Timber trivia

Apparently, 174 trees are holding up the harvest of more than 17,000

This week, the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District will auction 6.75 million board feet of timber in the Butte Falls Resource Area, with the blessing of environmentalists and the timber industry. Last month, environmental groups filed the latest in a series of lawsuits seeking to block timber sales in the Medford District's Ashland Resource Area.

What's the difference? That's hard to say.

Environmentalists say the projects they oppose would cut old-growth trees, remove spotted owl habitat and threaten salmon streams. BLM officials say the projects were carefully designed to comply with all environmental restrictions.

Three timber sales in the Rio Climax Forest Management Project involve cutting trees larger than 30 inches in diameter, which environmental groups consider "old growth." In addition, some of the trees marked for cutting contain mistletoe, which the lawsuits say provides nesting habitat for the spotted owl and for the Pacific fisher, and the sales would involve constructing new roads.'

BLM officials note the three Rio Climax sales would cut 17,550 trees. About 174 of those are larger than 30 inches in diameter.

So opponents are going to court to save 174 trees, which amount to less than 1 percent of the total to be harvested.

If that seems much ado over very little, consider that the conservation groups offered to drop the Rio Climax lawsuits if the BLM would agree not to cut those 174 trees.

The Rio Climax sales would harvest about 2.5 million board feet of timber.

Meanwhile, the Vine Maple sale, totaling 6.5 million board feet, is set to proceed to auction this week without opposition. Ultimately, the restoration project of which Vine Maple is a part could total more than 20 million board feet.

The average diameter of trees in the Vine Maple sale is 15.9 inches. According to the BLM, 11 sales in the past three years in the Ashland Resource Area have averaged 14.6 inches in diameter.

Regardless of what constitutes "old growth," if 174 trees are holding up the harvest of more than 17,000, the answer seems obvious. Just don't cut them.

On the other hand, if saving those 174 trees would end the lawsuit, the other issues must not be very important.

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