By Teresa Carson
PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Six environmental activists were arrested on Monday at Oregon's state capitol, two of them for climbing up flagpoles, while protesting a plan they said would sharply increase clear-cut logging of old-growth timber in a state forest.
Four protesters were cited for "unlawfully occupying the entrance to two state office suites" after locking themselves together at the offices of Oregon's secretary of state, Kate Brown, and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, state police Lieutenant Gregg Hastings said.
In a statement prior to their rally, Cascadia Earth First and Cascadia Forest Defenders said they targeted Wheeler and Brown for their roles as members of the Oregon State Land Board.
The conservation groups were protesting a plan approved by the board in October that nearly doubles the amount of clear-cut logging permitted in Elliott State Forest, which encompasses 93,000 acres of Douglas fir trees near the town of Reedsport on Oregon's central coast.
Clear cutting, a timber-harvest practice that typically strips forested areas of all standing vegetation, has long been opposed by conservation groups as environmentally unsound because it can lead to severe erosion.
Environmentalists have taken particular exception to any logging of old-growth forests, which generally consist of trees that have stood for hundreds of years or more and that support a rich diversity of plant and animal life.
Land Board officials defended the plan in question, saying it sets aside more of the forest as a buffer for streams and sensitive wildlife habitat than was previously required.
The new plan allows annual clear-cut logging on about 850 acres and less-expansive "partial-cut" harvests of another 250 acres, amounting to about 1 percent of the forest's total land base, state Forestry Department Dan Postrel said.
By comparison, the previous plan allowed for 500 acres of clear-cutting and 500 acres of partial cutting, producing an annual yield of 25 million board feet of lumber. The new plan will produce 40 million board feet each year, Postrel said.
Postrel said the department lacks figures for how much of the Elliott Forest is considered old growth, but most state-owned forests have little such timber.
The overall demonstrations at the Salem statehouse, which began at about 10 a.m. local time and continued into the afternoon, involved about 50 protesters, Hastings said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Philip Barbara)