The U.S. Forest Service is planning on salvage logging later this year in about 8 percent of its acres burned in last year's 191,197-acre Chetco Bar fire in Curry County, a move timber advocates welcomed and one conservation group called "something we can live with."
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has eyed salvage-logging 13,626 acres within lands already tapped for timber production and where the fire burned more than half the canopy cover, forest documents show.
The remainder of the 170,321 acres of national forestland burned in that blaze either will be left alone or tapped for removal of hazard trees near roads, trails and recreation areas.
The actual salvage-logging area also could be reduced during an ongoing environmental analysis on which the Forest Service is taking public comments through January, forest spokesman Roland Giller said.
The forest offered no estimated range of timber volume expected, and the agency was still three to six weeks away from developing estimates, said Jessie Berner, the forest's Chetco Bar fire salvage coordinator.
The forest expects the analysis to be completed by early May, with sales offered as early as late spring, Giller said.
Forest Supervisor Robert MacWorter has sought an emergency declaration to ensure sales could be sold and logged before bug infestations and other factors render the sales uneconomical, documents state.
A large portion of the trees eyed for salvage logging are less than 20 inches in diameter and would lose value to insects, disease and deterioration quicker than larger trees, according to the Forest Service.
While it would not affect actions through federal court, the emergency declaration would exempt the project from the government's administrative appeals.
"That would be wonderful because time is of the essence," said Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. "That will facilitate a much quicker process, no question."
Delays in the forest's plans to salvage-log after the 2002 Biscuit fire rendered most of the damaged timber unsuitable for milling, Schott said.
"Getting some rather than not getting any out," Schott said. "That is what we're hoping for."
George Sexton, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said a sound plan to get sellable timber from the fire would be to continue focusing on commercial logging of hazard trees as well as previously logged plantations within the study area.
The forest also should add fuels-reduction timber sales immediately around communities to ensure public safety in these areas eyed for salvage, Sexton said.
"I could see that as a project that sails through pretty quickly and gets out a decent amount of volume," Sexton said. "That's about the best they can do and I think it will produce a fair amount of volume.
"It's something we can live with," Sexton said.
The proposed project area lies within the Chetco and Pistol river basins and includes potential units on both sides of the Chetco, according to the Forest Service.
The Forest Service has assembled an interdisciplinary team that has begun its analysis of the project area. The group is planning a draft environmental assessment that, once released, will include a 30-day public comment period, according to the Forest Service.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.