The Middle Friese timber sale, an ecologically based tract that offers a small-diameter harvest on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, sold at auction for nearly 75 percent more than its appraised value.
The 488-acre timber sale in the Butte Falls Resource Area, which appraised at $809,624 — or $263 per thousand board feet — sold for $1,404,932.
The 4.06-million-board-foot sale was purchased Thursday by the Murphy Co., one of three qualified bidders.
The sale is part of the Friese Camp forest-management project covering some 2,200 acres that BLM officials said in 2012 could ultimately produce some 20 million board feet.
The 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.
The project sale employs many of the ecological 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 in southwestern Oregon.
The sale includes small, cleared areas adjacent to undisturbed islands that the two nationally known forest scientists have included in their dry-forest restoration forestry approach.
During a tour of the Friese Camp forestry project in the spring of 2012, Franklin and Johnson noted that ecological forestry is based on integrating ecological, economical and cultural objectives.
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.
"This one seems to have worked out pretty well," Medford District spokesman Jim Whittington said of the Middle Friese sale. "It has been a big experiment for us. We didn't know how it was going to work, since it was a different approach. It was also in a different stand with different rainfall than the other pilot projects."
The jury is still out on whether the system will work on a broader landscape basis over time, he said.
"We think we are on a good path but still need to get more results," he said. "It is not just the sale price versus the appraised price but also what is left after the timber sale with respect to what comes after."
George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a conservation watchdog group in Ashland, said the sale represents a breakthrough in the gridlock.
"I am pleased to see such a market for small-diameter restoration thinning — three different companies wanted it," he said. "This is a good sign for the counties. You don't have to clear-cut or log big timber to get a harvest."
Because the sale is on O&C lands, it means income for the 18 Western Oregon counties that receive timber-based payments from former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands, he said.
"I'm encouraged the way the Butte Falls Resource Area is going," he said. "They are not going after big trees, not building roads. They are doing what will benefit fire-suppressed stands, and they are getting sales out."
Last September, the Rough and Ready Timber Co. in the Illinois Valley purchased the 6.75-million-board-foot Vine Maple sale in the Friese Camp project for the appraised price of $553,553. That sale sold for $61.80 per thousand board feet. However, the mill closed late last spring, with the owners citing a lack of available federal timber to keep it operating.
The American Forest Resources Council in Portland had administratively protested the Friese Camp project, arguing it was inconsistent with the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, the 1937 O&C Act and the Medford District resource management plan. However, it later withdrew the protest, noting it had made its point.
The timber-industry group supports more regeneration logging as well as harvest of larger trees, explained council president Tom Partin.
"The volume to our members is pretty darn important," he said.
It was that factor, not the support of the timber-harvest approach, that resulted in the Middle Friese sale being sold, he observed.
"We are seeing a bit of a rebound in the market, but our industry in southwest Oregon is really competing for any wood available," he said, noting that any sale will draw purchasers because of the lack of sales being offered of federal timberlands.
The council supports the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act now before the U.S. Congress, he said, noting it would provide a balanced approach that would include timber harvest as well as environmental protection.
The Williams Thin sale, appraised at $422,442 or $192.50 per thousand board feet, was also sold Thursday. The 2.38-million-board-foot sale went for $478,075 to Boise Cascade, one of two qualified bidders.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.