The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to thin nearly 242 acres of pine plantations within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in an effort to hasten the time it takes old-growth characteristics to develop on the site.
Dubbed the pine plantation restoration project, it calls for thinning and fuel reduction on eight pine plantations, most of which were replanted with pine after being clearcut before becoming part of the monument established by President Bill Clinton on June 9, 2000.
The plan would thin between 50 and 55 percent of the trees while still leaving 200 to 300 trees per acre, officials said.
"Most of the stuff we would be thinning is very small," said Joel Brumm, the assistant manager for the monument located in the BLM's Medford District. "There would be no commercial component, no harvesting."
The aim is to help advance old-growth characteristics of the monument by at least 20 years, he said. The problem with the sites is the density of the artificially created pine stands is slowing the natural process of producing an old-growth forest, he added.
All eight units are in the monument's old-growth emphasis area, where the goal is to maintain, protect and restore late-successional and old-growth forest ecosystems, officials said.
The deadline for comments on the project is July 1. Comments can be sent via regular mail to John Gerritsma, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, OR, 97504. They can also be sent by email to project leader Kathy Minor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A field tour of the sites was being held this morning.
In 2010, the BLM asked Tom Atzet, a retired forest ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, to survey the 51 pine plantations covering nearly 4,000 acres within the monument.
"We're better off most the time not doing anything," Atzet said of his approach. "My major criteria, if anything is to be done, it would have to increase the speed of the goal by at least 20 years."
The area he surveyed is outside the Soda Mountain Wilderness located within the monument.
"I saw a great deal of diversity, a great deal of natural stands and very few areas where productivity of the site was ruined," he said. "Basically, most of it was recovering.
"As far as what was going on with the land, it seems like no matter what happened, there was mostly nature doing what she damn well pleases," he added.
But the forest scientist identified the 242 acres as land in which the stands would greatly benefit from thinning, providing individual trees with more water, sunlight and nutrients.
The proposal appears to have the tentative blessing of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, a local group dedicated to preserving the unique area.
"While not the highest priority of the monument's current needs, we believe the intent of the project — as we understand it so far — is good, consistent with the monument proclamation," council Chairman Dave Willis wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune.
"It's important that this project be fully in line with the monument proclamation in order not to set bad precedent for subsequent treatments," he added.
The monument was created in recognition of its rich biological diversity, making it the first in the nation created solely for preservation of its biodiversity. The monument originally covered 52,947 acres but now covers about 61,000 acres, thanks to willing sellers over the years, Brumm noted.
More information about the project, including a map, is available on the Medford District website at www.blm.gov/or/districts/medford/plans/index.php.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.