BROOKINGS — The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest now is looking at salvage-logging fewer than 4,100 acres of last year’s 191,197-acre Chetco Bar fire, possibly producing as much as 70 million board-feet of timber from dead and dying trees.
Forest officials Monday revealed their new draft environmental study that focuses on possible logging to about 2.5 percent of Forest Service lands burned in the fire, down from about 8 percent studied in January.
Timber interests decried the move as losing a chance to salvage-log lands already tapped for future logging before insects kill more trees and cause more carbon from charred trees to be released into the air.
Conservation groups see the Forest Service’s focus on larger but more lightly burned Ponderosa pine over smaller, more heavily burned pine as an “old-growth grab” which, together with private land salvage logging, threatens the Chetco River Basin.
Forest assessment teams originally looked at 13,626 acres of lands already tapped for timber production. At least half of the stands’ canopies burned and are “super-high likely of dying soon,” said Jessie Berner, the forest’s Chetco Bar coordinator.
However, that area was pared down to 4,090 acres after removing streamside riparian areas, stands with slopes greater than 30 percent grade, and areas burned too intensely or too difficult to reach and thus not economically feasible to log, Berner said.
The draft also calls for 13.5 miles of roads Berner called short and temporary roads and for opening about 6.3 miles of closed roads for log hauling.
Maps show the potential salvage areas are sprinkled among Forest Service holdings in the Chetco and Pistol river basins in Curry County.
Berner said it was too early to determine how many different logging sales would result or the volume of timber that would be logged, but she estimated that volume at 70 million board-feet of timber.
With the average house requiring about 30,000 board-feet of lumber, the sales could produce more than 2,300 homes.
That potential volume easily could change once crews get on the ground and lay out specific sales, depending upon what the final environmental assessment concludes, Berner said.
The forest will take public comment on the draft assessment before determining the final scope of the salvage project sometime in early June.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Berner said. “We want to hear from the public.”
Dave Schott, president of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, chided the Forest Service for leaving out of the equation salvage opportunities on lands already tapped for logging under a matrix generated in the forest plan.
“I think it’s important they get the best possible return on matrix lands that’s always been designated for harvest,” Schott said.
Schott said not logging more charred trees will create more fuel for future fires and allow more carbon to be released over time into the atmosphere. Schott also said logging on private lands burned during this fire in the Chetco drainage show the Forest Service is leaving its charred lands prime for further loss to insect infestations.
“A lot of the private (salvage timber) has been taken out and the bugs are already into it, because of the mild winter,” Schott said.
George Sexton, conservation director for the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said he believes a lighter-handed draft alternative that calls for logging on 1,868 acres appears to be more restoration-oriented. He also noted that the forest plans to log Ponderosa pine of 40-inch diameter and larger as long as just 30 percent of the trees’ crowns have been scorched, while smaller trees must have 85 percent of their canopy scorched to be logged under the proposal.
“To me that looks like an old-growth grab,” Sexton said. “That makes me nervous.”
Sexton said adding more logging on federal lands in the Chetco basin atop the intense private logging in Chetco Bar fire lands further threatens a watershed identified in the Northwest Forest Plan as one of a handful of “key watersheds” for wild salmon recovery and sustainability.
“The Chetco watershed is where we want to make our stand,” Sexton said. “We have to do right for that river.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.