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Douglas fir trees dwarf a person in a unit of the Clean Slate timber sale area near Selma, one of the Pickett West Forest Project sales by the Bureau of Land Management that has been criticized by area environmental groups.

Two weeks ago the legal notice for public comment on a timber sale known as Clean Slate published, the latest stage of the larger, and controversial, Pickett West Forest Project.

The first timber sale under Pickett West, a companion to Clean Slate called Pickett Hog, was sold in September, while about 100 people protested outside the Grants Pass Interagency Office. Another dozen protested the protest.

Boise Cascade of Medford bought the 3.5 million board feet for $697,538, but it’s not likely to get any logging done for awhile.

The sale brought 29 administrative protests, which Tim Ream of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center said was the most he could remember. The BLM said it was the most of any sale in the past eight years, and it’s likely to delay the project another four to six months, said BLM spokesperson Jim Whittington.

“The bidders understand the process,” Whittington said, adding that it’s impossible to say when trees could be harvested since harvest often comes long after the sale. But he did say with no protests the contract would have been awarded by now.

It’s a setback not only for Boise Cascade but also the BLM, which has struggled for more than a decade to put enough trees up for sale to satisfy timber companies, at the same time managing to upset environmental groups.

“We’ve sent them back to the drawing board,” Ream said. “They found there was enough pushback, they have to go back and plan. They’re going to have to do something different this time.”

A BLM protest response team will meet next week, said Ferris Fisher, planning and environmental coordinator for the Medford BLM.

Already a public meeting for the Clean Slate timber sale planned for Nov. 15 in Selma was canceled, because the BLM didn’t think it would have enough people to deal with more protestors, Whittington said.

The BLM says the overall Pickett West project will reduce risk of severe fire, increase species diversity and also follow the mandate of the O&C lands to provide a sustainable yield of commercial timber.

About 6,000 acres are targeted for commercial harvest, and 11,000 for fuel reduction, across the entire 203,000 acres of the project, which is near the communities of Selma, Wilderville, Merlin and Murphy.

The debate boils mostly down to the harvest of large trees.

Of the 3.5 million board feet in Pickett Hog, the average tree scheduled for harvest is 16 inches in diameter at breast height. There are 40 trees between 25 and 30 inches in diameter, and one 36-incher, according to Fisher. One really large Douglas fir can produce 5,000 board feet, so just a little over three of those would be enough to frame a 2,600-square-foot house.

Is that a lot of old growth? Is it any at all?

“I really think it depends on who you ask,” Fisher said.

According to Fisher, the Medford District BLM recently published a new management plan that defines old growth as “dominant Douglas-fir and pine that are both greater than or equal to 36 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) and that were established prior to 1850.”

“Per the BLM definition the 40 trees would not be considered old growth,” Fisher said.

“It depends on how you describe old growth,” said Whittington, the BLM spokesman. “Some folks want to define it as a tree, but we typically look at total stands. You might have some legacy trees there, but the stand as a whole isn’t what would be put into an old-growth category. It’s kind of a nebulous term.”

Opponents of large-tree harvest say they’re the most fire-resistant, thus most beneficial to leave standing. Opponents also argue that reduction of the forest canopy to 30 percent in more than half the units amounts to near-clear cutting.

“Removing most of the canopy, in watersheds and forests that are already on the brink, that concerns folks,” said George Sexton, a colleague of Ream’s with the Klamath Siskiyou Wildland Center. “These watersheds have done their part for fiber production. Tearing up forest canopy might not be the best thing for fire hazard, watershed values or wildlife.”

To comment on the Clean Slate timber sale, send to 2164 N.E. Spalding Ave., Grants Pass, OR, 97526, or send electronically to ffisher@blm.gov. Or call Fisher at 541-471-6639.

The review period lasts through Dec. 7.

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