A timber sale east of Myrtle Creek meant to showcase an environmentally sensitive approach to logging may be canceled if federal managers can’t close the land to oust protesters, a Bureau of Land Management official said Thursday.
The director of the BLM’s Roseburg District, Abbie Jossie, said closing 15 miles of roads and 2,167 acres is the only course of action the BLM could take to legally remove anti-logging tree-sitters.
Jossie told The News-Review Editorial Board that the BLM may have to nix the White Castle timber sale if the Interior Board of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejects the closure request.
She said if the sale is canceled, she doesn’t know what precedent it will set for future timber sales opposed by anti-logging activists.
Jossie said the BLM concluded there wasn’t the legal authority to enlist the help of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to arrest the tree-sitters, who have strategically positioned themselves to block construction of a logging road.
She said the BLM did not have the resources to continually remove a rotating cast of activists.
The board of appeals has until the beginning of February to act on an appeal filed by Cascadia Forest Defenders to bar the BLM from closing the public lands.
The board could let the closure go into effect by not taking any action. The BLM has proposed closing the land for up to two years.
The Scott Timber Co., a subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products, bid $1.335 million and was awarded a contract last May to log 6.4 million board feet.
Jossie said the timber company had planned to move quickly on the sale, but has been held up since June, when Cascadia Forest Defenders volunteers started occupying trees within the 187-acre timber sale.
The demonstrators have created unsafe work conditions, said Scott Folk, RFP’s vice president of resources.
“As a company, we do everything we can to avoid unsafe work environments for our employees and contractors,” he said.
Jossie said the protesters, who vary in numbers daily, strategically placed themselves in trees that need to be removed for the timber company to build a road to access the rest of the sale area.
Different sitters are rotated in, which makes it difficult to impose rules restricting how long people can camp on BLM lands, Jossie said.
“It’s hard to pinpoint them down,” she said. “They are recruiting volunteers from all over the U.S.”
According to its website, Cascadia Forest Defenders is mobilizing to put more tree-sitters in the woods. Attempts to reach a member for comment were unsuccessful.
It’s been peaceful since the tree-sitters arrived, but the group said it will not leave voluntarily. Jossie said if the closure takes place, the BLM will work with Douglas County sheriff’s deputies to develop a plan to remove the demonstrators.
Federal officers could be used, but Jossie said it would be a logistical challenge to bring in the resources from elsewhere.
State Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, said it should be a crime for protesters to block timber sales that have “worked through a public process.”
“The fact that you have, and I will call them terrorists, going out and stopping a public process and timber operations, I think it should be a crime,” Freeman said.
Legislators last year were unsuccessful in passing such law. Freeman hasn’t heard if the issue will be revisited in the upcoming legislative session, but said it’s a hot topic in both Salem and Washington, D.C
The Legislature did approve a bill allowing contractors to sue anti-logging protesters for any money lost. But the law only applies to state forests. Freeman said the White Castle situation demonstrates the need for similar policy for federally managed lands.
Another solution could be shifting management of Oregon & California Railroad timberlands to the state, as proposed by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader, Freeman said.
The BLM is using the harvest to test principles developed by forestry professors Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington and Norm Johnson of Oregon State University. The pilot project will seek to permit commercial logging and leave behind diverse wildlife habitat.
Freeman said he didn’t understand why the tree-sitters were protesting a pilot project that the public, including conservation groups, said it supported.
“It’s sad that the very few extreme environmentalists from other areas come down here to stop what is a negotiated, compromised decision,” he said.
Scott Timber will work with the BLM to explore options if the closure request is denied, Folk said. He declined to say what the company stands to lose financially.
“There are no winners or losers in situations like this, only missed opportunities for all involved,” Folk said.
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.