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Wyden: Use less-disputed timber sales

The Peak sale is too controversial a replacement, he says

Citing opposition to the Peak timber sale in the Prospect Ranger District, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has asked the Department of Agriculture to find alternative timber sales for two controversial replacement volume sales not yet awarded.

He suggests there are noncontroversial timber volume alternatives on the Willamette and Siuslaw national forests to exchange for the replacement volume sales on the Rogue River and Umpqua forests.

Approved by Congress in 1995, the replacement program exchanges logging sales on coastal federal forestland inhabited by the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird, for sales of similar value and volume on national forests inland.

Since mid-July, several members of the Mazama Forest Defenders have taken to the trees in an attempt to thwart logging on the Peak sale within the Rogue River forest about 10 miles west of Crater Lake National Park.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Mark Rey, the department's undersecretary for natural resources and environment, Wyden noted that he continually has stressed to the Forest Service that any replacement volume not include old-growth timber.

We are at a critical juncture on the replacement volume program, he wrote. I need your help to put this program behind us by creatively collaborating to protect old growth while providing necessary forest management.

The alternative is the status quo: to proceed with controversial timber sales, like the Peak sale, that result in further polarization, he added.

The Dillard-based Scott Timber Co., a subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products, is logging the nearly 4 million-board-foot Peak sale. The firm also has the contract for the Silver Sturgis sale in the Applegate Valley, another Rogue River forest replacement unit, which contains some 8 million board feet of timber.

Wyden believes that the Silver Sturgis and the Blodgett sale, a — million-acre replacement sale in the Umpqua forest, could be exchanged for sales like the 30 million-board-foot Five Rivers thinning sale in the Siuslaw forest. Scott Timber is the recipient of both the Silver Sturgis and Blodgett sales.

A member of the subcommittee on forests and public land management, Wyden asked the department to identify and implement alternative replacement volume for the two sales by this spring.

The Forest Service is prepared to send the Silver Sturgis sale to the timber firm in the next few weeks, said John Fertig, acting timber staff officer for the Rogue River and Siskiyou forests. A tentative agreement has been in place for three or four years, he said.

He described the sale, which has withstood legal challenges, as one that mainly includes thinning the forest to improve the stands of old pine trees which have withstood wildfires but are now dying from competition with young trees.

Ray Jones, vice president of resources for Roseburg Forest Products, wasn't impressed with Wyden's proposal.

We're very satisfied with the package, he said. We feel like we have worked really hard as a company with the Forest Service to come up with a balanced package.

The agency and the firm met three times this year to discuss the sales, substantially changing them to reduce impact on the forests, Jones said. The final plan calls for a third plantation thinning, a third mature thinning and a third regeneration (partial clearcut) harvest, he said. The logging will meet the intent of the Northwest Forest Plan, he said.

This package is heavy to helicopter logging and all thinnings, he said. We feel like these sales address forest health and reduce fire risk. This will be done with a very light hand on the environment.

But George Sexton, conservation director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental group, disagreed. He applauds Wyden's proposal.

It's very doable, said Sexton, who was arrested last week for trespassing while protesting the Peak sale. All it takes is the goodwill of interested parties. Here we have the opportunity for the Forest Service and the timber industry to walk their talk.

They have been saying they are interested in going after small-diameter fuels to get the volume out, he added. The senator has identified how to do this. The cards are on the table.

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