100 Protest 6,000 Acre Pickett West BLM Timber Sale Auction

Timber sale draws protest - Grants Pass Daily Courier By Jeff Duewel of the Daily Courier

The guitar strummed and opponents of a timber sale joined in "This Land is Your Land" this morning in front of the Grants Pass Interagency Office on Spalding Avenue.

About 100 people gathered to protest the Pickett Hog timber sale that was about to be auctioned inside. Many held up signs — "30 percent canopy = clear cut," "Old Growth Logging fuels HOT fires."

Five-year-old Nya Barton of Selma drew her own sign that said "Protect my Future."

"I am the future," she said.

"We're protesting because old growth is the only real fire-resistant forest we have," said her father Ian Barton, holding his daughter. "They're trying to sell this under the guise of restoration."

Pickett Hog is one of four sales that were up for auction by the Bureau of Land Management this morning, and the only one in the Pickett West Forest Project.

The other three sales were outside Josephine County. Two more Pickett West sales are planned, including one near Barton's house.

With forest management practices being blamed for the huge wildfires that have plagued the West in recent years, the BLM says the 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.

Foes of the timber sale accuse the BLM of using the smoke that has been choking the region this summer as an excuse to ramp up logging. 

"It's the opposite of what they're telling you," said Tim Ream of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "They're trying to use the emotion of fire and smoke to increase logging."

Ream handed out studies showing that logged areas are twice as likely to experience catastrophic wildfire as protected areas.

"They serve the timber companies," said Orville Camp of Selma, who practices what he calls natural selection logging on his property on Thompson Creek Road, near one of the future Pickett West project sales. "I call it one of the world's great frauds."

Vince Randall, the forest manager for the BLM's Grants Pass Resource Area, stood outside the agency door and watched. He said he's sat through about a dozen protests in his 30 years in forestry.

"We're not logging old growth, you can see it right there," said Randall, pointing to a description of the project posted on a board. "They are standing for old growth but it has more to do with emotion than science as a definition.

"Whatever folks want to define as old growth is usually what their definition of reality is."

Pickett Hog, roughly northwest of Robertson Bridge, will log 17,427 Douglas fir trees, and a few ponderosas and cedars, for 3.58 million board feet, worth an estimated $465,614.

Randall said the vast majority of trees are between 8 and 25 inches in diameter.

His definition of old growth?

"A old tree with big bark that has survived a few fire cycles," Randall said.

How many of those are coming down?

"I don't know of any, maybe an occasional hazard tree," he said.

Ream took exception.

"That's what they say, but take a look at how many board feet are coming out of there," Ream said. "They didn't pick that patch to get just scrawny stuff."

Throughout the proceedings, a droning "Cut the trees. Cut the trees. Cut the trees," could be heard among about a dozen counterprotesters.

That was Ron Ruby, vice chair of the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance. He blamed environmentalists for "ruining the logging industry."

"Radical enviros, that's what they are," Ruby said.

Helen Scott held up a sign "Support the Pickett Hog sale. Stop the Travesty. Reduce the fuels." 

Today's protest was reminiscent of so many other timber protests over the years, with two polar opposite versions of reality on display.

"I wish folks would take a hard look at projects and not let emotions dictate the reality of what they're actually doing," Randall said. "But it's their right."

"They're going after the last remaining islands of old growth forest. It's insane what's going on," Camp said.