Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Bureau of Land Management plans to close to the public 2,167 acres of forest east of Myrtle Creek to minimize conflicts between contractors and timber sale protestors while the area is being logged.

Pending any appeals, the temporary closure will go in effect Dec. 24, according to a decision signed last week by BLM Field Manager Steven Lydick.

The blockage, which includes 15 miles of road, will not exceed two years and will be lifted as soon as the harvest activities that cause safety concerns are completed, Lydick said.

The federal agency's decision hasn't weakened the stance of a group of tree-sitters who have been perched on the White Castle sale since June to prevent the trees from being cut. The sale is one of three pilot projects planned by the BLM to log and simultaneously create wildlife habitat.

"We plan to stay, we don't plan to go anywhere," said Jason Gonzales, a member of Cascadia Forest Defenders.

The sitters, whose numbers vary daily from a handful to more than 30, are in native forest that has never been logged and within the home range of five pairs of spotted owls. The sale is at the top of the Myrtle Creek watershed, which timber harvests would endanger, the group said.

"The plan is to resist the extraction of that forest. We don't have enough native forest in Oregon to say, 'Oh well. It's OK,'" said group member Mary Grace Brogdon.

The Scott Timber Co., a subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products, already has the contract to log 6.4 million board feet, but has put the harvest on hold.

"It would be a wonderful thing if Roseburg Forest Products and (President and CEO) Allyn Ford took this opportunity to step away from this timber sale," Brogdon said.

Bob Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, said RFP plans to start work as quickly as possible. He also called it unfortunate that people are protesting the experimental timber harvest before it has even started.

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 plan calls to remove the maximum volume of timber while maintaining as much biodiversity as possible.

The Obama administration has backed the experiment as a way to increase timber harvests while considering conservation values.

Proponents of the plan say they will mimic natural forest fires and create clearings for flowers and shrubs to grow unshaded by trees. Native plants thriving in the sunlight will feed butterflies, birds and small mammals.

Cascadia Forest Defenders argue the plan doesn't include post-timber sale monitoring to assure biodiversity was successfully maintained. Other conservation groups say the plan involves clear-cutting forests and have filed administrative challenges.

"They are keeping people from working and keeping folks from trying to manage the forest to see if this (plan) can work," Ragon said.

He said it's unusual the BLM is proposing a temporary closure and that he hasn't seen such action in his career.

The BLM began taking public comment in August after it announced its plan to close off the area to prevent protesters from interfering with loggers or from being harmed by falling trees.

The BLM's Lydick said he received comments from nine individuals and five organizations. Many of the comments he said were unrelated to the decision to be made or conveyed opinions or preferences. Comments specific to the proposed temporary closure focused on the legality of the proposal, the size of the action area and length of time it would be closed, and the impacts to recreationists.

Gonzales said the closure will make it more challenging to get people in and out of the forest, but tree-sitters are preparing for the long haul by bringing in supplies and warm gear.

"We knew this closure plan was coming and knew it was likely, so we have been stocking up and getting ready for winter," he said. "The BLM hasn't made it clear on what attempts they will make, whether it be to extract people or just close the road, but we are prepared."

Appeals of the BLM's decision must be filed within 30 days after the Nov. 19 decision was signed. Brogdon said she anticipates an appeal that will delay a closure for at least a month.

"The only way to resolve this quietly is for them to gracefully bow out," she said.

-You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at cgeorge@nrtoday.com.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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