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Forest conference attendees want more activism

ASHLAND ' Frustrated by public indifference and a rollback of environmental protections under President Bush, activists at the 14th annual Forest Conference here urged local action and education to revive their flagging movement.

We're not connecting with people in a way that's meaningful to them, getting them to realize the value of the forests that are now being destroyed, as protections are lifted, said Tonya Graham of Headwaters in Ashland, sponsor of the conference that runs through Sunday at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

As part of the grassroots effort to reconnect average Oregonians with a marginalized environmental movement, Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) helped get students at Southern Oregon University and Ashland High School's Wilderness Charter School to attend the conference and write letters opposing the BLM's Kelsey-Whisky timber sale. The old-growth stand in the Zane Grey Roadless Area, 20 miles west of Galice, also was the site of a forest rescue station erected by Greenpeace in June.

Dominick DellaSala of World Wildlife Fund in Ashland said the battle to conserve resources in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area is not going as well as we would like, with the main concern being salvage logging of the area burned in 2003's Biscuit fire near Cave Junction.

Biscuit, one of the biggest public-lands logging operations in the country, is a hot spot for botanical diversity, as it (the Siskiyou National Forest) holds more rare plants than any other national forest and has the best salmon runs on the Pacific Coast, said DellaSala.

— The Bush administration in its second term is rolling back protections on 55.8 million acres of roadless areas protected by former President Clinton, DellaSala said, turning the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area and other areas into one massive logging camp.

Randi Spivak, executive director of American Lands Alliance in Washington, D.C., said Oregonians care deeply about their forests, but the environmental movement has been marginalized in the current political climate and people don't realize that critical protections have been dismantled as the administration rewards its forest-industry friends.

While most timber now comes from private land, timber companies are hammering public streams, air and wildlife that move through them and harvesting old growth. They replant with a smaller variety of trees that are farmed with chemicals and harvested more often, said Roy Keene of the Institute for Wildlife Protection in Eugene.

In timber-salvage operations like Biscuit, Keene added, the public is losing money ' in the tens of millions of dollars ' because the harvest is being sold for less than the public money spent to maintain the forests.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org