About 100 residents attended a forum Monday night at the Siskiyou School to learn more about a proposal that could increase logging on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Western Oregon Plan Revision began in 2003 after the American Forest Resource Council sued BLM for failing to comply with the Northwest Forest Plan, a federal plan to manage forests drafted under the Clinton administration. The two parties reached a settlement outside of court, prompting the long revision process that is currently in the public comment phase.

BLM proposed three alternatives to the Northwest Forest Plan and will collect public comments related to its environmental analysis until Jan. 11, 2008. The "preferred" alternative selected by BLM would allow logging on 48 percent of the land and slightly reduce riparian setbacks, the forest buffer along creeks and streams. The other alternatives suggested cutting the buffer zone in half or staggering the harvest of trees in one area instead of clear-cutting.

Four local panelists, moderated by former Jefferson Public Radio host Jeff Golden, debated the merits of the different alternatives.

Lesley Adams, the outreach director at the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, spoke against the proposals.

"People come to Western Oregon not because they want to hike in clear cuts and fish in fishless creeks," she said. "I'm not anti-management. In fact, we're promoting restoration forestry."

Adams also spoke of the dangers of relying on timber revenue to support the economy.

"Hitching our county funding to arguably the most volatile industry in the country is not going to stabilize our economy," she said, arguing that the economy also benefits from recreational use of the forests.

Supporters of the plan argued that increased logging was needed to get counties out of economic crisis, and could also help prevent catastrophic forest fires and reduce carbon emissions.

"We're not going to get safety net funds forever," said Dave Schott, the executive vice president of Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. "We need trees to provide revenue for our counties, or we're going to get taxed."

He also said that he didn't necessarily want to cut old-growth trees, but that old, dry trees presented the largest fire risks and released carbon into the air, while younger trees helped pull carbon out of the air.

"To address climate change, we must use more trees, not less," he said. "That way we can use less concrete and less steel."

When asked about the moral obligation to protect old-growth forests, Medford BLM District Manager Tim Reuwsaat cited his oath as a federal employee to uphold the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.

"The 1937 OC Act is still on the books, and that's the one we're going to follow until Congress changes it," he said. The law placed the lands in question under federal jurisdiction and allowed the practice of sustainable logging. Reuwsaat added that he was just as obligated to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, laws that opponents say could be violated with changes to land management policies.

"The management of these lands affects people in a variety of ways," said Richard Nauman, a conservation scientist with the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, who urged people to think about the endangered species and water on the affected lands. "It could be the water they drink, the county services they rely on or the cost of timber to build their house. It will affect everyone somehow."

Audience member Shelley Elkovich said she had done a little research on the issues presented, but appreciated the deeper insight the panelists provided.

"It's really important to get these issues out, to talk not just about the forest and fires, but riparian areas and the truth that we do have lots of small-diameter timber available," she said.

All members of the panel urged the attendees to provide comments to BLM or write to their Congressional representatives. The final plan, which will likely be a hybrid of the three current proposals, will be released next summer, followed by a 30-day protest period.

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