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Feds speed up salvage

April 28, 2004


Saws could be buzzing soon in the burn area of the Toolbox fire near Silver Lake.

The U.S. Forest Service has declared an economic emergency exists concerning salvageable timber on public land scorched in July 2002. The agency is using new regulations that allow it to skip the appeals process in order to expedite timber sales.

Last June the Forest Service expanded its language of what makes up an emergency situation for a timber salvage to include substantial loss of economics.

Use of the new rules allowed the Forest Service to schedule an auction for today to sell four parcels of timber with an estimated 4.2 million board feet of logs. Four more sales are set to go to auction in early May.

Officials said the timber is deteriorating quickly, eroding the value of the wood.

"If we don't get much of that material out this summer, it becomes increasingly possible that we don't sell any of that material," said Carolyn Wisdom, Silver Lake district ranger.

Critics say the Forest Service is cutting the public out of the process of deciding what to do with salvage timber, and that economics don't make for emergency.

A lightning storm on July 12, 2002, sparked a swarm of fires, which came to be known as the Toolbox Complex, in the woods south of Silver Lake.

In all, the fires blackened 85,000 acres, including 49,500 acres of national forest.

The draft plan for fire recovery was finished last October and opened to public comment.

"From then to now, more than half the value is gone," Wisdom said.

The original plan called for salvage of 73.2 million board feet of timber. The revised plan now calls for salvage of 36 million board feet.

"And that is dropping as we speak," Wisdom said.

Wisdom said the timber is quickly developing a condition called "blue stain" caused by a fungus.

Although it's possible that environmentalists could seek an injunction, Wisdom said timber crews could be out cutting trees within a week or two, depending how ready they are to go to work and how much snow is left on the ground.

Linda Goodman, the Forest Service's regional forester, approved the determination of an economic emergency for 7,300 acres of commercial salvage and 4,500 acres of fuels treatment.

The rest of the restoration plan, which also calls for salvage of another 3,000 acres, 2,200 acres of thinning and 20,000 acres of replanting, will be subject to the usual 45-day appeal process. The clock on that process started ticking on Monday.

With the emergency determination, anyone opposed to the salvage will need to take the Forest Service quickly if they want to stop a salvage.

They could still go through the appeal process, but the salvage could be done before the appeal is considered, said Don Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

"If we win the appeal, the result is moot because the trees are already gone," Heiken said.

Going straight to litigation is much more burdensome and costly than the appeals process because it involves lawyers, he said.

"It is just another way that cuts the public out of the loop," Heiken said.

Emergencies should be limited to situations in which public health or safety is at risk, he added.

Karen Shimamoto, supervisor of the Fremont-Winema National Forests, said the economics of the Toolbox salvage make it something that needs to be done as soon as possible.

"We used the rationale that if we didn't remove this material, it would add to our future cost and we would have to open more acres to reforestation," Shimamoto said.





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