What to do with all those trees?

An environmental impact statement, determining whether proposedlogging of the Siskiyou Forest in Ashland will take place, willcome from the U.S. Forestry Service at the end of May or earlyJune.

If the salvage logging proposal passes, it will be one of thelargest timber sales in Oregon history, dispensing 29,000 acreswithin the burn area of the Siskiyou forest.

Since the proposal, this area of federally owned land has becomethe heart of debate between environmentalists, the timber industryand the Bush administration on whether post-fire logging haspositive or negative effects upon the forests ecosystem.

Home to the largest U.S. wildfire of 2002, the Biscuit fireburned nearly 500,000 acres in southwestern Oregon, the majority inthe Siskiyou forest.

President Bush visited Southwest Oregon in 2002 to announce theHealthy Forest Initiative, a proposal to reduce the risk ofwildfires by thinning dense undergrowth, brush and trees. He alsowanted to decrease environmental regulations that have slowedlogging procedures in national forests.

After Bush’s visit, the U.S. Forest Service released plans formassive salvage logging in the Siskiyou National Forest – plansthat dictate salvage logging must be conducted to protect thefuture health of the forest. Part of a massive restoration effort,the salvage logging proposal includes reforestation and road andstream rehabilitation.

Private logging companies would do the thinning and, forcommercial interests, harvest some marketable trees.

Home to rare plants and the most ecologically diversecommunities in the world, the Siskiyou Forest brings togetherspecies from the California coast, the Oregon Coast, the SierraNevadas, the Cascades, the California Central Valley, the GreatBasin and the Rocky Mountains.

KS Wild, an environmental protection group, says thatwithout intervention this forest will continue to be degraded bylogging activities that fragment habitat, destroy plant species,damage watersheds and aquatic habitats and lead to the reduction ofa healthy forest ecosystem.

According to Lesley Adams, Outreach Coordinator with KS Wild,logging will cut into thousands of acres of old-growth reserves androadless areas once protected by the Forest Service, who had citedit as an area that needs future protection.

Supporters of the initiative say that postfire logging willreduce fuels for future fires. This has environmentalists in anuproar. Many say that Bush’s forest initiative is an excuse fortimber companies to come into woods where fire is a natural andimportant agent of change. They say logging damages burned sightsand soil, removing dead trees that still serve important ecologicalfunctions.

Dominick DellaSala, director of the World Wildlife Fund’sKlamath-Siskiyou eco-region program in Ashland, says the initiativeis an extreme proposal.

“Much of this region has been shaped by fire,” he said, “and thefire of 2002 was a natural climate and topography event.”

DellaSala said he believes the wild areas of the forest shouldbe left alone and judicious thinning done where fire risks arehighest.

He said the controversy between environmentalist and the U.S.Forest Service lies in what is the best mode of recovery for theSiskiyou burn area.

That mode of recovery is not inherent within the U.S. Forest’slogging proposal, DellaSala said.

“It’s an extreme proposal and it’s polarizing the community,” hesaid.

That includes not only environmentalists but timber employeeswho are relying on this proposal to pass.

So just how much of a profit can timber companies make off ofthis proposal? Not much.

Burnt trees have a lower economic value in the market, and ifthe trees aren’t logged before August, the benefits in jobs andprofits are small.

This debate concerning the effects of logging in the Siskiyouforest addresses long-term Oregon forest practices.

As the first state to establish the Forest Practice Actin 1971, Oregon has been a model for other states in wildlifeprotection, but the focus on wildlife protection seems to havedecreased with the recent logging proposal.

DellaSala believes Oregon could be doing a better job.

With the Siskiyou logging proposal, what was once the goal ofbalancing environmental protection with a sustainable timberindustry has shifted to one of more timber and lesssustainability.

This shift stands in contrast to Oregon’s urbanization as astate; a majority view forests as an area of conservation andrecreation, not as timber.

According to World Forest Institute Director Sara Wu, the early90’s saw a big shift in new environmental regulations. She saysthat although Oregon still remains agriculturally based, forestseconomic importance has decreased. High technology has becomeOregon’s largest industry, versus twenty years ago when timber wasOregon’s largest industry.

Instead of a manufacturing base in rural Oregon, now mostmanufacturing is done in the Portland area.

Because of this shift in Oregon’s economic base the number ofplywood mills in Oregon has decreased. Between 1988 and1998 thenumber of lumber and plywood mills decreased from 252 to 127, andso has the number of jobs in the industry. A third of those workersthat became unemployed were unable to find new jobs in Portland,and those who did found jobs in service and trade, earning lowerpay then their previous jobs.

“You’re creating new jobs in high tech but not for the ones wholost their jobs. There’s a rural/urban issue here for Oregonians,”says Wu.

This rural/urban issue is inherent within the Siskiyou loggingconflict, where a balance can’t seem to be reached betweenenvironmentalists, loggers, the U.S. Forest Service and the BushAdministration.

As DellaSale says, “there’s no magic bullet to the firesituation we’ve gotten ourselves into.”