A 6.75-million-board-foot timber sale the U.S. Bureau of Land Management hopes to auction off today has been protested —- by a timber industry group.

A 6.75-million-board-foot timber sale the U.S. Bureau of Land Management hopes to auction off today has been protested ­—- by a timber industry group.

The Portland-based American Forest Resource Council has filed an administrative protest against the Vine Maple sale in the Butte Falls Resource Area, which has been supported by both a local timber industry group and an environmental organization.

In a written protest on Aug. 30, AFRC president Tom Partin concluded the sale would violate the O&C Act, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan and the BLM's Medford District resource management plan. The group supports more regeneration logging as well as larger trees harvested within the sale.

The ecologically based timber sale, which includes forest restoration thinning on 479 acres, is part of the Friese Camp ecological forestry project covering about 2,200 acres, which could ultimately produce some 20 million board feet, according to BLM officials.

The protest was addressed to John Raby, the resource area manager. If the protest is rejected, the AFRC could then appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals in Arlington, Va.

The administrative protest will have no impact on today's auction, Raby said.

However, the fact the sale is restricted to Small Business Administration qualified companies could have an impact, he said. For instance, the haul distance of 100 miles for Rough and Ready Lumber Co. in the Illinois Valley could be a deciding factor for that firm, he noted.

"This auction is just for small mills — the other bigger companies won't be able to bid," he said. "If it doesn't sell, we would open for bigger firms later. But right now it is only SBA-qualified bidders."

The AFRC supports more federal timberlands becoming available for harvest, but it believes the Vine Maple sale violates several laws, said AFRC vice president Ann Forest Burns.

"For instance, there is a legally adopted resource management plan in place," she said, noting that plan does not contain the exceptions included in the selected alternative.

"We believe the district is required to follow that resource management plan unless it goes through an administrative process required to change it," she added. "We are using the legal protest to bring attention to this violation."

She declined to comment on whether AFRC's concern was for the single sale or the forest restoration approach in general.

"We certainly feel there is a need for volume from all of the BLM lands, particularly the Medford District," she said. "We favor management that protects the forest and provides volume for the industry."

Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, supports the sale from the standpoint it will produce needed timber, albeit he has no argument with the AFRC's stance.

"I understand where they are coming from," he said. "They believe, as most in the industry do, that the Northwest Forest Plan is the governing resource plan for the BLM now. In that plan, everybody agreed that timber on matrix land was to be harvested in a sustainable way for the benefit of the counties."

But the timber supply from the 1994 plan has not been produced as anticipated, he said.

"There is a frustration factor out there," he said. "A lot of people feel the environmental groups have succeeded in getting the upper hand in what will be cut, and how it will harvested."

However, because no mills in Jackson and Josephine counties cut large-scale trees anymore, the trees in the Vine Maple sale, which average 15.9 inches in diameter at chest height, would be just about right for local mills, he said.

Schott expects the Vine Maple sale to sell.

"It has some nice-size timber," he said. "Not old-growth timber but the size mills want now.

"I support the fact the BLM is trying to get some timber out," he added. "Mills here are desperate for federal timber. I laud the BLM's efforts."

George McKinley, director of the Forest Restoration Collaborative (formerly the Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative), which comprises both environmental group and timber industry representatives, also sees frustration, but from a slightly different perspective.

"It is frustrating to see a larger trade organization come in and undermine what has been so well received by local environmental groups and the local industry," he said, noting that the sale represents a sizeable amount of timber.

"That 6.75 million — those should be numbers that catch people's attention," he said of anticipated support for the project.

George Sexton, conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental watchdog group based in Ashland, agreed.

"I'm hoping the big boys in the industry don't scare the little ones off," he said, noting he is concerned the protest could make a purchase less likely in the small business sale.

The sale incorporates many of the concepts that forest ecology professor Jerry Franklin at the University of Washington and Norm Johnson, his counterpart at Oregon State University, have included in their pilot timber projects already under way in southwestern Oregon. Their approach is based on integrating ecological, economical and cultural objectives.

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