GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Obama administration is working on a pair of pilot logging projects in southwestern Oregon that are designed to find a new way out of decades of conflict between timber jobs and spotted owls and salmon.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with veterans of the long-standing timber wars in Oregon, members of the Oregon congressional delegation, and federal agencies.
They listened to forest ecology professors Norm Johnson of Oregon State University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington describe their ideas for a pair of large-scale forest restoration projects on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property that are also expected to produce a significant supply of logs for struggling mills.
The so-called O&C lands, formerly owned by the defunct Oregon & California Railroad and now administered by BLM, were once a leading source of timber as well as revenues for timber counties, but logging has never recovered from 1990s cutbacks to protect spotted owls and salmon.
The Bush administration tried to boost logging in the region but could not get around environmental laws often enforced by conservation groups through lawsuits. Salazar jettisoned the Bush administration plan and, pressed by members of the Oregon delegation, has been trying to find a new way out of the long-standing morass.
The primary goal of the pilot projects would be to restore healthy forests and fish and wildlife habitat, with the secondary goal of producing timber.
"This is historic," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "We've got direct secretarial involvement in a much more public process involving a much more diverse group of stockholders than at any time I have seen in the last 20 years on the controversy over management of our forests. That is a big deal."
Tom Partin, head of the timber industry group American Forest Resource Council, said Salazar's involvement and the two pilot projects were a good start, but the industry looked forward to opening more O&C lands to logging that are now restricted by regulations to protect habitat for northern spotted owls, a threatened species, and red tree voles, rodents that are primary prey for the owls.
Environmental consultant Andy Kerr said if the pilot projects go through in the next 12 to 18 months, they would represent a major change in the way BLM's Medford and Roseburg districts design logging projects.
While the U.S. Forest Service and even other BLM districts in Oregon have been successful at designing projects that are not challenged by conservation groups, the Medford and Roseburg districts have continued to offer sales that cannot pass legal tests for protecting the environment, Kerr said.
The pilot projects near Ruch and Canyonville are designed to restore characteristics of forests before a century of putting out wildfires and clear-cut logging sent them into an unhealthy state that cannot sustain fish and wildlife.
The work on each project would involve thinning and logging on some 10,000 acres across watersheds of some 80,000 acres.