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BLM aims to cut fire hazard, not harvest timber

The day after the nation celebrated its independence, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildland Center (KS Wild) continued the fireworks by notifying the Bureau of Land Management it was going to sue the agency.

What drew the ire of KS Wild? Public lands managers at the BLM are seeking to implement its Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Environmental Assessment. Projects from this plan will encourage healthier forests that are more resilient to wildfire and drought, protect adjacent communities from large-scale wildland fires, and improve habitat for vulnerable wildlife species and plants. In addition to saving the homes of people and wildlife, projects from this decision will reduce smoke intensity for citizens of Southern Oregon when fires inevitably occur in the area.

To accomplish its goals, the BLM may remove some commercial timber from the treatment areas. While we in the timber industry would like the BLM to provide more commercial timber, that is not the objective of this project. Ecological restoration — which promotes wildfire resilience — is the objective.

Commercial harvest is sometimes the most efficient way to accomplish the agency’s conservation goals. That’s because the timber industry provides the people, equipment and markets to remove and process the materials that need to come off fire-prone public lands. We also believe commercial harvest is environmentally friendly, because timber is used to make renewable building materials that store carbon for life and require far less fossil fuels to produce compared to concrete and steel.

Reading KS Wild’s press release on its intent to sue, a person may think the goal of the project is to provide commercial timber volume from late successional reserves, or land set aside for the northern spotted owl. As mentioned, that is not the purpose of the project. In any case, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has found this species is losing far more habitat to severe wildfire than it is to logging.

So why is the timber industry concerned? Because people working in our industry, like most Oregonians as shown in a recent Oregon Values and Beliefs Center poll, are concerned about wildfire. The communities we live in, and the industrial properties we work on, neighbor the lands targeted in this project. We appreciate the BLM’s efforts so wildfire will not interrupt our livelihoods. There are enough examples of the devastation wildfires cause to the habitat of wildlife and people to know that reducing those impacts is helpful to everyone.

One may ask, will these treatments work? The Nature Conservancy of Oregon manages the Sycan Marsh Preserve that was impacted by last year’s Bootleg fire. The Nature Conservancy recently said that, while more research is being conducted, its experience with the fire illustrated the need for ecological forest restoration treatments. Treatments such as those proposed by the BLM have proven effective for decades.

As you continue to hear the rhetoric of KS Wild about how the BLM is ruining habitat, remember that the BLM is trying to implement projects that are based in science and reflect the desire of Oregonians, particularly Southern Oregon, to reduce the risk and impacts of wildfires and toxic smoke. The benefits of these projects will far exceed any short-term impacts they may have. As the men and women who work in the woods, we urge the public’s support for the BLM to implement projects like these.

Steve Courtney is executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.