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Benton timber sale draws protest

Benton timber sale draws protest

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Several environmental organizations are protesting a timber sale in south Benton County even though it uses an approach touted as providing important environmental benefits.

On Sept. 16, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sold the Rainbow Ridge timber sale to Freres Lumber for $2.6 million. The Lyons company outbid three other potential buyers for the right to log the 135-acre parcel, located about 4 miles west of Alpine in the Coast Range.

The sale won’t become final, however, until a resolution is reached on a protest filed by Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Benton Forest Coalition.

Terms of the sale call for the cutting of about 8.2 million board feet of timber, mainly second-growth Douglas fir. Most of that timber volume — 7.1 million board feet — is supposed to be generated through a technique called variable retention harvest, with the rest derived from more traditional thinning.

Variable retention harvest, also known as ecological forestry, is the brainchild of prominent forestry professors Norm Johnson of Oregon State University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington, two of the original architects of the Northwest Forest Plan.

Franklin and Johnson have been promoting this approach as a way to generate jobs and increase tax revenues while continuing the Northwest Forest Plan’s mission of restoring forest health and protecting sensitive species.

Like a traditional regeneration harvest, variable retention leaves a certain number of green trees standing, but it groups those retained trees in tight clusters rather than spreading them evenly throughout the harvest area. The idea is to create large open areas where the forest could regenerate and “early seral” species — meadow-loving plants and animals — could thrive while the young trees are growing.

That’s what the Rainbow Ridge timber sale is designed to do, according to Andy Frazier, supervisory forester for the BLM’s Marys Peak Resource Area.

“It’s not an experiment,” Frazier said. “It’s just another way of dispersing the wildlife trees across the unit.”

But the conservation groups contesting the sale don’t see it that way.

Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild, said the harvest plan would create “a visible scar on the landscape” for Alpine residents. He called “regeneration harvest” another term for “clearcut” and argued that the BLM should focus on thinning to restore old-growth characteristics rather than trying to create forest openings, which are generated naturally by fire, storms and insects.

“Oregon already has too many clearcuts,” Heiken said. “We think public lands have higher and better uses.”

Stefanie Larew, who helped evaluate Rainbow Ridge timber sale alternatives for the BLM, said the agency could make changes to the plan if the protest is accepted. If it’s denied, “that could put us in appeal territory,” she said.

Freres Lumber has three years to harvest and remove the timber.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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