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Timber advocates appeal Sisters project

Logging industry lobby group says fuels reduction project doesn't cut enough old growth.

By Jim Cornelius
Sisters Nugget

Timber industry advocate the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) has appealed the Sisters Area Fuels Reduction (SAFR) project, which proposes to thin, mow and burn about 17,500 acres in the Sisters Country.

The project was designed to reduce wildfire danger and improve forest health.

It is a little unusual for an appeal to come from the timber industry.

"Interestingly enough, the environmental groups let it go," said Sisters District Ranger Bill Anthony.

Tim Lillebo of Oregon Wild told The Nugget that, "conservationists have concerns about the scope and scale of the project, but we chose not to appeal. It's not perfect, but we want to protect homes and the community."

But the American Forest Resource Council is unhappy with the process used.

"This project began as a Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) project, but the forest decided not to use that authority and changed to the standard NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process," AFRC said in a statement on its Web site. "The principle issue is the interpretation of HFRA by the agency that led to this decision."

According to AFRC representative Chuck Burley, the organization is concerned that such decisions will undermine the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which was designed to streamline and speed up the approval and action on forest projects.

"We believe that this misinterpretation of HFRA is already starting to manifest itself on other projects," Burley told The Nugget. "It's not being implemented very broadly."

Foresters plan to use a variety of landscape treatments around Black Butte Ranch, Tollgate, Crossroads, the City of Sisters and other nearby communities. Treatments will provide defensible space adjacent to subdivisions and other private property and along 26 miles of identified escape and access corridors in the project area.

The project is a key component of the Greater Sisters Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

"It's a very important area to treat," Anthony said.

Burley doesn't dispute any of that. He said AFRC doesn't want to stop the project, but the organization believes it is important that the question of applying HFRA be resolved. That matters, Burley said, because HFRA is designed to make things happen in a timely way in the forest.

"We're not doing enough fast enough," Burley said. "If they'd applied this properly, they'd probably be out there working on the ground already."

AFRC also believes that the project doesn't cut enough trees. Burley said cutting trees over 21 inches in diameter is warranted, but the Sisters Ranger District chose to stop at 21 inches. AFRC would like to see more aggressive thinning.

"We don't think they're thinning enough," Burley said. "You see this a lot on the Sisters Ranger District, when they thin, but they don't thin enough."

Lillebo says that the Sisters Country does not have much old growth and the project appropriately respects the public's desire to see larger trees protected while dense stands are thin. He said AFRC is "out of touch" with that desire.

Anthony acknowledged that the appeal reflects the difficulty of crafting a project that can escape appeal from one side or another in the divide over forest management. Any given project is likely to meet criticism for cutting too many trees or not cutting enough.

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