The federal Bald Lick timber sale in the Applegate Valley, which drew angry protests when it first was offered four years ago, sold quietly with no opposition for more than twice its appraised value.

The federal Bald Lick timber sale in the Applegate Valley, which drew angry protests when it first was offered four years ago, sold quietly with no opposition for more than twice its appraised value.

The timber on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District was auctioned Nov. 19 for $100,750 to Estremado Logging of Gold Hill. BLM's appraised value for the timber, which drew three bidders, was $47,120.

"This is a really nice success story that community members and loggers can come together if the BLM is willing to participate in a collaborative process," said Lesley Adams, one of four local community members who worked with four BLM employees to hash out the details of the project. She also is a biologist for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland.

"This demonstrates that something that is ecologically viable can also be economically viable," she added. "I really hope the BLM will take this collaborative lesson and replicate it."

John Gerritsma, head of the BLM's Ashland Resource Area, agreed that the collaborative effort was worthwhile.

"It was nice to have a timber sale that was not protested, along with the community support and ability to sell it — that's wonderful news," he said, noting that he expects more collaborative efforts in the future.

"But this sale is not an example of what we can sustain in the long run," he cautioned, noting the sale was whittled down through negotiations from its original 12.7 million board feet to just 1.6 million board feet.

"It's not sustainable from a jobs point of view in support of the infrastructure," he said. "When you put that (timber quantity) across the district, it is not enough volume to support the local industry and jobs in the industry we have left."

The collaborative effort was the result of the Applegate Neighborhood Network, a diverse group of more than 120 Applegate Valley residents, signing an agreement in 2007 with the BLM for managing some 20,000 acres in the Little Applegate River and upper Applegate River area. Known as a memorandum of understanding, the document was intended to guide factions in resolving differences and avoiding legal wrangles.

A number of local residents had opposed the Bald Lick sale as it was originally proposed.

The MOU operates under the direction of a steering committee of four BLM employees, including Gerritsma, and four community members. In addition to Adams, the latter included a cattle rancher and a vineyard owner.

Its goals included protecting the forest environment, promoting old-growth forest characteristics, reducing wildfire threat to dwellings and structures, maximizing the value of commercial extraction consistent with the principles of the MOU, and emphasizing community employment. The goal also was to use the best available science while exploring innovative strategies.

The pared-down sale met those goals, according to Adams, who was quick to observe no bids were made at the auction of the original Bald Lick sale four years ago.

"This is a stark contrast to when it went to auction in 2005," she said. "The original sale had proposed extensive road building and old-growth logging. That inflamed the community that lived here."

The smaller sale focuses on the small-diameter trees, improves forest health while reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires and boosts local employment, she said.

"This shows that an ecological timber sale can be economically viable," she said. "We wanted this to benefit the local economy. We have a lot of local forests that need restoration thinning like this."

She called it an "important lesson" for the region.

"I hope the BLM etches this in their game plan," she said.

Fellow committee member Duane Bowman, a vineyard owner, also touted the results.

"The timber was primarily small diameter, proving that thinning small trees can be economically viable and we don't have to see clear cuts for BLM to sell timber," he wrote in an e-mail. " ... The BLM can sell timber at auction without jeopardizing the critters of the forests."

The project should be the norm rather than the exception for timber sales, he added.

Gerritsma, although supporting the collaborative effort, repeated his caution that the sale doesn't reflect all future timber sales in the district. Exterior forces that included lawsuits over the northern spotted owl and market conditions helped shape the outcome, he said.

"We also had very, very minimal costs in there," he said, referring to the lack of road building required. "This does not represent the type of sale that includes all the costs of logging."

In addition, he noted that the harvest won't make much of a dent in the overgrown areas where wildfires could sweep through in future summers.

Given the district's targeted annual sale volume of 57 million board feet and the percentage of how much Bald Lick was reduced, that would shave the district's annual cut to 10 million board feet or less, he said.

"It's just not a recipe for a sustainable future," he said, referring to the local timber economy.

He did stress that collaborating with area residents will continue. He said the project was probably the most intense of the past five years.

"There absolutely will be more collaboration in the future," he said. "This allows us to be more effective and efficient. It's a very valuable foundation. We spent a lot of time on the ground. There were a lot of philosophical debates.

"The community learned a lot about forest management, and we learned a lot about community values. We came to a common ground."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.