The U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to pore over a federal court decision that the timber industry believes will more than double the harvest on the agency's Medford District.
Attorneys for the BLM and other affected agencies are studying the decision to determine its full ramifications, said officials who were keeping tight-lipped about their options.
"We are working with our partner agencies in analyzing the impacts of this ruling," said district spokesman Jim Whittington.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon for the District of Columbia ruled that the BLM needs to sell more timber in its Medford and Roseburg districts. Leon said the agency has failed since 2004 to offer the timber harvest target contained in the districts' 1995 resource management plans.
The judge also vacated the system the agencies used to estimate northern spotted owl populations.
The timber industry is applauding the ruling while the conservation camp is dismayed.
In the Medford District, the ruling will increase the timber sale program to its target of 57 million board feet, compared to the 19 million board feet sold in the 2013 fiscal year, according to the American Forest Resource Council, one of the plaintiffs in the case filed in 2010 against the U.S. Department of Interior.
On the Roseburg District, the harvest, based on the ruling, would jump from 29 million board feet for the 2013 fiscal year to the district target level of 45 million board feet, the council said.
"This case is a victory for rural Oregonians who have been suffering through 20 years of gridlock on our federal forests," council President Tom Partin said in a prepared statement.
"We've been trying for years to get the BLM to comply with the law when it adopts a resource management plan," he added. "The judge confirmed the requirements under the (1937) O&C Act are clear, and they can't be ignored by agency officials or interest groups who might wish to sever their connection with our rural, forested communities."
At the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, executive vice president Dave Schott also applauded the decision.
"It is a really good decision for the industry," he said. "What happens remains to be seen. I'm sure there will be litigation or appeals."
The decision clearly indicates that both the 1937 O&C Act and the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan set legal precedents that must be adhered to, he said.
"The disturbing thing about the Northwest Forest Plan was it was shoved down the throat of the industry," Schott said. "It wasn't what we wanted. The industry felt we had to take something rather than nothing."
It settled for roughly 20 percent of the high historic average harvest, he noted. However, that is well below the amount of fiber produced annually by the public land in the region, he added.
"They probably harvested a little too much in 1970s," he said of the industry. "But our target harvest (in BLM's Medford District) is 57 million board feet and that is only a quarter of the annual growth in the district."
George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a conservation watchdog group in Ashland, said there should be no rejoicing at the judge's ruling.
"If this opinion holds up on appeal, taxpayers will be on the bill to subsidize increased logging of ancient forests and salmon-bearing watersheds on public lands throughout southwest Oregon," he said.
"The local BLM has been coming pretty close to offering as much timber as they are funded to by Congress," he added. "Now the timber industry wants the public to pay for more logging roads and timber sales on BLM lands while they slick off their private lands and export the raw logs to southeast Asia. Its the world's largest shell game."
The Medford and Roseburg districts were named in the lawsuit because those districts still contain some old old-growth forests, he said.
"If Swanson has their way our public backyard forests will be managed like tree farms while watersheds, wildlife, recreation and restoration forestry play second fiddle to industrial forestry across the landscape," he said.
In addition to AFRC, the case was filed by the Swanson Group in Glendale, Rough and Ready Lumber Co. in the Illinois Valley, Washington Contract Loggers Association and Douglas Timber Operators in Douglas County.
Rough and Ready closed its operation last month, citing a lack of available timber from local federal lands.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.