Friday, February 9, 2018

The Chetco Bar Fire: Natural Beauty, Industrial Devastation & the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project

The Chetco River near Redwood Bar

The Chetco River is one of the wildest, most spectacular and most diverse rivers in the West. In fact, 66% of the Chetco River watershed flows through remote wilderness and roadless backcountry. The fisheries and water quality of the Chetco River are fed by the countless wild streams flowing through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the surrounding wildlands. The fisheries of the Chetco River are among the most important on the Oregon Coast and they are currently threatened by post-fire logging on both private and federal land. 

In contrast to much of the river basin, the lower Chetco River near Brookings, Oregon is far from pristine. In many locations, private timber interests and federal land managers have scalped whole mountainsides, and in some cases, whole watersheds of old-growth timber. The result has been high road densities, vast plantation forests, and simplified ecosystems highly susceptible to stand-replacing fire. The lower Chetco River once contained intact, old forests of coastal Douglas fir, Port Orford-cedar and western hemlock. Portions of the watershed support the northern-most stands of coastal redwood, much of which was logged off decades ago; however, a few remnant stands of redwood forest still remain in the Chetco Watershed. 

The Chetco Bar Fire mosaic in the lower Chetco River canyon.

This past summer the Chetco Bar Fire burned throughout the Chetco River canyon from deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to within five miles of Brookings, Oregon. The fire burned in a diverse fire mosaic, burning slowly and at relatively low severity for the first month and a half of the fire. On August 15, 2017, under the influence of strong "Chetco Effect" winds and extremely low relative humidity, the fire surged to the west, quickly burning roughly 95,000 acres in one week of extreme fire weather. Under these conditions the fire burned through plantation stands, old-growth forests and snag fields from the 2002 Biscuit Fire. The winds and low relatively humidity largely overrode fuel loading as the main driver of fire severity in the Chetco Bar Fire. As the fire approached the coastal portions of the watershed stand structure did influence fire severity to some degree, and plantation stands did contribute to the level of mortality sustained during the Chetco Bar Fire. At the same time, the canyon's remnant old stands and scattered old trees sustained less mortality than the surrounding plantation stands.

Fire severity was highest on the ridges and mid-slope, where the fire could build some steam and was most influenced by wind and solar radiation. In the river canyon fire severity was reduced by natural vegetative conditions, higher levels of humidity and less exposure to heavy winds. Although portions of the lower Chetco River canyon burned hot, other portions burned at low to moderate severity, maintaining canopy conditions and burning understory fuel.  

The Chetco River Watershed Assessment documents increased surface erosion rates, sedimentation and water quality impacts associated with heavy industrial logging and road building in the river's lower reach. Tributary streams such as Basin Creek, Eagle Creek, the Mineral Hill Fork, and Quail Prairie Creek have been heavily logged and heavily impacted by industrial land management practices. These watersheds are now being targeted for post-fire logging by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the 13,626-acre Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. 

A natural stand proposed for post-fire logging by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Packer's Cabin on Long Ridge. Fire severity in the area was mixed, with some stands burned off and others maintaining significant levels of canopy.
Many people are claiming that because the lands targeted for post-fire logging are "matrix lands" designated for commercial logging, the project's impact will be reduced. Yet, the scale of logging and plantation development proposed will significantly alter forest structure, increase fuel loading, reduce fire resilience, impact the natural fire regeneration process, and degrade water quality in the Wild & Scenic Chetco River. 

Others are also claiming the impacts will be minimized because the project will log only plantation stands and forests that burned at high severity. These claims are only partially true. It is true that large areas of plantation forest did burn on federal land, but recent GIS analysis shows that only 33% of the acres proposed for post-fire logging have been previously logged. It is also true that fire severity in these stands is variable, with some stands totally torching and others burning in a mixed-severity fire mosaic. Many of the plantation stands benefited greatly from the Chetco Bar Fire, which punched holes in the unnaturally uniform stands, reduced stand density and created a more diverse mosaic from the once evenly spaced and even-aged plantation stands. 

Vulcan Peak in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness at sunset with the Chetco Bar Fire mosaic in the foreground. The Forest Service has proposed to conduct post-fire logging on the burned ridges directly adjacent to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary. The ridges burned at mixed severity, creating heterogeneity and diverse stand conditions. The agency is responding by implementing clearcut, post-fire logging, a position that directly contradicts the supposed "restorative" approach currently promoted by the agency. Creating more plantation stands will only further degrade habitat values and increase future fuel loads. 
Natural, unmanaged stands and some stands that were previously selectively logged are also proposed for post-fire logging. The Forest Service is proposing to log all stands located within "matrix" lands that sustained between 50% and 100% mortality in the Chetco Bar Fire. This means that some stands that survived the fire with only 50% mortality will be logged, contradicting the claim that only severely burned stands will be harvested. 

The beautiful waters of the lower Chetco River.
This last week Klamath Forest Alliance and the Siskiyou Crest Blog visited the lower Chetco River. What we found was a diverse fire mosaic, incredible natural regeneration, and some of the most beautiful water in the country. We observed a fire-adapted canyon of great beauty, but we also found devastation; not from the fire itself, but from the post-fire logging currently being implemented by private timber interests. The cumulative impact of post-fire clearcut logging on both private and federal land will leave the lower Chetco River canyon in a degraded state for a very long time. 

Surface erosion and sedimentation will significantly increase due to soil disturbance and vegetation loss associated with logging. Stream shade from both standing snags and living green trees will be reduced, impacting stream temperatures. The effects of clearcut logging will increase forest fragmentation and impact forest connectivity. Large old snags and living trees will be removed, reducing forest complexity and coarse woody debris recruitment. Slopes will be cleared, the fire mosaic degraded and vast interconnected areas converted into new tree plantations. The logging has severe impacts, but the plantation development will also degrade habitat conditions for many, many years to come. 
Post-fire logging by the South Coast Lumber Company in the Chetco Bar Fire. The company is liquidating thousands of acres, including fire killed trees and live trees, even in riparian areas. 

Plantation stands are broadly acknowledged as biological deserts with little stand complexity or habitat value. They are also the most flammable portions of the landscape. If the Forest Service moves forward with the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project, they will be creating the forest health and fuel problems of the future. 

The lower Chetco River is currently a mixture of extreme beauty and industrial devastation. We should demand more for this important watershed. Stop the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project! 

The Chetco Bar Fire 

The Natural Beauty...
The Chetco Bar Fire mosaic along the lower Chetco River.

Not only do coast redwood trees have fire-resistant bark, but they also have the ability to re-sprout from various locations throughout their trunk and limbs, as well as from the base of the tree following fire. This burned coast redwood is producing "epicormic" sprouts along its trunk and limbs at Little Redwood Campground on the lower Chetco River. The stand burned at relatively high severity, scorching off much of the forest canopy. Almost all of the burned redwoods are sprouting back, some with 2 foot sprouts already! Previously overshadowed by old-growth fir trees, these redwoods will have a strong competitive advantage over other conifer species regenerating from seed on site. The Chetco Bar Fire could encourage dominance by redwoods in the post-fire environment at Little Redwood Campground.
The Industrial Devastation...
The current clear-cut, post-fire logging on private land in the Chetco River watershed will increase the cumulative impact from proposed post-fire logging on adjacent Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest lands.
The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project
The current Forest Service proposals shows potential post-fire logging units in orange-yellow.
A map depicting proposed post-fire logging and nearby land management designations. The proposed post-fire logging units in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project are depicted in pink and orange. Also notice the amount of Northern spotted owl and Marbled Murrlet habitat that would be impacted. The State of Oregon just uplisted the Marbled Murrlet to "endangered" due to continuing population declines. Map created by Justin Augustine at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Support KFA and our work on the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. here

Thursday, January 18, 2018

13,626 Acres of Post-Fire Logging Proposed in the Lower Chetco River Watershed: Comment Now!

The Chetco Bar Fire mosaic from an aerial flyover. Credit: InciWeb
This summer the Chetco Bar Fire burned through some of the wildest, most remote country remaining in the Siskiyou Mountains. The fire began with a lightning strike around June 24-25, but was not reported until July 12th, 2017 when a commercial airplane pilot noticed the fire in the depths of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The fire burned until the fall rains in mid to late October. The Chetco Bar Fire burned 191,197 acres, from the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the coastal mountains outside Brookings, Oregon.

The initial ignition was located at the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, an extremely rugged and inaccessible knot of unusually diverse mountains and deep, rocky canyons of unusually clear mountain streams. At first, the fire burned slow and cool in the Chetco River canyon in a fortress of rocky ridgelines, deep forests, chaparral, and ghostly snag forests from the massive 2002 Biscuit Fire. The Chetco Bar Fire crept through the forest and brush, burning in a mosaic pattern, but never really building much momentum. On August 15, over a month after the fire began, it was still only 5,442 acres and was burning north-northeast, further into the wilderness.
The Chetco Bar Fire began deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in extremely remote, rugged terrain. Photo: InciWeb
On August 15, the fire changed course, burning west under strong, dry "Chetco Effect" winds, and suddenly the fire was raging. For the next week hot winds pushed down the Chetco River canyon bringing extreme fire behavior and rapid spread to the west, towards Brookings, Oregon. On August 22, the fire was 99,944 acres and growing. No longer entirely a wilderness fire, the fire was now burning on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, BLM land and private timberland.

When the smoke had cleared, large portions of the Chetco River watershed had burned. Among a region of spectacular rivers and streams, the Chetco River stands out for its incomparable beauty, intact fisheries and incredible water clarity. The vast majority of the Chetco River watershed is National Forest land (78%), and most of the remaining portions of the watershed are BLM and private timberland. Private timberlands are already experiencing massive, post-fire clearcutting in the fire area, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has now proposed a massive post-fire logging project in the Chetco Bar Fire area.
The Chetco River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness upstream of Boulder Peak. This photo was taken in 2013 before the Chetco Bar Fire.
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has proposed to log 13,626 acres in the lower Chetco River watershed on lands designated as "matrix" lands. The Forest Service is saying that since these lands were designated for timber production, the goal of the project is to maximize timber production in these fire-affected forests by proposing post-fire logging in all stands subjected to 50%-100% canopy loss in the Chetco Bar Fire. The area is being viewed as a sacrifice zone, where timber production overrides all other values, including the unbelievable water quality and fisheries. 

The Forest Service has proposed units on the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary near Quail Prairie Lookout, on the South Fork of the Chetco River, and in the Mineral Hill Fork. The agency is proposing to log all dead and "dying" trees, including live, green trees that survived the fire but are predicted to die by Forest Service timber markers. Timber markers are often wrong when guessing if live trees will die after a fire, but one thing is for certain: these green trees will die, if we let the Forest Service log them.

The areas in yellow are proposed post-fire logging units in the Chetco and Pistol River watersheds. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is the green swath to the east of the proposed logging units. Notice the significant area proposed for logging near Quail Prairie Lookout and adjacent to four miles of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary.
The Chetco River could also fill with sediment from clearcuts and new logging roads on slopes that can receive up to 160 inches of rain per year. The Chetco River is a fire-adapted landscape, with some of the most important salmon runs on the West Coast. The Chetco River fisheries drive the economy and the quality of life in the Brookings area and on the South Coast. Post-fire logging on the scale proposed will threaten the water quality and the wild beauty of the Chetco River, a destination salmon stream.

Post-fire logging and artificial reforestation, as proposed in the Chetco Bar Post-Fire Logging Project, has been shown to increase fuel loads and future fire severity, while impacting natural forest regeneration, damaging soils, increasing erosion and drastically reducing habitat values. 
The Chetco River in the western Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

Although the project is a boom for the timber industry it provides no benefit to the public interest. This project will leave a legacy of homogenization and industrialization in some of the most diverse and interesting forests in the world, and degrade some of the most import salmon habitat on the West Coast. The Chetco River is a incredible asset to our region, it is truly a river of national importance and deserves far better.

Please take a few minutes to email the Forest Service during their "scoping," or initial phase of this massive project, to help steer them in a more ecological direction.

Public Comment Talking Points: 
  • Cancel the project and consider an approach that is focused on the protection of communities and residences in future fires.
  • The project currently proposes to maximize timber production and create highly flammable tree plantation stands. Fuel loads and fire risks will be heightened in the future by encouraging dense, even-aged vegetation. 
  • Cancel artificial regeneration (i.e. tree planting) in order to avoid the development of plantation stands and the associated increased fuel loads. 
  • The project currently does not propose any post-fire logging in LSR forest, Inventoried Roadless Area or Key Watersheds. Do not consider any of these land management designations for post-fire logging in the Record of Decision for this project.  
  • Do not log in Riparian Reserves. The large wood deposited in streams from fire-killed snags is very important for long-term stability, water quality, water quantity and habitat values. 
  • Do not log in "geologic" Riparian Reserves or on unstable, highly erodible soils.
  • Do not build any new logging roads, either so-called "temporary roads," or permanent roads.
  • Cancel all units near Quail Prairie Lookout and within one mile of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary in order to protect Wilderness values.
  • Cancel all units along the Quail Prairie Lookout Trail (Trail 1102). 
  • Cancel all units near Red Mountain Prairie and at the headwaters of Red Mountain Creek.  
  • Cancel units in the Mineral Hill Fork, the watershed is steep and highly unstable.
  • Maintain large patches of unlogged snag forest, even in Matrix lands, for habitat and stand complexity. 

For more information on the Chetco Bar Fire: 
    Comment Deadline: January 31, 2018

    To comment on the project:


    Jessie Berner, Chetco Fire Salvage Coordinator
    Gold Beach Ranger District
    29279 Ellensburg Ave.
    Gold Beach, OR 97444
    Large swaths of land in the Chetco River watershed is already being clearcut by the private timber industry. The cumulative impact of federal land logging and private land logging on the Chetco River will be significant. Credit: Heidi Martin

    Friday, December 29, 2017

    Klamath Forest Alliance and the Siskiyou Crest Blog: 2017 Year in Review

    This unit in the Pickett West Timber Sale above Selma, Oregon was canceled due to the advocacy of KFA, The Siskiyou Crest Blog and other conservation partners in southwestern Oregon.

    Throughout the past year the Siskiyou Crest Blog and the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) have been working on numerous major campaigns to protect, restore, and rewild the Siskiyou Mountains. We are proud of our achievements in 2017 and look forward to doing even more in 2018. Please consider supporting our work.

    Pickett West Timber Sale

    The BLM's Grants Pass Resource Area proposed the Pickett West Timber Sale in late 2016. The project proposed extensive old-growth forest logging, with nearly half the timber sale involving units between 150 and 240 years old. The BLM also proposed new road construction, riparian logging and severe impacts to the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail.

    The massive timber sale became a major focus of our work in 2017. The Pickett West Timber Sale extended across a 200,000-acre planning area, from the Wild and Scenic Rogue River near Galice and Hellgate Canyon, to the mountains surrounding Selma, Oregon, and large portions of the Applegate Valley near Wilderville, Murphy, and North Applegate Road.

    We took a leading role by monitoring units in the Applegate Valley, Illinois Valley and the Rogue River. We worked with the Deer Creek Association to coordinate monitoring efforts across southern Oregon. We documented high priority red tree vole habitat on the Rogue River and outside Selma, Oregon in beautiful old growth forest.

    Another canceled unit above Selma, Oregon.
    We publicized our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog and advocated for withdrawal of problematic units. We also utilized our monitoring efforts to write detailed public comments and administrative protests. We provided reports to Fish and Wildlife with detailed monitoring results, documenting inaccurate Northern spotted owl habitat designations. In many units we also documented impacts to the Northern spotted owl's main food source, the red tree vole.

    The BLM canceled numerous of the worst Pickett West units on the Rogue River, dropping a few hundred acres from the project. Unfortunately, the BLM then sold a reduced timber sale in the Rogue River area, called Pickett Hog. This sale is currently on hold until KFA's administrative protest and the 28 other administrative protests they received for the original Pickett West Timber Sale, are resolved. 

    In the meantime, Fish and Wildlife ordered the BLM to review many of the Pickett West units we identified as problematic in the mountains around Selma, and the BLM ended up withdrawing the entire Selma portion of the Pickett West Timber Sale, including 1,584-acres of old-growth forest. Although a spectacular victory for local environmentalists, rural residents, and scientists who opposed this sale, BLM has, unfortunately, initiated a new timber sale in the Selma area called Clean Slate. Although reduced in size, the Clean Slate Timber Sale still has units containing old-growth forests.

    A Savage Murph Timber Sale unit above North Applegate.
    Finally, in the Applegate Valley, the BLM is proposing to move forward with the original Pickett West Timber Sale by implementing what they are calling the Savage Murph Timber Sale near Wilderville, Murphy, and North Applegate.

    In 2018, we will continue working to stop old-growth logging and road building proposed in the Savage Murph Timber Sale and Clean Slate Timber Sale. 

    Siskiyou Crest Post-Fire Logging
    The forest above this high mountain meadow were proposed for clear-cut logging following the Gap Fire. Thanks to the advocacy of KFA, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and our conservation partners, all 18 units adjacent to the Siskiyou Crest were canceled.

    Eighteen units and nearly 600 acres were canceled on the Siskiyou Crest from the Klamath National Forest's post-fire logging proposal after the 2016 Gap Fire. The units near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain were canceled due to the advocacy of KFA, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and other conservation allies.

    The Gap Fire burned over 30,000 acres on the southern slopes of the Siskiyou Crest in the summer of 2016. The Gap Fire burned through the Klamath National Forest (KNF) to the spine of the Siskiyou Crest, near Condrey Mountain. In the high country around Condrey Mountain the fire burned in a natural, mixed-severity fire mosaic, leaving green forests, lush meadows, headwater springs, and burned snag forests interspersed in a diverse patchwork of habitats. 

    On the south slope of Condrey Mountain, near the summit of the Siskiyou Crest, the KNF proposed to log fire-affected, old-growth forests at the headwaters of Buckhorn and Middle Creek. The proposed clear-cut, post-fire logging would have impacted the Siskiyou Crest and important habitat connectivity corridor that connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains and the Great Basin.

    KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog were the only environmental organizations to conduct on-the-ground field monitoring of the eighteen, high-elevation logging units and new road construction proposed near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain.

    Another canceled post-fire logging unit.
    We publicized our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog and utilized our monitoring results to inform our extensive public comments on the project. Following public comment, four units near Dry Lake Mountain were immediately withdrawn.

    The KNF approved the remaining fourteen units and new road construction around Condrey Mountain. KFA and others responded with detailed administrative protests, putting the project on hold. The KNF resolved our administrative protest by withdrawing the remaining fourteen units and 450 acres of high elevation forest on the Siskiyou Crest from the timber sale proposal. We are very proud of this victory for the Siskiyou Crest.

    Unfortunately, the KNF is at it again. They have proposed a large post-fire logging project in the 2017 Abney Fire. The project proposes a nearly contiguous 3,000-acre clearcut on the south-face of the Siskiyou Crest near Cook and Green Pass, the Red Buttes Wilderness, the Kangaroo Roadless Area and the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. KFA will be working hard to oppose this project and will make protection of the Siskiyou Crest our highest priority in 2018!

    Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW)

    A view south from the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area and across the Upper Applegate Valley. KFA will be opposing new OHV trails proposed in this beautiful, unroaded portion of of the Applegate Foothills. 

    Over the last two years KFA has worked on a large collaborative project in the Upper Applegate Watershed with both the BLM and Forest Service called the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW). The project is being implemented through the Applegate Adaptive Management Area and has included extensive public involvement. KFA has been at all of the many public meetings and field trips associated with UAW project planning. We have attended workshops, field trips, and planning meetings to ensure conservation issues are addressed in the planning process. We also provided detailed public comment during the scoping comment period.

    The UAW collaborative project is working towards the development of an Environmental Assessment (EA) before a final project is approved. Currently, we support many of the proposals and have steered the agencies away from ecologically sensitive areas and towards responsible land management practices.

    Proposals we support include: new non-motorized trail development, large-scale prescribed fire, fuel reduction maintenance around rural residential communities, pollinator habitat restoration, ecologically-based fuel commercial thinning in plantation stands and noxious weed removal.

    We are opposing a handful of commercial logging units located within roadless areas, and we are strongly opposing numerous new OHV trails in the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area in the Upper Applegate Valley. 

    KFA will continue working towards positive outcomes on the UAW Project in 2018. 

    Middle Applegate Timber Sale 

    The Wellington Butte Roadless Area in the Middle Applegate Valley should be withdrawn from the planning area in the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. KFA will oppose all new road construction and logging in the wildands surrounding Wellington Butte.
    The forests, woodlands and flower-filled prairies of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area are no place for new roads or logging units. KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog will work to protect the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, old forests and intact habitats from the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. 

    KFA has participated in the early stages of project planning with the BLM on their proposed Middle Applegate Timber Sale. The project area extends across the Middle Applegate Watershed including all BLM land from Ruch to North Applegate. 

    We are advocating for protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, old forest habitats, intact habitats and the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail corridor. The Middle Applegate Timber Sale will be a major focus for KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog in 2018. We will be monitoring timber sale units and new road construction proposed in this project and advocating for conservation in the Middle Applegate Watershed. 

    OHV Monitoring 

    KFA has continued to monitor unauthorized and damaging OHV activities in the Applegate Valley and on the Siskiyou Crest. Over the course of the last year, KFA has successfully advocated for the obliteration of one major OHV trail on BLM land near Anderson Butte. We have also worked to include on unauthorized OHV trail obliteration project in the UAW Project in the Upper Applegate Valley. We will continue monitoring OHV trails throughout the Siskiyou Mountains in 2018. Our findings will support our effort to advocate for OHV trails closures on BLM and Forest Service lands.

    OHV Categorical Exclusion

    A view into Ruch, Oregon from the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, a unique low-elevation wildland threatened by OHV use on Medford District BLM lands.
    Portions of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area above Ruch, Oregon are included in the OHV Categorical Exclusion providing defacto designation to unauthorized, illegally created OHV trails and cutting the public out of the process. Although approved by the BLM, the Categorical Exclusion is certainly not the end of this issue.

    In April 2017, the Medford District BLM approved a Categorical Exclusion to avoid environmental analysis and public comment on the "maintenance" of 65 miles of unauthorized OHV trails in the Forest Creek, China Gulch and so-called Timber Mountain/John's Peak area. BLM's goal is to legitimize these illegally created, unauthorized OHV routes, mask the environmental impacts for the upcoming Environmental Analysis and cut the public, including residents of the Applegate Valley who are negatively impacted by the project, completely out of the process.

    The Categorical Exclusion excludes the requirement that land managers conduct a thorough review of the cumulative environmental and social impacts. It also excludes the requirement that land managers provide a public comment period and address the concerns, science, and information identified in the public comment process.

    Although the BLM approved the project with no public input, KFA promptly filed an administrative protest, demanding the project be withdrawn and the BLM conduct Travel Management Planning as required in the 2016 Resource Management Plan. Unfortunately, BLM denied our protest and intends to move forward with OHV trail maintenance in the area.

    KFA will continue to watch the BLM, document the impacts of OHV use and advocate for closure of damaging OHV trails. For now, the BLM can maintain these user-created trails but they have not been officially authorized. We are gathering evidence and stand ready to oppose these illegal OHV trails as soon as BLM proposes them for approval in the future.

    Applegate Grazing Complex

    KFA, the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California, and the Siskiyou Crest Blog have been monitoring four grazing allotments on the Siskiyou Crest throughout the summer of 2017.

    The Forest Service will be updating management plans for grazing allotments in the Applegate watershed in 2020, a task that has been neglected for many decades. Some of these grazing allotments have not had an updated management plan since 1956! Our goal is to document impacts to water quality, soils, wildlife habitat, pollinator habitat, botanical resources, and designated Botanical Areas to inform the planning process.

    KFA will continue working with conservation allies to monitor grazing allotments on the Siskiyou Crest in preparation for the 2020 renewal of the Applegate Grazing Complex.

    Fire Monitoring, Education, & Advocacy

    A spectacular sunset above the Marble Mountains Wilderness and the Salmon-August Fire. KFA will be exploring the Salmon-August Fire, Eclipse Fire, & Miller Complex Fires with comprehensive fire reports. Stay tuned for their upcoming publication in 2018!

    Wildfire defined the summer of 2017 in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. The fires burned in a largely natural, mixed-severity fire mosaic, and provided significant ecological benefit to the forests and wildlands of our region. 

    While the fires were burning, KFA was tracking their progress and informing fire managers of the important ecological considerations within the fire area. We also advocated for responsible fire management, effective community protection and the protection of roadless habitats from fire suppression impacts.

    KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog have been monitoring the fires and fire suppression activities on the Miller Complex in the Upper Applgate Watershed, the Salmon-August Fire on the North Fork of the Salmon River and the Eclipse Fire in the Mid-Klamath Watershed.

    We are currently preparing three new fire reports in our Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports series. Our goal is to share our findings with local conservationists, residents, scientists, politicians and land managers. Our reports will explore the fire effects, fire suppression impacts and long-term implications of the 2017 fire season in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

    KFA worked hard in 2017 to educate the public about the important role fire plays in the Klamath Siskiyou Mountains.We intend to continue advocating for managed wildfire, the reform of fire suppression tactics and strategies, as well as an end to post-fire logging in the Klamath-Siskiyou. We hope to continue making progress in 2018. 

    Please consider supporting Klamath Forest Alliance with agenerous year-end donation. Your donation will support on-the-ground monitoring, heartfelt, well-informed advocacy, citizen science, and grassroots environmental activism in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.  

    Sunday, December 17, 2017

    Klamath National Forest Proposes Clearcut, Post-Fire Logging on the Siskiyou Crest

    These large, old, fire-affected trees growing in roadless forest on the Siskiyou Crest would be clearcut if the ironically named, Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project were to be implemented. This stand is part of a roughly 2,000-acre clearcut proposed by the Klamath National Forest near Copper Butte and Cook and Green Pass.
    This past summer the Abney Fire, part of the Miller Complex, burned throughout the Upper Applegate watershed, over the Siskiyou Crest and into the headwaters of Seiad Creek and Horse Creek, tributaries of the Klamath River. As the fire spread out of the Applegate watershed and up to the Siskiyou Crest, Klamath National Forest (KNF) fire crews lit backburns — under high winds and low humidity — that literally backfired and increased fire severity, sending the fire over firelines on the Pacific Crest Trail and into the Seiad Creek watershed. The fire then proceeded to burn through large plantations created during post-fire logging operations following fires that occurred in 1987. The densely packed tree plantations burned at high severity, torching-off large acreages south of Copper Butte and contributing to stand-replacing fire effects in adjacent old-growth forests.

    Thirty years have passed since the KNF created these plantation stands and they are now proposing to make the same mistake all over again with a massive, post-fire, clearcut logging project in upper Seiad Creek and Horse Creek. The entire project is located within Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest designated to protect old-growth habitats and ensure the viability of the Northern spotted owl. Instead, the project will remove significant levels of foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl, while degrading late successional characteristics for generation to come. 
    This unit on the East Fork of Seiad Creek would log extensive stands of fire-affected, old-growth Ponderosa and sugar pine, as well as stands of old-growth fir. It is on the western margin of the 2,000-acre clearcut planned by the Klamath National Forest, and would be converted into a massive tree plantation. The unit contains a mixture of living trees and massive, old snags, creating open, widely-spaced pine stands that will regenerate quite effectively on their own, creating complex, resilient, uneven-aged stands of pine and fir.

    The project will also damage important wildland habitats and the Siskiyou Crest habitat connectivity corridor. The project includes units only an eighth of a mile below the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), near Copper Butte and Cook and Green Pass, and a quarter mile from the Siskiyou Crest. The project includes post-fire logging units in the small area between the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and Kangaroo Roadless Area. The proposed logging would sever habitat connectivity between these two wildlands by creating vast clearcuts and converting complex, early-seral habitats into biologically diminished plantation stands.

    The proposal includes 1,700 acres of clearcut, post-fire commercial logging, and 1,200 acres of non-commercial "treatment" that will include either cutting or masticating the post-fire landscape (i.e. heavy machinery on sensitive burned soils). In total, 2,900 acres could be clearcut and replanted in highly flammable tree plantations. The project includes a large area on the south face of Copper Butte where commercial and non-commercial treatments would create a contiguous 2,000-acre clearcut. This large contiguous clearcut will extend from the East Fork of Seiad Creek, over the ridgeline and into the West Fork of Horse Creek. 
    The entire ridge in the foreground will be clearcut in the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project. The massive clearcut will impact habitat connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest between the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and Kangaroo Roadless Area.

    The proposal also includes 41 miles of roadside hazard tree logging where all standing snags are logged. Living trees can also be logged under this plan if they are "predicted" to die by Forest Service timber markers. Roadside hazard logging includes commercial timber harvest, tree yarding, riparian reserve logging and long linear clearcuts extending along every forest road within the fire area. 

    Adding insult to injury, the KNF has also proposed to conduct post-fire roadside hazard logging on the Bee Camp Road, a poorly maintained road within the Kangaroo Roadless Area. The agency has proposed logging all dead-standing trees, and trees "predicted"  to die, along this wilderness route. The road technically extends into the Kangaroo Roadless Area and should be closed at Cook and Green Pass rather than logged.

    Extensive scientific research conducted on the Klamath River demonstrates that post-fire logging, followed by plantation development, tends to negatively impact stand development, natural regeneration and habitat complexity, while increasing fuel loads and promoting high-severity reburns. Research conducted in the 1987 Silver Fire and 2002 Biscuit Fire in the Kalmiopsis region found similar results. The results of the Abney Fire validate these scientific conclusions. Large swaths of plantation forest developed in response to post-fire logging after the 1987 Fort Copper Fire reburned in the Abney Fire, and the vast majority of these areas burned at high severity, leading to almost total mortality in many plantation stands. 
    Old-growth stands burned in the Abney Fire will be converted into simplified and highly flammable tree plantations. This stand is located roughly a quarter mile from the summit of Copper Butte on the Siskiyou Crest, and is directly adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area.

    The densely packed trees, contiguous fuel profiles and homogeneous, even-aged stands created by post-fire logging and plantation development will impact forest habitats for hundreds of years, by creating unnatural fuel loads and starving vast areas of large diameter snag habitat, large woody debris and structural complexity. The removal of biological legacies (i.e. snags), has lasting impacts to fish bearing streams such as Seiad Creek and Horse Creek, by increasing peak flows, soil erosion and sedimentation, while reducing water quality and water quantity. This is especially true in areas affected by high-severity fire because deficiencies in large diameter trees, snags and downed wood will take hundreds of years to reproduce. It is also especially true on the highly erosive schist soils in the Seiad and Horse Creek watersheds.

    Snags provide important wildlife habitat both standing and on the forest floor. Large downed wood also harbors mycorrhizal and fungal associates, creates natural erosion control, holds moisture late into the dry season, and as large logs decay, it builds rich forest soil for the benefit of surrounding vegetation. 
    This is one of the only stands on the southeastern face of Copper Butte to survive the Abney Fire, however, it may not survive the KNF post-fire logging proposal. Currently the Klamath National Forest is proposing to create linear clearcuts through this stand to develop skyline yarding corridors. These corridors will be cleared through this stand to facilitate logging of fire-affected stands on the slopes below. Not only will many live, green trees need to be felled, badly fragmenting this stand, but many of the trees that survived the fire will be damaged during yarding operations as crews cable massive trees through this stand.

    The KNF is also proposing to remove trees that survived the fire, but are "predicted" to die by Forest Service staff, in both post-fire logging units and in roadside hazard logging areas. Other living trees will be removed to accommodate yarding corridors and for safety concerns within post-fire logging units. The combined result will dramatically impact the natural fire mosaic and degrade islands of living trees that are surrounded by burned forests within the 10,800-acre planning area. The removal of large, living trees will impact late successional habitat characteristics, degrade wildland habitats, impact the scenic and recreational qualities of the Pacific Crest Trail, damage nationally significant habitat connectivity corridors and botanical resources, degrade fisheries and significantly impact Northern spotted owl habitat. 
    A view east across the Abney Fire from the flank of Copper Butte. Although portions of the fire burned at high severity, the burn creates a beautiful and characteristic fire mosaic on the south-facing slope of the Siskiyou Crest.

    The Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project should be canceled and a new project developed that will actually reduce fire risks for nearby Klamath River communities and sustain the world-class ecological values of the Siskiyou Crest. The Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project, as it is currently proposed, will fall short in both fire risk reduction and the retention of ecological values.

    The project is currently in "scoping" and public comments can be submitted until January 3, 2018. Please ask the Klamath National Forest to consider the following recommendations
    • Cancel all post-fire logging units. Post-fire logging will impact natural regeneration, reduce habitat complexity and increase fire severity in future fires. 
    • Cancel all post-fire logging units within 2 miles of the Siskiyou Crest to protect habitat connectivity.
    • Cancel all post-fire logging units located in the Seiad and Johnny O'Neil LSR forests. Post-fire logging will significantly impact late successional characteristics and reduce forest complexity for hundreds of years within these important old-growth forest reserves.
    • Cancel roadside hazard logging on Bee Camp Road (Road 47N80) and close the road to motorized use to protect the Kangaroo Roadless Area.
    • Do not implement tree planting prescriptions, instead allow for natural post-fire regeneration. 
    • Analyze the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project with a full Environmental Impact Statement. This will enable the agency to fully analyze the ecological and social impacts of this large, 
    Submit electronic comments at the Klamath National Forest's project webpage at this link. Select the "Comment on Project" link. Put the project name in the subject line. Use the following formats: plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rft), Word (.doc, .docx), or portable document form (.pdf). For more information contact

    The mosaic of burned snags and surviving old-growth forest on the East Fork of Seaid Creek would be heavily logged in the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project.

    Please consider supporting our work with a generous, year-end donation! Klamath Forest Alliance, Applegate Neighborhood Network and the Siskiyou Crest Blog will be joining forces once again to oppose the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project.

    A short video taken within a proposed logging unit.

    Saturday, December 2, 2017

    The Middle Fork of the Applegate River & The Abney Fire

    The Middle Fork of the Applegate River and Cook and Green Creek with the Siskiyou Crest rising above.
    The Middle Fork of the Applegate River is a spectacular canyon of old, fire-adapted forest, tall peaks and steep, rocky ridges. It is the most iconic wilderness landscape remaining in the Applegate Watershed and one of the most spectacular landscapes on the Siskiyou Crest. The Middle Fork itself is a clear mountain stream, becoming a river, as it winds through its rocky canyon. 

    Middle Fork of the Applegate River
    The Middle Fork is the source of our beloved Applegate River and one of the wildest landscapes remaining in the watershed. Although portions of the Middle Fork are accessible by road, numerous of its tributary streams, including Whisky Creek, Cook and Green Creek, and the Butte Fork of the Applegate River run into wilderness quality landscapes, such as the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, the Stricklin Butte Roadless Area and the Whisky Peak Roadless Area. 

    The forests of the Middle Fork are among the most beautiful in the region. They support diverse habitats ranging from lush Douglas fir forests and diverse mixed conifer habitats dominated by massive sugar pine, to Jeffery pine savanna and woodlands of ancient chinquapin, live oak and madrone. 

    Understory fire effects in Cook and Green Creek following the Abney Fire.
    The old-growth forests found in these drainages are the best examples of intact, fire-adapted forest in the eastern Siskiyou Mountains and much of the area burned this past summer in the Abney Fire.  

    The ancient forests deep in the canyons and on north-facing slopes predominantly burned at low severity as the fire backed slowly down into the Middle Fork canyon, consuming understory growth, clearing back decades of fuel, and maintaining the complex ancient forest habitats of the Middle Fork watershed.

    The Abney Fire mostly burned low and cool, beneath tall, old trees, but in some places the fire raged, leaving only standing snags where green forests once stood. It burned as it should, according to its own rules, in a mosaic too complex for humans to mimic or reproduce.

    Mixed-severity fire with some high-severity runs on the south face of Stricklin Butte and Bear Wallow Ridge in the Middle Fork canyon.
    A mixture of fire effects punctuate the wild Middle Fork canyon, with much of the moderate and high-severity fire occurring on the exposed, south-facing slopes of Whisky Ridge, Bear Wallow Ridge and around Windy Peak on steep, windswept slopes of chaparral, low statured hardwoods, and groves of young conifers.

    The Middle Fork watershed has burned twice in the last four years, including the 2014 Lick and Hello Fires and the 2017 Abney Fire. The results have been highly beneficial and provide evidence that many intact habitats in the upper portions of the Applegate watershed do not need "restoration" or logging "treatments" to maintain their health, vigor and fire resilience. These forests simply need to be left alone and allowed to periodically burn in natural wildfire events. Ultimately, only wildfire and other natural processes can effectively maintain this landscape and its many important ecological values.

    The Abney Fire burned at mixed severity in the Cook and Green Creek watershed.
    Far from catastrophic, the Abney Fire was a characteristic natural event. The fire enhanced, maintained and rejuvenated the region's beautiful forests, streams and natural amenities.

    The Abney Fire began with an incredible night of lightning and three smokey, smoldering fires, burning in steep, inaccessible terrain: The Abney Fire began in Lick Gulch; the Cook Fire began in the Cook & Green Creek canyon — both roadless tributaries of the Middle Fork — and the Seattle Fire began above Seattle Bar on the rugged flank of Stricklin Butte. 

    The Abney Fire burned in a beautiful mixed-severity fire mosaic throughout the fire area. This stand of incense cedar at the headwaters of Echo Creek, and forests all along the Horse Camp Trail up to Echo Lake, burned in the understory beneath an old-growth  canopy.
    From the beginning, these three initial fire starts were wilderness fires, burning because they could, they should, and they always have.  Although almost never raging, the Abney Fire resisted containment until the bitter, cold end. In its rugged mountain fortress, the Abney Fire burned until the Siskiyou Crest was white with snow and winter had arrived. The Abney Fire is a reminder, that despite all our attempts to tame the wild, uncontrolled nature still rules our earth. Forces more powerful than we can imagine still shape our environment.

    Low-severity fire effects on the Horse Camp Trail
    The Abney Fire and its billowing smoke will define the summer of 2017 in the Applegate Valley, it will also leave its mark on the landscape for generations to come. The soot and snags and diverse natural communities that the Abney Fire has created will out last all who inhaled its smoke and witnessed its dancing flames. It will remain on the landscape for hundreds of years and will influence plant communities for even longer. 

    This summer we did not witness a single awe-inspiring natural event, we watched, and will continue to witness, a dynamic process of evolution and change, a regenerative process that remains long after the heat is extinguished and the air has cleared. From now and into eternity the Abney Fire will be scorched into the region's natural history.

    I encourage folks to go out and enjoy the Miller Complex Fire, visit the places you know and love, and watch them respond to the effects of the Abney Fire. The experience will change your perception of fire as a process. Fire is one of the most powerful and mysterious elements of nature. Like the spectacular total solar eclipse many of us experienced this past summer, the Abney Fire was an awe-inspiring natural event. An event we should celebrate and embrace.

     The lush Douglas fir forests along the Middle Fork Trail burned at very low severity, clearing back understory fuel, while maintaining the impressive old-growth canopy.