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Anti-logging protests mark Bush administration visit
By JEFF BARNARD
ASHLAND, Ore. - Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey canceled an impromptu meeting with environmentalists to discuss salvage logging on the Biscuit fire Friday after he was confronted by angry protesters.
The roughly 50 shouting protesters who assembled outside Rey's speech to the Oregon and Washington chapters of the Society of American Foresters foreshadowed future confrontations in the woods if the Siskiyou National Forest goes ahead with plans to log 518 million board feet from the area burned in the Biscuit fire, environmentalists said.
The Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres in southwestern Oregon, making it the nation's biggest wildfire in 2002.
It is the focus of an intense debate over whether it is better to salvage timber killed in wildfires to speed up restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, as the Forest Service and timber industry want, or leave forests to recover naturally, as environmentalists and some ecologists advocate.
Four Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management police with batons pushed against about 20 protesters to make room for Rey as he left his speech at Southern Oregon University by a back door and climbed into a silver SUV to drive to the Ashland Ranger Station, witnesses said. Liz Crossman of Ashland said she was hit on the arm by an officer wielding a baton.
When Rey saw more protesters at the ranger station, where he was to meet with about five environmentalists, he decided against going through with the meeting, said Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Mary Marrs.
"What they requested was a private meeting with five or six people," Rey said in an interview. "What they wanted was a second protest."
Spencer Leonard of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental group, said the estimated 50 people shouting anti-logging slogans outside Rey's speech was an expression of the anger people feel over Forest Service plans to conduct what may be the largest timber sale in history on lands burned in the Biscuit fire.
One protester was forcibly removed after entering the hall where Rey was speaking and shouting "Liar."
"We had no set plan to harass him at his car," said Jake Kreilick, endangered forest project coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance, an environmental group based in Missoula, Mont. Kreilick was among the people Rey had agreed to meet with.
"The time to play nice with the Bush administration is over," Kreilick added. "But to turn (Rey) into a martyr over this thing is a stretch."
Noting that no one bid on salvage timber burned in 2002's Timbered Rock fire, Kreilick said the combination of rot over the past two years and the likelihood of tree sitters may bring the same outcome for Biscuit.
Rey said he expected the plan for salvage logging on the Biscuit fire, due to be completed in coming weeks, to play out similarly to salvage logging on the 1987 Silver fire, which also burned on the Siskiyou National Forest and was hotly opposed by environmentalists.
After a judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping logging in 1988, Congress enacted a rider that allowed the logging to go ahead, said Julie Norman, who was on the board of the environmental group Headwaters at the time.
As a concession to environmentalists, the rider blocked plans to extend the Bald Mountain Road, which was the focus of anti-logging protests in 1983.
Rey said he has not spoken to anyone in Congress about enacting a rider.
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