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Urban timber harvest plan spurs anger

The Seneca Sawmill Company also had about 1,000 acres of property destroyed by the Horse Prairie Fire and two other wildfires. (SBG)

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) — Plans to log forestland near an urban area and adjacent to a proposed outdoor recreation area have created distrust in Springfield.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has a lone bidder to harvest 100 acres of forestland outside Springfield, near the Thurston Hills Natural Area, but the timber harvest would be near a residential area and could impact a planned wilderness area with hiking trails, bike paths, and wildlife habitats, The Register-Guard reported Friday.

The land for the recreational area was purchased over several years by the Willamalane Parks and Recreation District, in part with funds from a voter-approved bond. The district has since built out 5 miles of bike trails.

The land is part of a 270-acre parcel of BLM land, the northwest corner of which lies within Springfield's urban growth boundary.

Even before the lone bidder, Seneca Sawmill Co., came in with a $1.09 million bid for the rights, the environmental nonprofits Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands filed a protest with the BLM, accusing the agency of rushing to award a timber company logging rights to an area that would negatively impact Willamalane's Thurston Hills Natural Area project and increase the fire hazard for nearby residents.

They said the agency failed to weigh alternatives such as tree thinning.

More than two-dozen houses line a street that ends at the border of the BLM property. The land Seneca would log is farther south and east of that point, but opponents are nonetheless concerned.

"I've never been to a timber sale that was this close to town," said Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild conservation and restoration coordinator. "For some people it's less than seven blocks. If you live in the Thurston Hills, this is very unusual. ... It just seems like an egregious decision."

Seneca spokeswoman Casey Roscoe said the company has no immediate plans to log on the property, noting that roads would need to be created through the area and the site prepared for harvest.

"We're coming at this nimbly and with our hearts open," she said.

The environmental groups' protest is under review, BLM spokeswoman Jennifer Velez said.

The Willamalane Parks and Recreation District and city of Springfield had earlier filed a protest with the BLM that led the agency to reduce its sale to 100 acres.

The district now hopes any logging activity will strike a balance between the federal government's mandated harvest requirements and the district's concerns about the natural area, Willamalane Superintendent Michael Wargo said.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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