SELMA, Ore. Loggers began chopping down trees Monday inside a wildfire-ravaged old-growth forest after authorities hauled away environmentalists trying to block the logging from taking place.
Loggers toting chainsaws, axes and fuel cans hiked past the protest site on the Siskiyou National Forest and a short while later the roar of chainsaws and trees crashing to earth could be heard. Authorities arrested 10 people and towed away a disabled pickup draped with an Earth First banner.
The battle has become the focus of a national debate between conservationists and the Bush administration over how to treat the millions of acres of national forest that burn every year in wildfires and whether to log any of the remaining old growth in national forests.
Old-growth forest reserves were designated primarily for fish and wildlife habitat under a 1994 forest plan. That act was created to balance logging against habitat for salmon and the northern spotted owl.
About 50 protesters assembled at the forest before dawn in an attempt to stall logging that had been made possible by the expiration of an injunction.
"We have no laws in our forest so we will be the law," said Joan Norman, 72, of Selma, before Forest Service law enforcement officers picked her up in her metal lawn chair blocking a logging road bridge.
John West, president of Silver Creek Logging Co., said the protesters had a right to their say, but a federal court injunction that held up the logging for months has expired, and work has to proceed quickly to avoid further loss of the fire-killed timber to insects and rot.
"The people of this country have given the Forest Service the responsibility for taking care of this land," West said. "The Forest Service is trying to do that."
Monday's logging occurred at the site of a wildfire that charred 500,000 acres and was the largest in the nation in 2002.
The Forest Service and timber industry contend that by cutting trees on a small fraction of the forest burned by the fire, they can finance work to speed the growth of a new forest while providing much-needed timber for local mills.
Environmentalists counter that the logging promotes erosion that clogs salmon streams and removes the large trees that are the building blocks for natural regeneration of a forest.