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Know the West

High-stakes logging plan gets go-ahead



In June, federal land managers announced one of the largest timber sales the Northwest has ever seen.

Two years ago, the Biscuit Fire torched 500,000 acres in southern Oregon and California. Now, in a final environmental impact statement, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management propose opening parts of the burned forest to "salvage" logging. The preferred alternative calls for logging on 19,645 acres, generating 370 million board-feet of lumber. This is a reduction from the 29,000 acres proposed in the draft impact statement, and less than the 2.5 billion board-feet salvage proposed Oregon State University professor John Sessions (HCN, 12/22/03: Massive logging plan shakes Northwest).

As an added twist, the plan also requests that Congress designate 64,000 new acres of wilderness. But more than half of the proposed logging zone falls within roadless areas where timber companies will use helicopters to extract the wood. According to the Heritage Forests Campaign, it would be the first time logging has been approved in a roadless area previously protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule.

The agencies anticipate the plan will create up to 6,900 temporary jobs, mostly timber-related, and generate $12.9 million earmarked for forest restoration. "We won’t accept anything that won’t pay its way out of the woods," says Tom Lavagnino, Forest Service spokesman.

But the consulting firm ECONorthwest and the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense say the plan would lead to, at minimum, a $34 million deficit because the agencies lowballed their cost estimates, and because the trees could flood the timber market, driving prices down.

The salvage plan will not officially go into effect until July 2005, but logging is likely to start next month under emergency provisions. Because burned timber decays rapidly, the Forest Service says, delaying the salvage could result in a $3.3 million loss in timber revenues.