Environmentalists, timber advocates find points of agreement

Dave Schott and George Sexton agree the future of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest should focus on management goals grounded in healthy sustainability.

The timber industry representative and the environmental activist also support the National Fire Plan. Approved by Congress in 2000, the plan promotes thinning in the urban interface to reduce wildfire threats.

The two would even agree that a century of wildfire suppression has left woodlands unnaturally dense, creating the potential for catastrophic fires in the coming years.

And both, although still at odds over many forestry issues, would like to see less acrimony over forest policies.

"We want to see the forest managed correctly," said Schott, executive secretary of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. "We want a healthy forest that will withstand fire and disease.

"No one on this side of the Coast Range likes those big clearcuts," he added later.

Sexton, the conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, wants a healthy forest without clearcuts on either side of the Coast Range.

"My hope is that bipartisan, science-based policies like the National Fire Plan could be a model," he said of cooperative efforts. "The plan was designed to get scientists, foresters and environmental communities together to see what a fire-resistant forest would look like.

"You have forests here that were born of fire," he added, noting that future management should be aimed at preserving a natural balance of fire-resistant old-growth trees.

Schott and Sexton, interviewed separately, are both optimistic and pessimistic about the future of the forest.

"One thing we have to do is manage for multiple use," Schott stressed.

That means harvesting more timber than has been cut in recent years, he said, noting that includes both fire salvage as well as green timber.

"I don’t think people comprehend how much growth there is a year out there," he said, citing an agency study that concluded the annual forest growth produces 433 million board feet of fiber.

But the annual harvest since the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan has been well below the targeted 20 percent of historical average, he said.

The 2002 Biscuit fire, at a half million acres the largest in the nation that year, illustrates what a wildfire can do if a forest is not managed properly, he said.

"Fires like that will continue until we start actively managing these forests," he said.

In areas of dieoff caused by bug infestation, particularly in Eastern Oregon, forests that aren’t salvaged can go off like "Roman candles," he said.

Moreover, he supports fire salvage projects like that proposed for the Biscuit fire.

Schott believes there may be signs of a thaw in the long-standing cold war between the industry and the environmental community.

"We just saw the Ashland Ranger District thin out a lot of the (Ashland Creek) watershed," he said. "That probably wouldn’t have happened three years ago."

That shows educational efforts by local agencies about the threat of wildfires is being taken seriously, he said.

"You still have extremist organizations but a majority of people on all sides want to reduce the fire threat by managing the forest," he said.

Sexton reiterated that he supports thinning to reduce the threat of fire around rural communities.

"One area where I’m hopeful is the small-diameter thinning proposals we’re seeing," Sexton said. "We are seeing more responsible small-diameter treatment around rural communities.

"There has been a lot of buy-in on that from the environmentalists and the industry," he added.

Those projects rarely get challenged by environmentalists, unless they include the harvest of old-growth trees, he said.

Sexton, who is opposed to projects like the Biscuit fire salvage, also hopes the future includes more thinning of tree plantations, planted by the agency after a harvest. They become so much kindling during a wildfire, he said.

"And there are literally hundreds of millions of board feet out there in small-diameter trees that need to be thinned," he said, later adding, "We need to make sure we are in a situation where we don’t have to be in fear of fire."

Sexton, who believes the agency doesn’t give enough weight to the public input it requests, agrees with Schott there are areas of agreement the agency could take advantage of in the future.

"I feel like the environmental community is making a sincere effort to work with the agency," Sexton said. "We want to do more of that in the future.

"But every time they come up with something like the Biscuit salvage, it makes it harder for us to work together."

ForestsKlamath Siskiyou