The northern spotted owl has deeply affected the economic, environment and community landscape in the 20 years since the bird was first listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
ROSEBURG — Utter one fowl name and it can draw long sighs from many in Douglas County and around the state. The northern spotted owl has deeply affected the economic, environment and community landscape in the 20 years since the bird was first listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
With the proposed Western Oregon Plan Revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan rescinded, officials at the Bureau of Land Management's Roseburg District are hoping to take advantage of the current policy limbo and again affect that landscape with a ground-up approach that can find room for owl habitat, logging and social values to coexist.
Last week at a Douglas Timber Operators meeting, Roseburg BLM District Manager Jay Carlson presented what he is tentatively calling the Roseburg Collaborative Forestry Pilot Project.
The goal of his pilot project is to bring the members of various interest groups and the public together to streamline the process of project planning and develop a more holistic plan of habitat, fuel reduction and timber management.
Local BLM spokesman Bob Hall said an announcement will be publicized in the near future that will invite "anyone and everyone" who's interested to get involved. No date or location has been set, yet.
"We've battled a long time on trying to get trees out of the forest and trying to do the habitat component," Carlson told the group of foresters.
A map of the district shows a tangle of concentric circles that indicate where the owls currently are, have been historically or could be, based on the habitat available.
"When you boil it all down, 85 percent of my district is owl territory," he said. "It finally occurred to me that maybe I'm less in a timber management district than an owl management district."
Thirty percent of that area is "core" habitat area. Carlson said timber sales become extremely controversial and difficult in those areas, often landing proposed projects in conflicts with environmental groups and other agencies or new science or findings are published that need to be taken into consideration.
Liz Gayner, wildlife biologist for the Swiftwater Resource Area, said guidelines she and other biologists follow in planning are pretty straightforward, but delays in the project can mean repeating work that's gone stale.
"The biggest thing is surveys aren't good forever — they sit on the shelf long enough and things change," she said.
Chris Foster, district wildlife biologist, said the amount of work that goes into projects that often die can be frustrating for staff.
"Only about 75 percent of (projects) my staff does translates to logs on a truck — that's a passing grade but not a good business model," Carlson said.
With that in mind, Carlson asked his staff to do a rough framework that would turn project planning on its ear.
Plans would be developed from a habitat and fuels-reduction perspective first, while a consistent level of commercial harvesting is also developed.
A preliminary estimate of land available for wildlife habitat restoration projects is more than 81,000 acres. Acreage that could be treated for fire and fuel reduction was estimated at more than 122,000 acres.
Together, those two treatment practices account for almost half of the 425,000-acre district, but BLM scientists say management for those two values don't necessarily exclude timber harvesting.
Carlson said he was surprised to find out that given all the habitat and fire treatments, the district could potentially sell a substantial volume — between 25 and 35 million board feet — of timber annually for 25 to 30 years.
Foster said getting the public and other stakeholders involved in the process early wouldn't displace federal regulated processes like scoping, comment periods and reviews, but it could mitigate unforeseen issues from cropping up.
"Hopefully in a collaborative effort we wouldn't be dealing with new issues," he said. "We'd get everyone's concerns up front and put in place in the project so all the groups are happy. Or at least not angry.
"Hopefully there'd be no surprise and that process would move along smoothly and more predictably."
The two stands BLM plans to use in the pilot program will be called the South Myrtle project near Myrtle Creek and the Halfway Creek project near Elkton.
If the collaborative project is successful, these two projects could serve as templates for future project management.
On Wednesday, Foster and two other wildlife biologists showed off three different stands of trees about 10 miles west of Sutherlin up Galagher Canyon Road that demonstrated some of the goals and physical characteristics the collaborative process would hopefully target in developing projects.
A prime stand for the threatened northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet, as well as other wildlife, is one with varying layers of green, large diameter trees of multiple ages and species, with broken tops, downed trees, snags, moss and a host of other characteristics present that keep the food web intact.
"Wildlife doesn't like order — it likes chaos," said Lisa Renan, wildlife biologist on the South River Resource Area.
"The forester in me shudders," Foster joked, as he explained the key components contrast sharply with some of the more uniform second-growth stands.
Stands similar to the two pilot projects ripe for treatment are generally single-level stands that have one species of trees all the same age with almost no understory for small mammals, amphibians and fungi to thrive.
There's also no space between closely planted trees that have several feet of dead limbs the sunlight no longer reaches, creating an area full of obstacles undesirable for birds and beasts, the biologists said.
"(Animals are) like humans, they want to take the path of least resistance," Renan said.
Left on its own, such a stand might take 100 to 150 years to develop habitat components needed for threatened and nonthreatened species, Foster said.
With help, that time frame can be shortened considerably, improving the overall health of the forest, too.
Not only are homogenous stands such as these unsuitable for wildlife, they're also rife for fire, disease or wind disturbances that could knock whole chunks out in one fell swoop.
"Whether you want to see trees standing or see them on a log truck, people want trees," Hall said of the hard-to-calculate social value of forests. "Losing the forest is not an option."
Under the Northwest Forest Plan, different stands were managed for different values, such as habitat, fuel reduction or commercial thinning.
But the various treatments were relatively uniform.
"The purpose of that action (was) to capture the natural mortality as trees fought for sunlight and nutrients," Foster said.
In the new program, Foster explained projects would be developed with variable density thinning and retention. There wouldn't be blanket treatments applied to large areas, but rather treatments that install characteristics of the late successional stands into the younger thickets.
That might mean leaving more trees in some areas with multiple layers and putting in gaps elsewhere, he said.
"The sooner we can do that, the sooner we can achieve those habitat objectives for the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet," Foster said. "If something like (fire, strong wind or disease) happened it could be potentially devastating, especially for a species that's already teetering."