Community involvement has helped ease timber sales.
When the U.S. Forest Service's Cottage Grove Ranger District proposed to log 15 million board feet in a 1,200-acre area on the Umpqua National Forest this year, a funny thing happened.
Nobody protested. Nobody appealed.
Umpqua foresters are in the process of marking the boundaries of the Curran Junetta timber sale and anticipate offering it this winter or early spring, said Deborah Schmidt, Cottage Grove district ranger.
A field trip in January - a tour of the area that drew community members, environmentalists and a representative from the timber industry - may be the reason for a less contentious process.
The field trip allowed people a first-hand look at what the Forest Service planned: a commercial thinning project in a stand of 50- to 60-year-old trees. Thinning in a crowded single-age plantation creates healthier growing conditions for the trees that remain, Schmidt said.
Community members expressed their concern about the potential impact of another logging road in what also happened to be their municipal watershed, so Forest Service planners developed an alternative that would use existing roads, Schmidt said.
"We end up with a better decision when we do involve those interested parties," she said.
These "kicking dirt in the field" outings do help avoid conflicts, said Josh Laughlin, conservation director at Cascadia Wildlands Project.
It gives his organization the opportunity to emphasize thinning projects with the people making the decisions about where and what to cut.
"One of our bottom lines is to permanently protect older forests in the region," he said.
But timber industry activists don't see the consultations as a big deal. The National Environmental Protection Act requires a public comment process, said Jacob Groves, a biologist who works for the American Forest Resources Council. Groves walks all the proposed sales and would do it whether environmentalists were there or not, he said.
"It's maybe a different way of getting public involvement. Whether or not that will lead to less litigation, who knows?" he said.
When it comes to less litigation, old growth advocates point to the Siuslaw National Forest in the Coast Range, where a citizen advisory panel has had an impact. It's been years since a Siuslaw logging sale has been appealed, Laughlin said.
But the lack of conflict on the Siuslaw may have as much to do with nature as with community cooperation, said Siuslaw spokeswoman Joni Quarnstrom.
Because the Coast Range gets so much rain the trees there grow bigger faster than anywhere else in Oregon.
The Northwest Forest Plan set aside 85 percent of the Siuslaw for owls, but most of the forest had been harvested in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, she said. Because regrowth has been so fast, those trees are sufficiently big for thinning now, Quarnstrom said.
"Our thinning program is what has kept things less controversial for us," she said.
"And because we've built that trust, we've just been able to have a lot of creativity on this forest and we're not bound up in litigation."
- Susan Palmer