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New BLM plan promises to speed up forest projects, but some activists want more public input

<p>Smoke covers a hillside in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon during a prescribed burn operation.</p>
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Jes Burns

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Smoke covers a hillside in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon during a prescribed burn operation.

 

The Medford BLM district is planning to implement the first project using its revised forest management plan. The so-called Late Mungers project in the Applegate River Watershed would treat almost 7,500 acres of forest.

BLM says the work would reduce fuel loads, thin overly dense forests and promote healthy habitats for the endangered northern spotted owl.

But some members of the community, including Luke Ruediger, say the way BLM is moving forward with these projects cuts out opportunities for public comment.

“So essentially what’s been done is the Medford District BLM is now planning, designing, and marking for timber sale and tree removal throughout an entire project area before they consult with the public," he says.

Ruediger claims the plan is a guise for commercial logging in once-protected lands.

Out of the 7,435 acres proposed for treatment, 798 would be allocated for commercial thinning. That number is subdivided into areas the plan designates for development of northern spotted owl habitat, protecting nearby communities from wildfire and other miscellaneous treatments.

The remaining 6,637 acres are set aside for thinning of small diameter trees and prescribed fire treatments.

BLM Field Manager Bill Dean says the new plan is focused on creating forests that can withstand wildfire and protect endangered species far into the future.

“And sometimes the dialogue is focused on today," Dean says. "The conditions that are standing, that are existing today; with the concept that they’re gonna stay that way in the future.”

Dean says historical fire suppression means if these forests are left untouched, they could threaten nearby communities and be difficult to navigate by wildland firefighters. But local opponents say the proposed treatments would actually make the forest less resistant to fire.

BLM says public input for individual projects is faster because this new plan was created to avoid doing duplicate work for every proposed project.

The public comment period for the Late Mungers project ends on June 28th.

Dean hopes to get the project started this fall, after reviewing input from the public. After starting, the project outline anticipates the commercial treatments could take up to five years

Copyright 2022 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast. When not out in the field, Roman enjoys travelling and cross-stitching.