By Suzie Savoie
Over the last two years numerous environmental organizations have been opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) massive Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM) Project, with Applegate-based groups asking Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to withdraw the IVM Project, maintain the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes and encourage meaningful public involvement on our local public lands.
Despite two years of opposition and an imminent Decision Record from the BLM on the project, many in southern Oregon still have not heard of this highly controversial project. Although the BLM uses misleading language, co-opted from real practitioners of habitat restoration work, to describe their IVM Project, it is, in fact, not about “restoration” or land resiliency. In stark contrast to true habitat restoration work, the IVM Project proposes widespread industrial logging across 800,000 acres of Medford District BLM lands in southwestern Oregon. This includes forests in the Rogue Valley and throughout the Rogue River watershed, as well as the Applegate River watershed, Illinois River watershed, the Cow Creek watershed near Glendale, and in many other locations throughout the region.
If fully approved, the IVM Project, as it is currently proposed by Medford District BLM, would allow the BLM to log up to 20,000 acres and build up to 90 miles of new roads per decade without additional site-specific scientific review, public comment, public involvement or the disclosure of environmental impacts.
The IVM Project would allow the logging of trees up to 36-inches in diameter-at-breast-height (DBH) and over 150 years of age, the reduction of canopy cover to as low as 30%, and the implementation of “group selection” logging, a form of staggered clearcut logging that specifically targets mature forest habitats. Local residents are opposing this increased logging because of the associated increase in fire risks, the degradation of old-forest habitat that is important for climate resiliency and carbon sequestration, the elimination of important habitat for imperiled species such as the Northern spotted owl, and the degradation of scenic values that are important for the local recreation economy.
The IVM Project specifically proposes this logging in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forests originally set aside by the BLM to protect old forest habitat for the Northern spotted owl and in other locations outside the BLM’s “timber harvest land base,” identified in their 2016 Resource Management Plan.
The BLM is also attempting to circumvent its obligation to the public under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in their IVM Project by reducing or eliminating many of the processes intended to infuse public interest into public land management planning. The IVM Project is a “programmatic” project, meaning that once it is approved for an 800,000-acre area, all Medford District BLM Projects conducted in that area going forward will no longer be required to have site-specific environmental planning or public comment periods, cutting out public engagement and scientific scrutiny.
Despite having no authorization to do so, the Medford District BLM, Grants Pass Resource Area, has already begun planning projects under the provisions of the IVM Project. This includes the Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales near Mungers Butte and in the mountains between Williams, Murphy, and Selma, Oregon.
The Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales are just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come under the Medford District BLM’s IVM Project if it is fully approved. Rather than allow the public to participate in the planning and approval process, under the provisions of the IVM Project, the BLM would approve timber sales before announcing them to the public, before providing meaningful information to the public about these timber sales, and without offering the public an opportunity to participate or collaborate.
The Medford District BLM’s IVM Project is a clear signal to residents in southwest Oregon that they are no longer interested in collaborating with the public on public land management projects. They simply want to return to a bygone era of maximizing timber production without public engagement or site-specific environmental analysis. The IVM Project is the legacy of the Trump presidency’s efforts to diminish the influence of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Biden administration and Oregon elected officials need to help Oregonians defeat the IVM Project.
Suzie Savoie lives in the Applegate Valley. She is on the board of and volunteers with numerous local conservation-based organizations, including the Siskiyou Crest Coalition.