BLM lists forest alternatives

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has come up with five alternatives to revise resource management plans guiding its six districts in Western Oregon, including the Medford District.

The alternatives, from no action to various options, are contained in a 200-page planning document being sent out this week for public review as part of a revision required by a 2003 legal settlement between Uncle Sam and the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council.

The deadline for commenting is March 17.

The council, which represents about 100 forest product manufacturers and forestland owners, sued largely because the federal government had never met the timber volume of 1 billion board feet from federal forests promised in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. That document has served as a federal land management master plan since it was approved by the Clinton administration.

The settlement obligated the agency to revise the resource management plans covering some 2.5 million acres. It was also required to include an option that would eliminate any forest reserves except those required to protect endangered species.

Last fall, the agency called for public comments to define the issues that needed to be addressed in the revisions.

"We’ve used the ideas and information we received to help craft this document that outlines our planning direction and the processes and methods we’ll use to analyze the effects of different management alternatives," state BLM director Elaine Brong said in a prepared statement.

The five alternatives will be used as a basis for an environmental impact statement on the revision being prepared this year, a BLM spokesman said. The agency plans to ask the public again this fall for help in selecting a preferred alternative.

A final decision isn’t expected until 2008.

"We think this is the right way to do it," Chris West, council vice president, told the Mail Tribune. "We need to have an open process where alternatives with all the concerns and consequences are displayed."

In its lawsuit, the council contended that the 1994 plan was inconsistent with the 1937 O&C Act, West said.

He was referring to former Oregon & California Railroad forestland administered by the federal government in which 25 percent of the timber receipts goes to the U.S. Treasury, another 25 percent is "plowed back" into the federal land management agencies and the remaining 50 percent is given directly to the counties containing the forestland.

"The Northwest Forest Plan was a one-size-fits-all approach," he said of the plan put forth during the Clinton administration. "But an ecosystem in Southern Oregon is much different than a forest in Northern Washington.

"Here we have an opportunity to use local knowledge and local input that really reflects the needs of the environment there," he added.

But Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Ashland-based Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, disagreed. He describes the court settlement as a "sweetheart deal" between the timber industry and the Bush administration.

"This is being driven by political contributions from the timber industry to try to get more ancient forestlands on the chopping block," he said.

He is worried that environmental laws passed since 1937, including the Endangered Species Act, could be subverted by the agency as a result of the revisions.

"With these planning criteria, the BLM seems to be interpreting its mission as one to log at all costs," he said. "Not only does it have timber as most dominant and highest use of land, it says do it at all costs."

If approved, some of the alternatives could leave local BLM managers with no option but to log the remaining biggest and oldest trees, he said.

"We’re trying to get them to go in another direction," he said. "We believe we should be protecting the older forests, and thinning the smaller trees near rural communities for fuels reduction and fire safety."



ForestsKlamath Siskiyou