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Forest management misrepresented and misunderstood

The Mail Tribune recently published a series of letters as part of a campaign against the Bureau of Land Management’s Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project. From my experience as an active public lands collaborator, grounded forester, wildland firefighter, forest carbon enthusiast and hunter, I believe these attacks lack context and aim to induce fear.

First, it’s important to note the lands within the BLM’s Bear Grub project area are at extremely high risk of catastrophic fire that, if left untreated, could leave Ruch, Jacksonville and surrounding communities vulnerable to the kind of devastation we witnessed in Paradise, California. With overly dense forests and a lack of management on these federal lands, this area is a tinder box waiting for a perfectly timed spark.

The selection harvest management strategy identified in the BLM’s Resource Management Plan that was proposed in the scoping letter for this project is widely utilized to develop fire resilience across landscapes. Selection harvests are a type of uneven-aged management strategy and include selecting groups of trees for removal (gaps), leaving behind untreated areas (skips), and a component of commercial thinning everywhere else.

Light-touch management such as selection harvests are meant to be selective. With the intent of creating resilience and balance on the landscape, this project will leave the most fire-adaptive trees in place. Space, water and other nutrients will be freed up for the remaining trees, while the lowest-quality and fire-prone trees will be removed.

“Clearcutting” is vastly different than uneven-aged management. Yes, gaps are small cleared areas, but they are intended to develop balance and diversity in small forest areas known as “stands.” A clearcut, on the other hand, is a final harvest utilized to mimic natural disasters and reestablish a larger portion of forested land.

Furthermore, the BLM is required to follow all laws related to wildlife protection including those specifically for the northern spotted owl, among other environmental protections. What they are not mandated to do is create habitat for animals who need young forests. In fact, the gaps that may be created by the BLM would provide a short-term supply of food for elk, deer, birds, and insects.

Lastly, the BLM is anything but in the pocket of the timber industry, as one letter writer alleged. The industry continues to have supply issues from federal lands, delays on timber sale execution, and paper-thin margins on sales that are barely economical. If the BLM was truly in the timber industry’s pocket, why would they have allowed two mills in their backyard to close over the past few years?

As the newly published Bear Grub map shows, about three-quarters of the project area is designated for non-commercial treatments, including fuels reduction and prescribed fire. Companies that purchase timber sales and produce Oregon-made wood products are not involved in this type of work on federal lands unless it is explicitly required in a timber sale contract. Non-commercial work can cost taxpayers a great deal of money. In fact, if more of the project was designated for commercial harvest, then more of the non-commercial work could actually be completed.

It is true that the public knows little about the Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project because the proposed action has not been published. This timeline falls in line with every other project in the “scoping” phase of the National Environmental Policy Act. If you wonder why summers of wildfire and smoke are endured, a lack of capacity to do more forest restoration exists, and lengthy timelines to get anything completed on the ground take place, it is due to anti-forestry campaigns such as the one against the Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project.

Amanda Astor is the southwest Oregon field forester for the American Forest Resource Council and spends much of her time traveling the federal forests of the Rogue Valley. She has degrees in forest management, forest biology and forest carbon science.