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Aug 7, 2006 Herald and News

Logging starts on first timber sale in roadless area

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- With no protesters in sight, logging started Monday on the first timber sale in a national forest roadless area since the Bush administration eased logging restrictions.

The logging went ahead after a federal judge in San Francisco last week declined to delay the work pending her ruling on lawsuits by conservation groups and four states challenging the Bush administration's new "roadless rule." That rule eased a Clinton administration rule that had put 58.5 million acres of national forests off-limits to most logging, mining and development.

Loggers told The Grants Pass Daily Courier they felled about 150 dead Douglas firs between 50 inches and 22 inches in diameter in their first day of work on the Mike's Gulch timber sale on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Work was expected to go on for about two months.

Forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said there were no protesters in the logging area when logging started early Monday morning. The area had burned in the 2002 Biscuit fire, and it remained open to the public. Helicopters were not yet hauling out the logs.

About 80 protesters instead gathered outside forest headquarters in Medford, said Rolf Skar, campaign coordinator for the Siskiyou Project, an environmental group based in Grants Pass.

"The people want to shine a light on the leadership of the Forest Service playing politics with our forests," said Skar. "This isn't really about loggers vs. conservation efforts. This is about the Bush administration playing politics with our last best forests."

Eleven people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct after they sat down in the road and blocked traffic, said Medford police Lt. Tim George.

Last year, the Forest Service was able to quickly clear protesters trying to block roads leading to timber sales within an old growth forest reserve burned by the Biscuit fire.

Silver Creek Timber Co. of Merlin paid $300,052 for the 9 million board feet of burned timber on Mike's Gulch, which will bring to 57 million board feet the amount of burned timber harvested from the 500,000 acres burned by the Biscuit fire.

The same company was the high bidder Friday on the Blackberry timber sale, which is also in a roadless area and the last of the Biscuit salvage sales. It is 8 million board feet.

The Clinton administration policy had put roadless areas off-limits to commercial logging to protect clean water, and fish and wildlife habitat.

The Bush administration rule requires governors to propose management plans for the roadless areas in their states, but leaves the final decision to log with the U.S. Forest Service.

Conservation groups and the states of Oregon, Washington, California and New Mexico have lawsuits challenging the validity of the Bush administration's overhaul of rules for logging in roadless areas. The lawsuits claim the new policy was adopted without meeting demands for public involvement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has said he will ask the Bush administration not to log the roadless areas in Oregon, and complained that logging Mike's Gulch was going back on a promise not to enter them until the state's petition was reviewed. Hearings begin this week to develop Oregon's petition.

The Bush administration has said the Mike's Gulch logging is part of an operation to salvage timber burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire, and does not come under the new roadless rule.

Roadless areas make up a third of the area of national forests around the country. They are generally larger than 5,000 acres and usually were not logged because their remote and rugged character made it too expensive. They have been assessed for their potential as wilderness areas, where logging is prohibited by act of Congress.

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