Timber Traded for Improved Habitat

The Mount Hood National Forest awarded its first stewardship contract -- trading timber for forest improvements -- to a Carson, Wash., plywood veneer manufacturer.

ESTACADA, Oregon — The Mount Hood National Forest awarded its first stewardship contract -- trading timber for forest improvements -- to a Carson, Wash., plywood veneer manufacturer.

High Cascade will have until March 2008 to thin 107 acres of second-growth fir and complete a series of wildlife habitat and other improvements. If contract requirements are met, the company will not have to pay the $91,865 it bid to harvest about 1 million board feet of timber on the Oak Grove Fork of the Clackamas River, about 40 miles east of Estacada.

Congress authorized stewardship contracting in 2002 as a way of getting small logs to mills while accomplishing more environmental improvements in federal forests than Congress has been financing.

High Cascade's bid was judged the best value among three received by the U.S. Forest Service. A panel of three Forest Service staffers -- a wildlife biologist, forester and timber sale planner -- weighed each bidder's proposed technical approach and use of local workers as part of the criteria in awarding the contract.

The environmental jobs will include killing two firs per acre by girdling, leaving the trees to become standing snags for birds and other wildlife. The same number of trees will be felled and left on the ground, also for wildlife.

Logs too small for making veneer will be left for personal-use firewood cutters. The contract also calls for precommercial thinning on 467 acres of 10- to 20-year-old planted firs scattered through the Clackamas River ranger district as part of long-term strategy to increase habitat for spotted owls listed as a threatened species.

A contractor experienced with precommercial thinning in Clackamas County will do that work for High Cascade, according to Jim Rice, forest products coordinator for the Mount Hood forest.

Although stewardship contracting has become popular in the Siuslaw National Forest in the Coast Range, the Forest Service was unsure how it would be accepted in the Mount Hood forest.

"We were happy to see three bidders," said Rice. "We've received calls from others who learned about this contract and are interested in bidding on the next ones."

Bids were due Friday for a stewardship contract with more than 300 acres of commercial thinning and wildlife and forestry projects southeast of the P-Thin tract. A third stewardship contract in the upper Clackamas drainage is scheduled for bidding in January.

Recommendations for the environmental work come from Clackamas County Stewardship Partners, an advisory group representing county government, conservation groups, timber interests and others. Rick Gruen, manager of Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District, serves as an unofficial coordinator of the group.

Gruen called the first contract "a great start" but said he wants the group at a November meeting to consider adopting a formal process of decision making that discourages individual members from filing appeals or lawsuits if they disagree with a recommendation by the group. One of the objectives of stewardship contracting is for divergent interests to influence federal foresters early in planning and reduce appeals that stall or kill projects.

"If we have a truly collaborative process from the beginning, there should be less controversy later," said Chandra LeGue, conservation associate with Oregon Natural Resources Council in Eugene and a group member.

Alex P. Brown, another member and executive director of Bark, a Portland forest conservation organization, said contracts should aim for restoration of the Clackamas watershed rather than commercial incentives.

"We hope this will set a regional example for how we can move these projects forward without controversy," Brown said.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News