Timber industry: BLM pilot project is a failure

2012-02-24 Ashley Bach

While the Bureau of Land Management pilot projects in Southern Oregon have shown promise for bridging the gap between environmental groups and the timber industry, not everyone is excited about the projects’ potential.

In fact, while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was in Medford this week to tour the “Pilot Joe” project site, the Oregon timber industry issued a statement (PDF) calling the project a “failed experiment.”

The Oregon industry group, the American Forest Resource Council, also sent out a press release saying Salazar’s visit was a “bunch of PR” that draws attention away from the much larger problems facing forest management in the Western states.

The professors leading the Medford project — Jerry Franklin, a retired professor of ecosystem science at University of Washington, and Norm Johnson, a retired professor of forestry resources at Oregon State University — have apparently heard the criticism before.

During the tour with Salazar, Franklin said:

“Some of our friends in the timber industry have referred to this as boutique forestry. We are taking out half of the basal area in these stands. That’s a serious operation. We’re obviously producing wood, and we’re producing it in a way that’s commercially operable.”

But the timber leaders have the numbers to back up their argument. When the BLM first started planning the Pilot Joe project two years ago, the bureau looked at 50,000 acres in the Applegate Watershed, according to the timber group’s statement. By the time the project actually got underway, it covered just 245 acres, said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council.

“Ultimately, Pilot Joe provided just one week’s worth of timber to a local mill, cost significantly more to prepare and appraised at values so low that the project would provide little-to-no revenue for county governments facing the end of Secure Rural Schools payments. We agree that the current timber management system is broken. Unfortunately, more projects like Pilot Joe aren’t the answer.”

Watch as the size of the project shrunk as project leaders attempted to “avoid every controversial issue, thus rendering the effort useless as a blueprint for future management,” according to the Oregon timber group:

The BLM started by looking at the entire Applegate Watershed…..50,000 acres
They limited the area to that which was already covered by existing NEPA….7,622 acres
They then removed areas with (concerns around litigation, protests and other issues)….1,938 acres
They only included areas where all Survey & Manage survey requirements had already been met….1,384 acres
They excluded “uneconomical” areas due to light touch management….463 acres
They avoided other areas to address additional public concerns….245 acres

Instead of the pilot projects, federal officials should focus on fundamental change in how federal forests are managed, such as a bipartisan plan introduced in December from Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader, according to Partin.

“We wish we could believe the promises of Secretary Salazar and this Administration when it comes to providing a sustainable level of timber, but their track record over the past three years has been abysmal. Instead, we are offered nothing more than more planning, process and empty promises while the forests of Oregon and the communities that depend on them suffer.”