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Nibble on the Biscuit

Sen. Wyden's plan to split up the Biscuit fire salvage would put loggers to work in less controversial areas


If nothing changes by summer's end, thousands of dead trees in the Biscuit fire zone will have lost much of their economic value and provide little but political fodder for the November presidential election.

It would be a terrible waste if all these trees go from pulp to political fiction while environmentalists, loggers and the U.S. Forest Service slug it out in the courts. The Southern Oregon towns that surround the Biscuit are struggling with Oregon's highest jobless rates. They badly need the work, and the wood, that would come from salvage.

Yet that's a distant hope right now. Eighteen months after the Biscuit fire went cold, the Forest Service is still trying to finish its final plan for salvaging portions of the 500,000 acres burned in the historic blaze. A Forest Service decision planned for April has been pushed back to May. Environmental groups already are prepared to challenge any plan that allows salvage logging in roadless areas or mature forest reserves.

Meanwhile, insects are chomping away at the dead trees. Already many smaller trees have lost most of their salvage value. Without a more creative and less controversial approach, there won't be much left to salvage from the Biscuit -- no logs, no jobs, nothing except a ripe jobs-versus-the environment issue for President Bush and John Kerry to kick around this fall.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has offered an intriguing compromise. Wyden has proposed splitting up the logging plans for the salvage of the Biscuit fire zone so that the entire project is not stalled by legal battles and protests over logging in more environmentally sensitive areas.

If the Forest Service could rapidly produce a record of decision for so-called matrix lands that are outside roadless areas and generally open for logging, it could put Southern Oregon timber fallers and sawmill crews to work this summer.

The alternative is to keep pushing one huge salvage plan that reaches into roadless and potential wilderness areas and has drawn scorn and promised lawsuits from nearly every major environmental organization in the country.

Oregonians know where this old, familiar road leads: Appeals, lawsuits, protests, rotting trees and double-digit jobless rates in timber towns. The Forest Service should go in a new direction on the Biscuit: Cut the salvage into pieces that people can digest.



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