GRANTS PASS, Ore. A timber company plans to start logging next week in a burned area that had been reserved as old growth forest, setting up a confrontation with environmentalists who believe leaving the dead trees standing is better for fish, wildlife and the forest.
John West, president of Silver Creek Timber Co., said Friday he was just waiting for formal imposition of an appeals court order issued earlier this month that had cleared the way for logging some old growth reserve burned in the 500,000-acre Biscuit fire, which threatened 17,000 people in Oregon’s Illinois Valley in 2002.
Under pressure from the timber industry, the Forest Service expanded its original plans to harvest only in areas designated for logging under the Northwest Forest Plan, which settled lawsuits over the northern spotted owl by dividing federal forest land into areas for logging, and fish and wildlife habitat.
The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that had barred logging on two timber sales in an old growth reserve until a lawsuit brought by environmentalists is resolved.
Silver Creek Timber, based outside Grants Pass, bid $1.1 million for one sale totaling 14.5 million board feet. CLR Timber Holding Co. Inc., affiliated with South Coast Lumber in Brookings, bid $545,408 for 12.8 million board feet in the other old growth timber sale.
West said he plans to dispatch the first of up to 85 loggers to begin cutting what’s known as the Fiddler sale once the 9th Circuit’s order is filed, which could happen any day.
“We really don’t want to have a big fight over this,” said West. “It’s dead, burned timber. It’s going to create jobs. We are hiring, hopefully, as many local people as we can. It will add to the truck and fuel business, be good for mills.”
Don Smith of the Siskiyou Regional Education Project, an environmental group based in Cave Junction, said his group was planning peaceful, lawful protests, and was not in touch with anyone planning to block logging by putting up barricades or camping out in trees.
“We have accepted some level of logging, but when it comes to Fiddler, that’s where we draw the line in the sand,” said Smith. “That is due to its ecological value and its economic importance to the Illinois Valley.”
The appeals court is scheduled to hear environmentalists’ lawsuit challenging the logging in old growth reserves on March 22.
Smith said timber companies want to log before the hearing “so that it’s moot, so the damage is over with.” West, however, said he didn’t expect logging to be finished until June.
Smith said activists have seen no signs of anyone preparing to log the other old growth sale, known as the Berry sale.
The current plan for the Biscuit fire area calls for logging 370 million board feet of dead timber from 19,465 acres, less than 5 percent of the area burned by the fire. More than half of it comes from roadless areas, which the Bush administration hopes to open to timber harvest after changing a Clinton administration policy that had barred logging there.