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Applegate residents fume over BLM plan

APPLEGATE — Some Applegate Valley activists are vowing to appeal a new multi-unit timber sale and fire-reduction project proposed by the Bureau of Land Management, saying the BLM "gave the finger" to residents trying to collaborate with the agency on the project.

The group Applegate Neighborhood Network is at odds with the BLM's Nedsbar Forest Management Project, which includes logging on O&C lands, after the agency rejected the group's community-generated alternative.

The Applegate group says the project calls for heavy-handed cutting of 5 million board feet of timber scattered over 1,112 acres on O&C and other lands, including logging within a 5,000-acre wilderness study area near Bald Mountain. Revenues from logging on O&C lands feed coffers in Jackson and other counties.

Some of the proposed logging units would be visible from the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, which is a state designated scenic trail, and in the area of the proposed Jack-Ash Trail linking Jacksonville and Ashland.

After the BLM stiff-armed their community alternative, which proposed about 1 million board feet of commercial logging, group members claim the BLM ignored its Applegate Adaptive Management Area charge for working with the public to craft projects with community support in the Applegate Watershed.

"They just simply dropped the whole Adaptive Management Area idea, and it's got everybody upset here, for sure," says Chris Bratt, an Applegate resident and longtime environmental advocate who is on Applegate Neighborhood Network's steering committee. "They just gave the finger to the people in the Applegate."

In her decision announcement, Ashland Resource Area Field Manager Kristi Mastrofini says she chose the project's direction over the community alternative because it best meets the BLM's 1995 Medford District Resources Management Plan for timber resources.

She says the community alternative was "inconsistent" with the two-decades-old management plan and represented an "unwarranted departure" from it.

Kathy Minor, the agency's assistant field manager for the Ashland Resource Area, says the decision represents a meshing of the community alternative and a BLM alternative that originally called for more logging units and more road construction, which were dropped because of public concerns.

The end result, Minor says, is a plan crafted to improve the health of the area's timber stands by focusing on creating better conditions for larger trees.

"I honestly think this decision is a really good compromise from what we originally proposed and what we heard this community wanted," Minor says.

The Applegate Neighborhood Network plans to file an administrative protest to the project before the Thursday deadline, which they hope will suspend the Sept. 22 scheduled bid on the timber sale, says Luke Ruediger, the group's program coordinator.

If the group doesn't get the relief it requests, it will consider a federal lawsuit, he says.

Ruediger says he hopes the formal protest will lead to a sit-down with BLM officials that would allow amendments to the plan to allay what he says are overwhelming community concerns. 

"Otherwise, it appears to the community in the Applegate that we have no other option but litigation," Ruediger says.

The Applegate Neighborhood Network plans to protest Sept. 22 outside the BLM's Medford office during the Nedsbar timber auction, Ruediger says.

The project calls for the construction of .42 miles of new permanent roads and 1.33 miles of new temporary roads that would be decommissioned when the projects are done, according to the decision.

Loggers would use five current helicopter landings, seven new landings and four skid trails to get logs out of the woods, and log trucks would use 61 miles of existing roads as haul routes, according to the BLM's Record of Decision.

The work will be done largely within the upper Applegate and Little Applegate watersheds in and around popular recreation trails such as the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.

The project also calls for noncommercial thinning and other fire fuels-reduction work on 1,027 acres.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Hikers walk along the Wolf Gap Trail near the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, which overlooks an area of the Applegate Valley where logging is proposed. Mail Tribune file photo