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Rey cancels talk with environmentalists

The lightning rod for the Bush administration's forestry policies was struck once Friday morning.

He didn't care to be struck again.

I'm not a masochist ' there are limits to anyone's tolerance, said , U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and environment.

Rey canceled a scheduled mid-morning meeting with representatives of environmental groups at the Ashland Ranger District office because of concerns the session would turn into the second protest of the day. About 100 protesters were present at Southern Oregon University, where Rey made a speech earlier that morning.

The reason we didn't meet with them was what they asked for and what they wanted was two different things, Rey said during an interview at the office. They asked for a private talk about the Biscuit fire recovery project. But what they really wanted was another protest opportunity.

— He said he was available for an open discussion on the issues, but not continued verbal attacks.

But veteran environmental activist Mike Roselle, who is employed by Greenpeace and is a member of the National Forest Protection Alliance board, said there were no plans to protest at the ranger station.

I think they probably assumed, incorrectly, that we were going to protest, he said, noting the office was closed when they arrived, forcing them to wait outside.

We weren't going to 'dis' him, he added. We didn't want to pass up this opportunity to meet with him. He must have gotten spooked by the pot banging. I thought he was tougher than that.

Rey's tolerance was tested during his speech at the annual meeting of the Siskiyou Chapter of the Society of American Foresters at SOU.

Liar! You're a liar! yelled one protester who burst open a rear door before being removed by security guards.

As Rey was completing his speech, protesters began chanting outside and banging pots, making it difficult to hear the speaker.

, go away! they yelled.

Rey, who had met early Friday morning with a group of SOU students to discuss forestry issues, said he wanted to talk to the environmental group representatives.

It's always good to meet with people with different views, he said. You expand your understanding of what their concerns are. And sometimes you can address those concerns. Sometimes you can't.

Opposition to salvaging fire-killed trees in the huge portion of the Siskiyou National Forest burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire, which covered some half million acres, sparked the protest.

The Forest Service is expected to make a decision on Biscuit fire salvage this spring. Its preferred alternative calls for harvesting some 500 million board feet.

During the Medford interview, Rey declined to speculate on the ultimate decision, stressing that it is up to Scott Conroy, supervisor of the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests.

An announcement on the final decision is expected within the month, said Conroy, who was present during the interview.

The supervisor acknowledged that environmental activists' eyebrows had been raised after the agency, which originally had been considering salvaging some 100 million board feet, changed it after a controversial report from Oregon State University scientists led by John Sessions indicated that up to 2.5 billion board feet could be salvaged.

Noting he had made that decision, Conroy explained that was part of the National Environmental Policy Act process which included gathering information from the public.

The Sessions report made me realize that I hadn't defined a range of reasonable alternatives, Conroy said. That showed me the range was much broader than I had limited my thinking to. I felt it was important to look at that wider range.

Broadening the range shouldn't be construed as somehow unethical or bowing to the pressure of the timber industry lobby, Rey said.

That's offensive, he said of the suggestion. We're obliged by law to consider a range of alternatives. ... I think there is a tad bit of hypocrisy here.

Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, also took exception to the suggestion he is too close to the timber industry.

My general approach has been to listen to anybody who wants to discuss the issues, he said. Today was an exception. Today was the first time we've actually turned away a group in large part because they weren't forthright about what they wanted to accomplish.

When it comes to issues that have been debated at length, protests have little impact on the decision-making process, he said.

They aren't conveying any new information, he said.

Mark Rey