If the conservationists trying to stop the 187-acre White Castle timber sale are right, two widely respected forestry professors, the Obama administration and Gov. John Kitzhaber are all wrong.
Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands have filed a legal challenge to the timber sale in the Bureau of Land Management Roseburg District.
In doing so, they dismiss the expertise of Oregon State University professor Norm Johnson and University of Washington professor Jerry Franklin and the importance of the Northwest timber industry.
Back in 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to Roseburg and promised to try to break gridlock on federal timberlands. The only path forward was environmentally acceptable timber sales.
Toward that end, the BLM developed several timber sales, including White Castle, to test whether commercial logging can actually encourage the emergence of habitat beneficial to some plants and wildlife.
The pilot projects employ principles advanced by Johnson and Franklin. Simply put, some trees would be left and the forest allowed to regrow naturally rather than being replanted.
According to the BLM, flowers and fruits will flourish. The forage will benefit birds, butterflies, deer and elk. Small mammals — wood rats, deer mice, brush hares and more — will thrive and provide more prey for spotted owls. Johnson and Franklin assert this kind of complex, early forest habitat is scarce in Oregon.
The conservationists say Johnson and Franklin are wrong, maintaining there is enough of this type of landscape on private timberlands that have been logged.
The BLM smartly replies that private timberlands once logged are replanted to maximize future harvests. Herbicides are applied to cultivate a conifer-dominated forest, killing flowering plants.
The conservationists are equally dismissive of the economic values the sale represents.
The White Castle sale would produce an estimated 6.4 million board feet of timber, according to BLM. The logs would be processed here because trees cut on federal lands can’t be exported.
The conservationists argue the timber sale is unneeded because thinning projects can satisfy the demand for wood.
That view is at odds with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s letter to Oregon’s congressional delegation last week calling for a new management plan for Oregon and California Railroad trust lands. One of the governor’s main points was that thinning won’t sustain the economy or O&C counties.
Finally, the conservationists downplay the importance of the timber industry to the Northwest. “Our economy typically creates more jobs every year than exist in the entire lumber and wood products sectors,” the conservationists wrote in their challenge to White Castle.
Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands must have cheered their supporters by challenging White Castle. Activists who climb trees to stop timber sales are quickly dislodged, but those who sue have been effective. This time, though, by ignoring a mountain of scientific and economic evidence, they’ve gone way out on a limb.