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IVM Project a giant step backwards for southwestern Oregon

Any day now the Medford District BLM could approve the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Project (IVM). This project calls for widespread industrial logging under the guise of “forest resiliency” and “forest health” thinning. Yet, the scope, scale and intensity of the logging proposed would have significant environmental impacts.

If approved, the IVM would allow the agency to log up to 20,000 acres and build 90 miles of new road per decade with “no sunset date” on BLM lands throughout southwestern Oregon. This means hundreds of miles of new roads could be constructed and many tens of thousands of acres could be logged under the authorizations proposed in the IVM.

To make matters worse, the project focuses its proposed treatments on Late Successional Reserve forests designated to protect old growth and mature forest habitat for the northern spotted owl. Instead of protecting this habitat, BLM intends to log these forests, removing trees up to 36 inches in diameter, in stands over 120 years old and down to 30% canopy cover. This level of overstory canopy and large tree removal will dramatically increase fire risks both by removing large, fire-resistant trees and by regenerating young, highly flammable vegetation wherever overstory canopy is compromised.

The IVM would also authorize “group selection” logging, a form of staggered clearcut logging that allows for the removal of 4-acre “openings” across 20% of a mature, closed canopy stand. These “openings” will look, act and respond like small clearcuts, fragmenting forest habitats and embedding mature, fire-resistant forests with thickets of young, even-aged vegetation that has been proven to burn at elevated fire severity.

Perhaps most concerning is the fundamental shift that the IVM represents to the public land management planning process on over 800,000 acres of BLM land in southwestern Oregon, from Cow Creek west of Glendale, to the Illinois Valley, in areas around Grants Pass, Merlin, the Applegate Valley, the Upper Rogue, Butte Falls, the Rogue Valley and in other portions of the region.

As the IVM is currently proposed, the agency will no longer consult with the community as partners while designing a timber sale or other federal land management projects. Instead, the public would only be notified after a project has been fully designed and approved. Local residents find this proposed change to be completely unacceptable and anti-democratic.

Under the IVM, large-scale timber sales would be approved under a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), which does not require any public process, public transparency, or any scientific analysis before a decision is made. Public engagement would be at the discretion of BLM land managers, and additional administrative remedies would also be removed, leaving a 15-day appeal period and litigation as the only available forms of public involvement.

As I write this, the BLM is designing timber sales under the provisions of the still unapproved IVM Project. This includes the Penn Butte and Late Mungers Timber Sales proposed in the mountains west of Williams. Currently, the BLM is marking timber sale unit boundaries and trees for removal in the Penn Butte Timber Sale, without addressing public concerns, considering public input or providing any opportunities for public involvement. The little information that is available indicates that the BLM intends to auction the Penn Butte Timber Sale off to the highest bidder in March. Even less is known about the Late Mungers Timber Sale which is proposed for timber auction in June.

While the Biden administration announces its Task Force on Collaborative Conservation in the West, the IVM Project signals the end of collaboration on local BLM lands here in southwest Oregon. The IVM will only increase the current lack of trust between the BLM and the public it claims to serve. Just like current attempts to suppress the vote on a national stage, the IVM is a product of Trump-era policies meant to both increase the influence of industrial interests and take the public out of public lands management. This approach will degrade our forests, damage our local economy and nearby recreation areas, make our communities less fire resilient, emit large volumes of carbon into the atmosphere and bring back the timber wars to southwestern Oregon. Does that sound like increased resilience? Or a giant step backwards?

Luke Ruediger is executive director for the Applegate Neighborhood Network and conservation director for the Klamath Forest Alliance. He lives in the Applegate River watershed and has lived in southwestern Oregon his entire life.