Forest thinning plan wins support

A preliminary proposal to thin trees and restore northern- spotted-owl habitat on 5,000 acres on the south side of Mount Ashland in the Klamath National Forest has won initial support from both the timber industry and environmentalists. 

The U.S. Forest Service will accept public comment on the Mount Ashland project until Nov. 7.

"The main purpose of the project is habitat restoration, meaning older forests, and fuels reduction to reduce the loss of said habitat to wildfire," said Susan Stresser, wildlife biologist for the Klamath National Forest.

The joint project by the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service involves thinning trees with trunks less than 20 inches in diameter on 2,500 acres of forest and carving fuel breaks along ridges on 1,700 acres to defend against wildfire. Hand-thinning and burning of brush, saplings and other wildfire fuel are proposed along streams on 400 acres. Fuel would be removed through underburning and chipping on another 300 acres.

About nine miles of temporary roads would be constructed for logging equipment and closed after the completion of the project. Another 30 miles of existing roads would be also be closed at the conclusion. Harvest methods would include helicopter removal on 600 acres.

About 80 percent of the project is in Oregon with the other 20 percent in California.

The hope is the effort will allow older trees to flourish, creating more habitat for the endangered northern spotted owl and other rare old-forest species, such as the northern goshawk, the Siskiyou Mountain salamander and the Pacific fisher, Stresser said.

There are now only about five small pockets of northern-spotted-owl habitat in the area, said Dave Johnson, a wildlife biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The area was logged in the early 1900s and again in the 1960s, Stresser said.

"That’s the reason the forest is not providing older forest habitat, and the lack of fire has allowed small trees to come up," she said. "Hopefully, this project will achieve the older forest characteristics sooner than if we had left it alone."

An environmental impact study on the plan is expected to be released in winter 2006 followed by a 30-day public comment period.

"I think this project is an excellent opportunity to get management going on late-successional reserves (forests with mature characteristics) and make sure it is in a productive state for wildlife," said Tim Partin, president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, which represents about 100 members of the timber industry. "Thinning and fuels reduction will certainly protect that amenity."

Environmentalists said they favor the project because it helps create habitat and yield timber on a tree plantation rather than disturbing a natural forest.

The project will make for "a lot more variability to encourage more late-successional forests in the future," said Joseph Vaile of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "We support that concept."

Environmentalists, however, said they would like to see road building eliminated from the project as well as the use of ground equipment.

"The impact of road-building is sediment is flushed into streams," Vaile said.

ForestsKlamath Siskiyou