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Bush talk will be by invitation

Republican Party expects fire-area tour and forest health-conservation speech to resonate with voters

President Bush will address conservation and forest health issues when he visits Medford on Thursday.

He is scheduled to arrive in Medford on Air Force One at 9:55 a.m. where he and U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith will receive a briefing on Oregon wildfires, according to Joe Sheffo, Smith's press secretary.

Bush and Smith will then be taken on a tour of the area burned by the Squire fire southeast of Ruch. The fire scorched nearly 3,000 acres of public and private land after it was sparked by lightning July 13.

Following the tour, Bush will make what Smith's office describes as a major speech on conservation and forest health beginning at 12:45 p.m. at the Compton Arena at the Jackson County Expo.

His presentation will be available by invitation only to those who have received tickets, officials said.

Bush and Smith will be joined by several dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.

This is very significant for us, state Republican Party Chairman Perry Atkinson said. We know that Oregon is one of the targeted states in the next election cycle.

If Atkinson had any doubts, he was jokingly reminded of that in the days just before Bush's inauguration.

When I met with the president, he leaned over and said, 'Just 6,776 votes ' are you going to make it up to me next time?' Atkinson said, referring to the number of votes that Bush lost Oregon by in the 2000 election. I told him we would do our best.

But it is the issue of wildfires that will be on Bush's mind during his visit to Southern Oregon, Atkinson said.

One area the president is expected to visit is a 90-acre site on the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management.

Off Sterling Creek Road, the parcel was thinned by logging its small-diameter trees in 1996 and 1997, followed by a prescribed burn in 1999.

The behavior of the Squire fire changed abruptly when it came to the thinned area, according to officials.

The flames were 2 to — feet long instead of 70 to 100 feet after the fire arrived at the thinned parcel, said Steve Armitage, forest manager for the district's Ashland Resource Area.

The reduced fire activity, which enabled firefighters to get a handle on the fire in that area, was the direct result of thinning and prescribed burning, officials concluded.

The thinning included removing 4,000 of the smallest and weakest trees of the roughly 6,000 growing on the parcel, Armitage said. The average tree cut was 13 inches in diameter, he added.

This was a commercial logging operation ' almost half a million board feet was removed and sold at a profit, he said. That counters the concept that one can't do commercial thinning at a profit.

The current Oval Office occupant will not be the first President Bush to have visited the Rogue Valley.

His father George Bush made a presidential visit to Medford in mid-September, 1992. During that visit made during a failed re-election effort, the senior Bush spoke to a crowd of about 3,000 people gathered at a now-defunct lumber company mill in White City.

Before that, the last presidential visit came when President Gerald R. Ford dropped in on Medford in May of 1976. At the time, Ford was being challenged by Ronald Reagan in the Oregon primary.

The only other visit by a sitting president occurred in September of 1880 when Rutherford B. Hayes visited the Rogue Valley.

Several other former presidents and would-be presidents also have visited over the years, but not while occupying the White House.

They included Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at