At first glance, it appears the U.S. Forest Service gave a timber company the deal of a lifetime in exchange for some new culverts on a remote forest road. So why is no one howling about wasting taxpayers' dollars or subsidizing private industry?
Maybe because there are some very good reasons for the deal, and the road work in question will benefit not only the Forest Service but also rafters and other recreation enthusiasts who use Bear Camp Road to reach the lower Rogue River canyon.
Bear Camp Road, which runs from Galice to Agness and eventually connects to Highway 101 at Gold Beach, is a narrow, paved road that is closed in winter. Also known as Forest Service Road 23, the route is prone to washouts and sloughs from failed culverts.
Federal rules require timber companies to bring roads up to log-truck standards before hauling out timber sales. On Bear Camp, $350,000 worth of culvert work is necessary to meet that standard.
The Forest Service advertised a 201-acre timber sale along Bear Camp Road designed to restore the landscape by encouraging large-tree growth, reducing wildfire intensity and improving habitat for wildlife species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. That's the kind of timber sale environmental groups say they want to see more of, which may explain the lack of outcry over this project.
The Forest Service set the minimum bid on the sale at $10.34 per thousand board feet — a tiny fraction of the $200 to $250 per thousand that other recent sales have brought in. Only one company — South Coast Lumber of Brookings — submitted a bid, and it was for the minimum amount.
That might sound a little too convenient, except for the specific circumstances of this sale.
First, South Coast is the closest mill still operating that cuts lumber — and it is 70 miles one way, a long distance to haul logs. And the timber sale is in Curry County, which means the milling must be done there as well.
Second, the timber sale is a difficult one. Restoration work is trickier and more expensive than other kinds of logging.
Third, South Coast must complete the $350,000 in culvert work up front, before a single tree is logged. That's a sizable expense.
Finally, the Forest Service is coping with tight budgets, and it doesn't have the money to do road work before timber is sold. Bringing Bear Camp Road up to log-hauling standards means more timber sales can be offered in the area at much more favorable prices. Not to mention the benefit to rafters and others who also use the road.
In short, what appeared to be a government giveaway starts to look more like a win-win solution.