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Gap in Court Schedule Leaves Oregon Old Growth Vulnerable

MEDFORD, Oregon, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is moving to log more than 6,000 acres of old growth reserves affected by the Biscuit fire before a court can determine if the logging is illegal. Conservationists challeging the logging in court say they have observed snow plows clearing the way for crews to cut the large old trees, although a federal judge is set to hear arguments in the case on March 22.

An emergency injunction against logging in these reserves imposed in September was lifted on January 13 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, leaving a nine week window when the forests are not protected by any court.

The case brought by nine conservation groups argues that if the logging is allowed, irreparable harm will be done to irreplaceable natural areas that can recover from the fire on their own.

At stake are old growth reserves in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area slated for post-fire logging by the Fiddler, Steed, Berry, Wafer, Hobson, Lazy, and Briggs Six logging sales.

The Forest Service is plowing roads to the Fiddler and Berry logging projects with taxpayer dollars so that private companies can harvest the big trees, and conservationists speculate that they may send in crews to log trees now and haul them out in the spring.

“We still believe the proposed logging in old growth reserves and roadless areas is illegal, and we will still have our day in court,” said Rolf Skar, campaign director of the Siskiyou Regional Education Project.

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Fiddler Mountain near the summit soon after the fire, September 2002 (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service (USFS))
The Biscuit fire burned through large portions of the Siskiyou National Forest in July and August of 2002, and the Forest Service initially anticipated a moderate level of logging outside of old growth reserves and roadless areas.

But the Bush administration changed course and proposed the largest timber sale in recent history, including substantial logging of old growth and large roadless areas.

Conservationists filed suit in July 2004 to stop the immediate logging of old growth reserves, and the Ninth Circuit granted an emergency injunction in September 2004, to protect these areas while the case is heard.

“Logging is proceeding on timber sales outside old growth reserves and we have not tried to stop it," said Sklar. "We now just hope the timber companies do the right thing and hold off logging these ancient forests over the winter until a judge has a chance to hear the entire case.”

“Giving the timber industry the green light to log these ancient trees will result in tons of soil washing into Oregon’s wild rivers, and there is no way this will be good for salmon or the local people who rely on, or enjoy, these endangered fish,” said Elaine Wood, a retired school teacher who lives near the fire area.

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A black-tailed deer returns to an old growth area charred by the Biscuit Fire. (Photo courtesy USFS)
"We knew the order stopping these sales was temporary," said Earthjustice attorney Todd True. "Even now, however, the federal government could stop the controversy by withdrawing its plans for extensive logging of old growth forests where clean rivers flow, wildlife flourishes, and people hike and paddle. So far, however, the government has refused to take this balanced and responsible step."

The Forest Service Biscuit Post-Fire Assessment says "harvest" of green trees will be done "only where needed to achieve salvage harvest operational objectives."

The Service states its objectives in this document. "One benefit of harvesting dead, merchantable sized trees is that they can be converted into various forest products, which have value locally and nationally in the building and construction industry. An additional economic benefit is local employment in harvesting and milling the trees as well as well as financing reforestation and restoration work."

But the conservationists say the Forest Service sold Fiddler Mountain for a minimum, subsidized bid price. "As a result, 14.7 million board feet of logging could take place across 697 acres of native forest at heavy taxpayer expense. As a whole, the Biscuit logging project is running far over budget, costing taxpayers much more than the Forest Service originally forecast," says the Siskiyou Regional Education Project.

The Forest Service Assessment explains that "Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines dictate where salvage may occur."

Salvage "is or may be restricted" in congressionally designated areas such as "Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Research Natural Areas," and, says the Service, "Where inconsistent with Standards and Guidelines for resource protection, including soil and water protection."

Salvage may be considered for "Matrix land allocation objectives to provide forest products, fire hazard reduction, hazard tree removal along roads and near recreation facilities, reforestation site preparation, including worker safety, and facilitation of future plantation maintenance."

forest

On the upper slopes of Fiddler Mountain a Forest Service worker assesses the effects of the Biscuit Fire. (Photo courtesy USFS)
But these seven logging sales put many irreplaceable landscapes at risk, conservationists say. "The Fiddler Mountain area, a beautiful landscape graced by native, unroaded forests, rare flowers, scenic views and wonderful hiking trails, is a prime example. It is also one of the areas most at risk of imminent logging. Near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in southwestern Oregon’s Siskiyou Wild Rivers area, Fiddler Mountain is well loved by people locally and across the region," the Siskiyou Project says in its appeal for support faxes to be sent to Oregon lawmakers.

These reserves were designated primarily for fish and wildlife habitat under the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.

"These old growth forest reserves are vital for native fish and wildlife," said David Bayles of Pacific Rivers Council, a plaintiff organization. "Logging in these reserves would destroy Oregon’s native forest and promote erosion that would pollute world class salmon and steelhead streams."

"Recreational trails, including one of the most scenic trails in the Siskiyous, will be converted to logging unit boundaries or roads to haul logs," Sklar warns. "Fiddler Mountain also contains bubbling springs and streams that flow into the Wild and Scenic Illinois River, a major Pacific Coast salmon river."

Plaintiffs in the case include: Pacific Rivers Council, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Sierra Club, and American Lands Alliance, and Defenders of Wildlife. Plaintiffs are represented by Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center.

The Forest Service Biscuit Fire Recovery website is at: http://www.biscuitfire.com/index.htm

The Siskyou Project is found at: http://www.siskiyou.org/



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