSala, director of the World Wildlife Fundís Klamath-Siskiyou Regional Program, called the decision disappointing.

"It continues to put forth an extreme logging plan," DellaSala said.

The agency should consider first how to protect biodiversity in the region and how to lower the wildfire threat to rural communities before deciding how much timber to log, he said.

The environmental community will continue to push for a forest restoration plan that would stay out of roadless areas, restore watersheds and reduce the threat of wildfires near rural communities, he said.

The proposal to expand the wilderness doesnít change anything, he said.

"Itís too little too late," he said, then added, "Itís unfortunate the Forest Service wants to treat this whole area as a logging plan. They are putting the economic cart in front of the ecological horse on this one."

In a statement released Tuesday, Kulongoski, while noting he supports salvage as part of ecological restoration in matrix areas and late-successional reserves, expressed disappointment at the 64,000 acres proposed for wilderness.

"The unique character of this area warrants a significantly larger addition," the governor said.

He also opposed intrusion into roadless areas. "The final success of this project cannot be measured in just board feet, but also in the degree to which it supports healthy watersheds and healthy communities," he said. "We must balance the need for economic growth with the need to protect Oregonís natural resources and I believe this proposal does not go far enough to achieve that balance."

Conroy has asked the agencyís northwest regional forester to grant the project emergency status, thus allowing logging to begin as soon as the timber is sold, probably next month.

"It means we would wait 30 days from the issuance of the final environmental impact statement, then harvesting could begin soon after," he said. "At the same time, we could still follow our appeals process if the project or decisions are appealed."

Emergency status would not stop litigation, he said.

About 100 million board feet could be harvested this summer and fall, he said.

The project has been split into three records of decision expected to be signed July 6.The plan calls for building 300 miles of fuel management zones to protect wildlife habitat and rural communities, reforest 31,000 acres, restore 700 acres of meadows, allow 83,000 acres of prescribed burns, and close, decommission or stabilize 70 miles of roads.

As part of the salvage package, the Bureau of Land Managementís Medford District proposed to salvage about 4 million board feet of fire-killed timber on about 700 acres.

That timber is also expected to be sold next month, said Mary Smelcer of the BLM.

 

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