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Let some Biscuit salvage proceed

Local editorial

The final EIS is less ' and more ' than many might have expected

The final Environmental Impact Statement on salvaging timber from the Biscuit fire generated a predictable response from environmental groups. What wasn't predictable was the final proposal itself.

It called for much less logging than the Forest Service's earlier preferred alternative, and it threw in 64,000 new acres of wilderness for good measure. Not only that, but the Forest Service followed Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden's advice and split the plan into three records of decision, so that the less controversial portions might be able to proceed without appeals from salvage opponents.

To no one's surprise, none of that was good enough for the environmental groups. They called the logging plan extreme and the wilderness expansion too little, too late.

We agreed with the environmental community back in November, when it appeared the Forest Service would propose logging more than half a billion board feet of burned timber, much of it in roadless areas and over sensitive soils. At the time, we called for the Forest Service to scale back its proposal, and we urged salvage opponents to step back and allow at least some salvage to take place before the wood becomes useless.

Half of that has occurred. The proposed harvest has been slashed from 518 million board feet to 370 million. And the division of the plan into three parts means one of the parts calls for logging only on matrix lands already set aside for commercial harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan.

Yes, one of the portions would take trees from roadless areas, and the third from late-successional reserves, set aside to preserve wildlife habitat dependent on old-growth trees. We don't support logging roadless areas, even with helicopters, and we have our doubts about late-successional reserves.

— For the record, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service ' both agencies of the Bush administration ' have raised serious concerns about salvaging Biscuit timber from roadless areas.

But we do think some logging of matrix lands is reasonable ' and long overdue. If those burned trees aren't harvested, they will soon lose any commercial value.

The environmental groups should show a willingess to compromise by allowing the matrix logging to proceed quickly, without appeals.

The Forest Service should demonstrate that its figures for projected income from the salvage logging can be supported. Other analyses have suggested that helicopter logging in roadless areas is too expensive to turn a profit.

As for the wilderness expansion, we suggest that, rather than grumble, environmentalists wholeheartedly support it. Who could have predicted that the Bush administration would propose any increase in untouchable resource land?

Of course, given that only Congress can create wilderness, that part of the proposal may well turn out to be mere window dressing. But we can dream, can't we?