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Opponents file protest over timber sale in the Illinois Valley

SELMA — Local residents have filed an administrative protest against the Deer North timber sale, which went up for auction last week in Grants Pass.

The 98-acre sale is expected to produce 1.2 million board feet from scattered parcels on Bureau of Land Management land northwest of Selma.

It likely wouldn't have been logged this year even without a protest, said Martin Lew, BLM environmental planner.

The average tree size is a little over 14 inches, but protesters believe the BLM should be leaving more of the large trees. The proposal calls for leaving 16 large trees per acre.

Walking through the forest this week, one could see orange-striped trees marked to be left, but it appeared that many trees larger than 20 inches in diameter will be harvested.

"These trees are healthy and will survive a fire if it comes through here," said Rich Nawa of the Siskiyou Project. "They're keeping the volume high. We'd like to see an alternative, more ecologically oriented, not designed for industrial logging."

Orville and Mary Camp practice natural-selection forestry on their nearby property, taking only dead or dying trees, no matter the size, and leaving the canopy intact. The BLM's plan would retain 40 to 60 percent of the canopy, with the idea of slowing a devastating crown fire.

Camp contends many of the 16- to 24-inch trees are part of the last islands of native forest in the Illinois Valley, critical to red tree voles, spotted owls and other species.

"We've analyzed the Natural Selection Alternative, and it's not sustainable or predictable," said Jim Whittington, BLM spokesman. "It doesn't meet any of the requirements we have under the Northwest Forest Plan or the O&C Act. It probably does some good things on a small scale, but the way we're directed to manage forest lands it's not feasible." Lew said that after the BLM responds to the protest, the next step for protesters is the Interior Board of Land Appeals, then federal courts.

"Almost all of our projects are under protest or appeal," Lew said. "When was the last time they saw some harvest on BLM lands (in the Illinois Valley)? We're not talking about 32- to 40-inch trees. We're talking about some 20-inch trees." He added that the sale is all on "matrix" land, identified by the Northwest Forest Plan to be harvested. About 7 percent of the Medford District BLM is in matrix land, he said.

The protesters are not satisfied.

"The agency is completely committed to making the same wrong choices," said Mort Mondale of Selma. "Those decisions have resulted again and again in violations of the law as found by federal courts."

Reach Daily Courier reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com.