JOHN DAY - Citizen appeals of timber sales on the Malheur National Forest prevented logging long enough to turn some of the trees into fire fuel.

Grant County's 2002 fire season outran planners, helping account for the loss of substantial stands of timber scheduled for sale, according to a Malheur spokesperson.

Examples include the Mag Timber Sale, located partly on the Prairie City Ranger District and partly on the Emigrant Ranger District (formerly the Snow Mountain Ranger District). The sale proposal was contested through the administrative appeals process, but the sale decision was upheld. Forest staff were preparing to sell the timber when half of the sale area burned in this year's lightning-caused rash of forest fires, according to Jennifer Harris, public information officer for the Malheur National Forest.

Ironically, the Mag Timber Sale planning document describes the sale as a fire salvage.

"Timber harvest is proposed within burn-damaged forested stands to remove dead and dying trees," the proposal reads. "Helicopter yarding would be the specified logging method for the timber harvest. Conifer reforestation and seedling protection activities, including tree planting within the salvage areas, would occur in areas with high mortality of the forest stands, stand replacement intensity."

Likewise, the Merit Timber Sale decision notice on Prairie City Ranger District was days from being signed when a large section burned, Harris reported.

Describing Merit's objectives, the planning document states, "Restoration activities would be applied over an area of approximately 21,432 acres within the Lake Creek and Crooked Creek subwatersheds."

Forest fires scorched an estimated 44,000 acres of Forest Service land in and around Grant County this summer. The largest fires were centered in the Malheur and Monument complexes near Prairie City and Unity, respectively. Conflagrations played havoc with Malheur National Forest planning efforts, producing one of the lowest-output years for timber harvest on record.

On the 1.7-million-acre Malheur National Forest, staff offered 2.8 million board feet of new timber for sale in fiscal year 2002, Harris reported (fiscal year 2002 ran from Oct. 1, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2002). Bolstered by carryover sales from previous years, the total timber harvested in fiscal year 2002 was 12.5 million board feet.

The year before, the forest offered 3.97 mmbf of new timber for a total of 15.4 mmbf sold, according to the agency.

A decade ago, Forest Service officials saw trouble on the horizon. In 1992, the acting assistant secretary of agriculture in the Bush Sr. administration, John Beuter, decried the fact that the Malheur only sold 110 mmbf of timber, half of its projection of 210 mmbf, during the 1991-92 fiscal year. Other regional forests, including the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests, accomplished half or less of their fiscal-year goals in 1991-92, although the projections were much more ambitious. The forests in those years planned to sell 180 mmbf and 400 mmbf of timber, respectively.

In recent years, forest staffs have struggled with a host of challenges, including heightened environmental appeals and litigation and greater demand for consultation with other agencies while developing planning documents under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Last year on the 1.4-million-acre Umatilla National Forest, staff offered 35.3 mmbf of timber for sale (this figure, unlike others quoted, includes firewood and post and pole material).

The year before, the total on the Umatilla was 11.7 mmbf; in 2000, 13.9 mmbf; in 1999, 25.4 mmbf; in 1998, 50.6 mmbf; and in 1997, 69.9 mmbf. In the last 10 years, the timber output has been as high as 69.9 mmbf and as low as 8.1 mmbf (1994), reported public information officer Earl Rother.

Last year on the 2.3-million-acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, staff offered 16 mmbf of sawlog material for sale. With carryover material, the total harvested reached 18 mmbf. The forest's yearly average during the past decade was nearly 42 mmbf, with a low, prior to last year, of 23 mmbf (1993), reported timber sale officer Carla Monismith.

On the Malheur National Forest, confronting still-smoldering landscapes, staff will focus on fire-area restoration, Harris said. Seven roadside hazard-tree sales in the Flagtail Fire area near Seneca are being prepared, she said. Spurred by citizen demand (including a citizen initiative which passed overwhelmingly on the May 21 ballot asserting right of roadside salvage), the Forest Service prepared five roadside hazard-tree sales. Of the five offered, three were sold, Harris reported. A fire hazard sale is pending for the Bear Valley Work Center, which suffered extensive damage from the Flagtail Fire. Two log decks of wood from the Monument Fire also are being made available this month, Harris said.

Staff on the forest also are gathering data to analyze larger fire salvage and restoration areas, Harris reported.

"We're planning to do analysis on all of those areas. We have a team identified to assist us from the Willamette National Forest," she said.

National forest staffs, still waiting on Congress to approve this fiscal year's budget, are operating on a continuing resolution, but staff numbers have taken a nosedive. On the Malheur National Forest, a fiscal year 2001 census of 244 permanent full-time equivalent workers (including part-time personnel) fell to 209 permanent full-time equivalents by fiscal year 2002, Harris reported.

Other timber sales continue to work their way through the Malheur pipeline. They include:

W2. On Emigrant Creek Ranger District, this sale and restoration project was appealed, reworked, reappealed and upheld on the second appeal. The environmental assessment states that the "purpose of the EA revision was to improve upon the existing condition information and the effects analysis of the original EA. It also added analysis for 13.5 miles of road closure, 0.2 miles of road decommission, dropping unit 74 from Alternative 3, and the use of helicopter logging instead of summer logging 4 units in Alternative 3."

Crawford Timber Sale on Blue Mountain Ranger District was appealed and remanded, upon which point the regional office staff arrived in Grant County to help conduct a review of the document.

"The original analysis, the Flat Analysis, was begun in the fall of 1993," the planning document states. "However, the analysis was delayed for higher priority projects until April 1999, when it was renamed the Crawford Vegetation Management Project."

The Tureman Timber Sale on Prairie City Ranger District was the focus of planning, but its progress was halted for fire season, Harris said.

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