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Plan to log Biscuit Fire draws flood of comments.

Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard

A lot of people have something to say about a U.S. Forest Service proposal to log and replant trees in parts of Southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains that burned in the Biscuit Fire of 2002.

The Siskiyou and Rogue River National Forest received about 23,000 letters, e-mails and faxes by this week's deadline.

The flood of comments came in response to the agency's environmental review of several alternatives, including Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy's preferred choice, to log 518 million board feet across about 30,000 acres.

The public feedback will be sorted and analyzed over the next few weeks, then compiled for Conroy's review, said Judy McHugh, spokeswoman for the national forest.

"We look forward to reading the public comments," McHugh said. "It's kind of a dynamic and exciting time."

While every submission will be reviewed initially, only "substantive" comments - those that offer specific suggestions for the environmental review - will be included in the version of the document that accompanies Conroy's final decision, she said.

A substantive comment may be one that "points out a mistake we made or offers a suggestion for a new analysis," McHugh said.

Officials expect hundreds of the comments will be duplicates, submitted from templates set up by environmental organizations or other advocacy groups.

"The vast majority of letters were in electronic format," McHugh said. "Among those electronic letters, many, many of them - and we don't have the exact breakdown - were letters that were very similar to each other."

They appeared to be form letters originating from several Web sites, she said.

The Forest Service said last spring it intended to disregard mass e-mails, form letters and printed postcards on grounds they add little to the debate over forest decisions.

But after civil liberties groups and activists complained, the agency backed down late last year.

Rolf Skar, campaign coordinator for the Siskiyou Regional Education Project, a Southern Oregon conservation group, admitted his organization's Web site included a feedback form with sample language that supporters used to send in their comments.

"We really encouraged people to participate," Skar said. "One of the easiest ways for people to do that is to work off of templates."

Just because many comments are identical or similar should not diminish the message, he said.

"Every comment anyone submits has value to it," he said.

Conroy is expected to make a decision this spring, hopefully by mid-April, McHugh said.

Salvage logging and other work could begin this summer, unless administrative appeals delay the project.
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Title Annotation:Environment; Mass responses from environmentalists were initially rejected
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 24, 2004
Words:419
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