RABBIT MOUNTAIN — Knee-high Douglas fir seedlings speckle Rabbit Mountain. Boot prints from tree planters are fresh.
Near a road, an equipment operator strips branches from blackened trees. In the air, a helicopter stockpiles logs, two at a time, to be loaded onto a truck and hauled to a mill.
Roseburg Forest Products has had crews on the ground and in the air salvaging damaged timber and replanting trees since the Douglas Complex wildfires last summer burned on 11,000 acres belonging to RFP.
Timber manager Phil Adams said the company plans to be done with salvaging by September. Meanwhile, RFP’s neighbor, the Bureau of Land Management, remains in the planning phase.
RFP’s seedlings contrast with BLM’s fire-damaged forest. Any plans to salvage must undergo environmental assessments and public comments. Even if the federal agency decides to salvage, it’s unlikely timber sales will be offered by fall.
BLM’s pace worries Adams. Eventually, the BLM’s damaged trees will fall and create a “mass of litter and fuel.”
Adams points to damage on BLM trees inflicted by woodpeckers looking for bugs that were attracted to the dead wood.
“When the BLM doesn’t do anything, they are creating bug incubators that can move,” Adams said.
RFP has replanted 800 acres of a planned 3,500 acres and has logged 18 million board feet of timber. Another 9 million board feet will be harvested by the end of the summer, Adams said.
The timber company is spending $20,000 a day to log by helicopter and another $6,000 a day for each of the seven timber contractors on site.
A dry lightning storm struck July 26 about 7 miles north of Glendale. Nearly 49,000 acres of timberlands were burned, including 24,000 on Rabbit Mountain and nearly 24,500 on Dad’s Creek.
More than 6,000 acres were within the BLM Roseburg District, while another 19,000 acres were in the Medford District. The remaining acres belong to 27 private landowners. RFP suffered the most damage.
BLM spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said private landowners can move faster than the agency, but he said work is being done on BLM lands.
“It’s not solely just about dropping timber and removing it,” he said. “There’s a ton of other work that goes into it.”
The BLM has sold 626,000 board feet of timber cut along roads to suppress the fire. The agency replanted more than 300 acres of young plantations in the Roseburg District. Another 1,360 acres of replanting is planned for both districts.
According to a BLM report, slopes on 240 acres have been stabilized with straw, road conditions have been assessed and noxious weeds have been identified for removal.
In planning its response to the Douglas Complex fires, the BLM must take into account differences between the two districts involved in the fires. Timber harvests are the chief objective in the Medford District, while older tree stands in the Roseburg District are reserved for wildlife habitat.
The BLM has identified 1,500 to 1,700 acres of stands with commercial value for potential salvage in the Medford District. A salvage plan is due to be completed in June.
“I think we are moving at a really good pace. Both districts have been working really well together in moving forward and getting this done as soon as possible,” Rossbach said.
Lee Paterson, chairman of Communities for Healthy Forests, a Roseburg group that advocates for promptly rehabilitating damaged forests, said he was impressed with how quickly RFP launched into post-fire recovery.
“They understand that every day nothing is done is wasted money and wasted opportunity,” Paterson said. “I am concerned BLM isn’t as aggressive, but I know private landowners have fewer challenges.”
Drought in Southern Oregon has raised fears the fire season will be long and intense.
Dead trees leftover from last summer’s fires will fuel future blazes, said Javier Goirigolzarri, a private Roseburg forester.
“This poses a fire risk and the risk that we will lose (forest) again,” he said.
The Douglas Complex was the largest fire ever involving RFP lands in Oregon. Adams said the company’s swift move to salvage its investment and get new trees growing has been a huge undertaking.
Lightning struck on tree plantations that were years away from being harvested. The fires burned on ridges where it’s difficult to log.
“This is all a new experience for us. We’re going to learn a lot about forestation over the next five years,” he said. “We’ll see how successful we will be.”
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.