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Some like forest plan, some don't

Published Jan. 27, 2004

From the Medford Mail Tribune

MEDFORD - A community fire plan forum organized Monday by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden was a hit with state and federal forest officials and city and county representatives.

But environmental voices say they are being shut out of the process.

The meeting, held at the Bureau of Land Management Medford District office, was organized for Southern Oregon communities to create community fuels reduction plans as a part of Walden's Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.

The act - HR 1904 - received final approval from Congress in November and was signed by President Bush in December. It was touted by Walden and co-author Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., as the best way to quickly thin federal forests of small trees and underbrush in an effort to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

The act allows the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to streamline environmental studies and limit appeals on up to 20 million acres of forest thinning projects. The bill also allows timber harvests as big as 1,000 acres paired with programs to control insect infestation and disease.

Walden's Community Wildfire Protection Plan Roundtable was not as inclusive as some had hoped.

Derek Volkart, who identified himself as working in the construction industry, and George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Association, say environmental interests were not represented.

The two waited through the hour-and-a-half presentation to make their points from the back of the room.

"It looks like the ecologists and scientists are on annual leave," said Volkart, looking at the roundtable panel. "I'm hearing a lot about using herbicides and pretending wildfires destroy forests. I am disappointed."

Sexton echoed Volkart's disappointment and said the "cheapest, most effective way to manage forests is to leave forests that are healthy alone."

But all members of the roundtable who spoke supported or praised plans called for in the act.

Earlier in the meeting, BLM Medford District Manager Tim Reuwsaat said there are 38 communities at wildfire risk in Jackson and Josephine counties.

Jackson County commissioners Sue Kupillas and Jack Walker praised Walden for his efforts in getting the bill created and enacted.

Kupillas said she was working with forest engineering Professor John Sessions of Oregon State University in a "think tank," studying models of wildlands management ranging from none to extensive.

"We don't have to guess anymore" about how to manage forests thanks to that collaboration, said Kupillas. "We're in the last year of the three-year project."

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