Environmental groups planned to turn in more than 10,000 public comments opposing logging in an area near Crater Lake to Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials this morning.
The comments were to be submitted on the final day of the public comment period for the 290-page environmental assessment for the Bybee management project adjacent to the national park.
The project's proximity to the park has riled Portland-based Oregon Wild and others who support creating a 500,000-acre Crater Lake Wilderness to protect what they say are wilderness characteristics.
"Logging in the proposed wilderness crosses the line," said Erik Fernandez, wilderness coordinator for Oregon Wild. "It is guaranteed the Forest Service will have a fight on its hands with this project."
"Effectively clearcutting old-growth is bad enough but doing it on the edge of our only national park makes this project particularly egregious," said Charlie Fisher, field organizer for Environment Oregon, who planned to deliver the comments in three large boxes.
But a timber industry official notes that the area has been previously logged and suggests the opponents are using emotional rhetoric to create a "furor."
"I think it is a terrific project," said Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. "This is one of the land designations they (environmentalists) agreed almost 20 years ago to set aside for timber production."
Opponents, however, say the proposed project would destroy critical wildlife habitat and degrade water quality in river drainages. The Forest Service says it will improve forest health while reducing the threat of a catastrophic wildfire.
However, the environmental assessment concluded that the logging would mean the area would "likely forgo future designation as wilderness."
The project would encroach on proposed wilderness that would stretch some 75 miles from Crescent Lake south to Highway 140 at Fish Lake. Initially proposed in 2009, it would include Crater Lake National Park as well as the Sky Lakes Wilderness, Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness and the Mount Thielsen Wilderness.
Joining Oregon Wild and Environment Oregon in the proposal is Umpqua Watersheds and the Crater Lake Institute, a group dedicated to protecting Crater Lake.
Roughly 4 percent of Oregon is now dedicated wilderness, compared with 8 percent of Idaho, 10 percent of Washington and 15 percent of California, Fernandez said.
"Given the lack of wilderness protections in Oregon, the proposed Crater Lake Wilderness needs more protection, not more chainsaws and bulldozers," he said.
"The Forest Service will claim everything they do as being harmless restoration," he added. "When you get through the smoke and mirrors though you'll clearly see this is going to be a nasty logging project in the proposed Crater Lake Wilderness."
If the proposed alternative is selected for the project in the High Cascades Ranger District, some 45 million board feet of timber would be harvested from the 16,215-acre area. The project would be between Highway 230 and Crater Lake National Park with the southern tip of the tract about 15 miles north of Prospect.
In addition, the project would would employ a variety of silvicultural methods on 3,622 acres, including "free thinning" on 2,881 acres, which calls for removing trees to control stand density and favor desired tree species, officials said. However, large "legacy trees" would be retained, officials said. Overstory removal would be employed on 438 acres, meaning that upper canopy layers would be removed to release trees or other vegetation in an understory, they noted.
Roughly 85 percent — 3,095 acres — would be logged by tractor or other ground-based systems. Helicopter logging would be employed on 34 acres.
Forest Service officials, who did not respond to a call from the Mail Tribune for comment, have stressed the proposal is intended to improve forest health while reducing the wildfire threat and providing jobs.
"The objectives of the Bybee vegetation management project are to improve forest stand conditions, which include stand diversity, density and structure," forest supervisor Rob MacWhorter said in a prepared statement.
"This will enhance forest health and resiliency in the Upper Rogue Watershed," he added. "This project also provides for commercial timber products while reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfires."
Schott, of the timber industry group, plans to deliver his comments on the project today. He questions the veracity of the statements being made by the opponents and the motives of those making them.
"It's pretty disturbing rhetoric that is emotionally designed to cause to a furor," he said. "It is not being described accurately."
He doesn't believe the area merits wilderness designation.
"It was previously harvested, approximately 60 years ago," he said. "If we do get in there and thin it out, it will be an insurance policy keeping Crater Lake National Park from being consumed by wildfire."
He noted studies have shown that more than 400 million board feet of trees are growing on the Rogue River portion of the forest each year, yet only 5 percent is being harvested.
"That's a recipe for disaster," he said.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email email@example.com.