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BLM Timber Sale Increases Fire Risk, Reduces Climate Resilience and Harms Recreation

The Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District has proposed the Bear Grub timber sale in the mountains between Ruch in the Applegate Valley and Talent in the Rogue Valley. This project focuses on logging some of the driest watersheds in Western Oregon, including popular recreation areas along the East Applegate Ridge Trail, and in important wildlife habitat. The timber sale also literally surrounds thousands of rural homes and threatens nearby communities by creating significant fuel loads and additional fire risks.

The Bear Grub Timber Sale proposes “group selection” logging, a form of incremental or staggered clearcut logging that removes whole groves of mature forest and large, fire-resistant trees, including trees over 30 inches in diameter. According to the BLM, this prescription can include the removal of numerous stands up to 4 acres in size (the equivalent of roughly three football fields) where complete or near-complete tree removal can occur on up to 30% of a forested stand.

In southwest Oregon, when forest canopies are cleared, woody shrubs and flammable young trees will undoubtedly regenerate in the new canopy gaps. By removing large trees and drastically opening forest canopies, fire resistance will be reduced, fuel loading will increase, and stands will become more dry, windy and vulnerable to fast-moving, high-severity wildfires.

Some would have you believe that any form of logging will reduce fire risks, but this assertion is not supported by scientific research. Numerous studies conducted in our region have shown that heavily logged timber plantations, young stands and open forests tend to burn at higher severity than less-managed mid- to late-successional forests (Zald. 2018., Weatherspoon. 1995., Odion. 2004.). Many of the forests targeted for logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale currently support high levels of fire resistance, which will be negatively affected if key components such as large trees and cool, shaded microclimates are removed.

In recent BLM environmental analysis, group-selection logging was proven to increase fire risks. The BLM admitted that forested stands subjected to group-selection logging “could exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control. For five to

20 years following planting, the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands.” (Clean Slate Vegetation Management Project Environmental Analysis).

Although in many ways we agree with BLM’s analysis, we believe the duration of the effects will last far longer than 20 years. In fact, the elements of fire resistance currently found in many of the proposed logging units, such as thick, insulating bark, high canopies, mature trees and the suppression of understory growth with overstory canopy, will likely take at least 60 to 80 years to be restored, leaving nearby communities vulnerable for at least a generation.

Recent research conducted at Oregon State University demonstrates that the timber industry is the largest source of carbon pollution in the state of Oregon (Law. 2018). Mature and late-successional forests are vitally important as “carbon sinks” that trap and store carbon from the atmosphere, and they are mostly found on federal forest lands. Unfortunately, the Bear Grub Timber Sale will diminish the capacity of local forests to sequester carbon by removing whole groves of large, carbon-rich trees and reducing forest cover. Intact forests support climate resilience and are part of the global climate solution. This includes not only distant forests in the Amazon rainforest, but also the forests literally found in our backyard and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

These same forests also are incredibly important for recreation; however, the Bear Grub Timber Sale has proposed group-selection logging units in mature forest along the East Applegate Ridge Trail and within its beautiful viewshed. Approved by the BLM just four years ago, funded by public donations and grants, and built by local residents, the East Applegate Ridge Trail is now one of the most popular recreational trails in our region.

The Bear Grub Timber Sale will degrade the scenic and recreational values of the Rogue and Applegate valleys, impact our quality of life, damage important wildlife habitat, threaten our homes and communities with increased fire risks, and impact the ability of our local forests to store carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is very clear what the timber industry will gain if this timber sale is logged; what is less clear is how the public will benefit.

For more information about the timber sale and to view photographs of the proposed units visit: stopbeargrub.org

Luke Ruediger of the Klamath Forest Alliance wrote this on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Bear Grub, which consists of organizations and residents in the Rogue and Applegate valleys in southern Oregon.

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