When Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson look past the Pilot Joe restoration project, they see forests with a future.

When Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson look past the Pilot Joe restoration project, they see forests with a future.

"There is no question that ecological forestry could be the basis for a new management by the (Bureau of Land Management) on this land," said Franklin, a forest ecology professor at the University of Washington.

"No insurmountable problems are emerging," he said. "It works. It is just a different philosophical approach to managing forest resources."

Johnson, his counterpart at Oregon State University, agreed.

"You have to use your imagination to apply it — this is not a cookie-cutter approach," Johnson said. "Each area is a little different in terms of the forest and in terms of the people."

"And in terms of the objective," Franklin interjected.

The two made their remarks after meeting with BLM employees — foresters, silviculturists, biologists and others — from the agency's Medford District who are working on the Friese Camp ecological forestry project between Butte Falls and Prospect.

It is one of five such projects announced late in February by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar when he visited the Pilot Joe project in the Applegate Valley.

Three of the five new projects are on the Medford District, including Pilot Thompson in the Thompson Creek drainage of the Applegate, and the Jumping Bean project in the Grants Pass Resource Area.

The other two new ecological forestry projects are under way in BLM's Lakeview and Roseburg districts.

The two nationally known forestry professors, along with environmental groups and timber industry representatives, persuaded Salazar in 2010 to try a restoration forestry approach on three pilot projects in southwestern Oregon as a way to end gridlock in public forests.

In addition to Pilot Joe in the middle Applegate Valley, two other pilot projects are under way on BLM land in Douglas and Coos counties. The 1.5-million-board-foot Pilot Joe timber sale is the first where trees have been harvested. It sold for $230,000 — more than four times its appraised value.

Like the forest restoration approach, the goal of ecological forestry is to preserve the largest trees and improve forest health, including protecting northern spotted owl habitat, while producing wood for mills and county coffers, and reducing wildfire devastation, according to Franklin and Johnson.

"The industry for so long has argued there is only one way to manage these forests: intensively for wood production," Franklin said. "On the other side, there have been the loud voices saying, 'You've got to preserve this.'

"The reality for our public lands is that neither industrial-strength forestry nor preserving all of it is appropriate," he added. "What is appropriate is integrated approaches that provide for the full array of values that we care about as a society: ecologic, economic and cultural."

The approach of allocating sections of public lands as reserves or for timber harvesting — as was done by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan — did not work, they said.

"We are trying to help folks with this new way of thinking, how they would accomplish it and still achieve their other goals," Johnson said.

The Friese Camp project is in a checkerboard pattern a dozen miles long and half that wide among private land parcels, much of which is timber-industry land. That checkerboard pattern poses a challenge for BLM personnel planning the ecological forestry project, said district spokesman Jim Whittington.

"We don't have the option of doing a landscape scale look at the ground as we did in the original Pilot Joe project," he said. "So we will have to incorporate the same sorts of demands and outcomes into this very fragmented, checkerboard landscape and see how it fits."

Ecological forestry is about principles, not specific prescriptions, he said.

"How you get to those principles is the big question," he said.

The prescription also will be adjusted, officials said.

For instance, the Friese Camp area has more precipitation and is at a slightly higher altitude than Pilot Joe. But Franklin and Johnson recommend it be treated as a dry forest because of the potential for climate change to bring warmer temperatures to the region.

"The biggest difference between this area and Pilot Joe is dealing with the complexity created by the checkerboards," Franklin said. "It is difficult for everybody from the spotted owl people to the silviculturists trying to develop the prescriptions."

He recommends the BLM islands among the private parcels be viewed independently of adjacent woodlands as agency planners move forward.

"To a degree, you have to look at what is appropriate to be done for that stand," he said. "That's given the obligation we carry on the federal lands for providing for all the biological diversity, including spotted owls.

"You can't make assumptions about what is going to happen on the other part of the checkerboard," he continued. "You have to figure out your strategy in the context of what you are obligated to provide for, what you are obligated to do for the health of that forest ecosystem. In the end, you have to work in the context of what you can control."

Ecological forestry is a broader approach than restoration forestry, which is just one approach to it, Johnson explained.

"You are trying to integrate ecological principles into this — you are not trying to mitigate," he said.

Although ecological forestry can be applied with many objectives, it is based on integrating ecological, economical and cultural objectives, he said.

"The test here is going to be: how large an area can we apply this to?" Johnson said. "What in aggregate does it add up to in terms of timber sales? What is the potential, positive affects for the northern spotted owl?

"What we are doing now is trying to meld it into larger projects," he added. "Can we apply this to very large areas in a way that is acceptable? We think it can work. But this next set of projects will tell us a lot."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.