Friday, March 23, 2018

Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project: Quail Prairie Creek Units

Quail Prairie Creek is a beautiful tributary stream in the South Fork Chetco River watershed. The stream contains large swaths of old forest, unique geologic diversity and high water quality. These values are threatened by post-fire logging proposed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Recently Klamath Forest Alliance and the Siskiyou Crest Blog visited the Chetco Bar Fire area to explore the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's proposed Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. The Forest Service has proposed 13,626 acres of post-fire, clearcut logging and plantation development in the lower Chetco River watershed. 

Much of the project proposes to log fire-affected, old-growth forests and intact native ecosystems. Because the project is currently proposed in "matrix" land designated for logging in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, some have assumed that the proposed logging treatments are located in previously logged plantation stands — this is simply not true. In fact, according to the 1996 Chetco River Watershed Analysis, the Forest Service admits that due to "remote, unroaded stands in the matrix," much of the area remains relatively intact.  Recent GIS analysis corroborates these findings, showing that about 9,000 acres of the 13,626 acres proposed for post-fire logging have never been logged before. In other words, roughly two-thirds of the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project would occur in forests that have never been logged.

The proposal includes massive, interconnected, post-fire logging units that extend across entire watersheds. These units would clearcut both fire-killed snags and living, green trees the Forest Service predicts will die in 3-5 yrs. The agency may also propose new road construction to access the "remote, unroaded stands in the matrix." 

There is no ecological justification for post-fire logging. The cumulative impact of post-fire logging on both public and private industrial forest land in the lower Chetco River Watershed would be severe and have significant implications for the region's incredible water quality and fisheries habitat. 
The clearcut forest in the lower portions of the photo have been logged recently by the South Coast Timber Company following the Chetco Bar Fire. Now, imagine the cumulative impact of these clearcuts sprawling across over 13,000 acres of public land in the Chetco River watershed if the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project is implemented.

On our last trip to the lower Chetco River we focused our attention on Quail Prairie Creek, a large, beautiful and important tributary stream supporting both coho salmon and native steelhead fisheries. Quail Prairie Creek contributes cold, clear water into the mainstem of the Chetco River, benefiting its thriving fisheries. 

Quail Prairie Creek begins near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary at Quail Prairie Mountain and meets the South Fork of the Chetco River about a mile from the mainstem. The Quail Prairie Creek watershed is beautiful, diverse, and currently contains many intact ecosystems; it has also been targeted for extensive post-fire logging in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project.

Day 1: Long Ridge to Quail Prairie Mountain

On our first day we hiked up the snowy 1917 road, leading up Long Ridge to the summit of Quail Prairie Mountain. The hike began in dense, second growth forest that burned at low severity in the Chetco Bar Fire. 

As we walked higher on the ridge we entered Long Ridge Prairie, now a series of small grassy openings and a remnant of the once extensive coastal prairie surrounding Packer's Cabin. Packer's Cabin was built in the 1930s in a large contiguous swath of meadow sprawling across the top of Long Ridge at the headwaters of Quail Prairie Creek.

This photograph depicts conditions on Long Ridge in 1934. Long Ridge Prairie was historically significantly larger than it is today, but the mosaic on Quail Prairie Mountain, in the background of the photo, is very similar to the current condition after the Chetco Bar Fire. 

Roughly the same photo location following the Chetco Bar Fire. Although the prairie is significantly reduced since 1934, the fire mosaic on Quail Prairie Mountain will regenerate hardwood stands, chaparral and non-forest habitats in a similar pattern as existed in 1934, and the Chetco Bar's high severity fire surrounding the old prairie will help restore meadow habitat.

These vast meadows, once common on the lower ridges of the Chetco River, were historically maintained through lightning ignitions and the stewardship of the Chetco Tribe. Indigenous land managers utilized cultural burning practices and harvesting methods to manage the upland prairies of the Coast Range. With the genocide of the indigenous people, their violent removal, the end of their cultural land management, and the systematic suppression of wildfire, these coastal prairies quickly grew mature Douglas fir forests and had become a fraction of their former extent. Long Ridge Prairie had been greatly reduced through conifer encroachment, having mostly filled in before the Chetco Bar Fire.

The Chetco Bar Fire burned through these mature forests at high severity, triggering herbaceous growth in the former prairie soils. 
Much of the former prairie could turn back into herbaceous prairie habitat, beneath a forest of fire-killed snags. The Chetco Bar Fire will naturally encourage restoration of the former coastal prairie, while providing important wildlife habitat in the form of large diameter snags. The combination of snags and coastal prairie provides important and highly complex habitat for local deer, elk, rodents, small mammals, raptors, song birds, woodpeckers, cavity nesting wildlife, native pollinators and black bear.
High quality wildlife snags like these will be logged in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project in the area around Packer's Cabin and Long Ridge.

This transition from forest to prairie will be especially rich in biodiversity and provides an opportunity to promote the restoration of coastal prairie habitat, utilizing the natural fire process. 

Historically, a cycle of repeated fire, both wildfire and indigenous burning, created and maintained Long Ridge Prairie. Today, prescribed fire and prescribed natural fire could maintain the meadow in a productive condition, while clearing back fuel deposited by fire killed trees, promoting herbaceous growth, creating niche habitat for local deer and elk, and providing cultural food sources and resources to the local tribal community. Such an approach would provide an opportunity to explore the development and maintenance of coastal prairie habitats from forest to grassland, using natural process and indigenous land management techniques. Going forward, it would allow us to study "prairie restoration" techniques using prescribed fire and prescribed natural fire rather than more intensive, industrial means.

Cultural burning regimes, indigenous harvesting practices, native plant restoration and prescribed natural fire are the most appropriate and effective forms of meadow restoration for this landscape. The approach would restore function and process to the meadow system by recreating the natural disturbance regime that originally led to prairie development.
The snag forest habitat at the edge of the clearing is proposed for post-fire, clearcut logging in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service has proposed clearcut, post-fire logging in the area around Packer's Cabin and Long Ridge Prairie. Post-fire logging will not mimic natural ecosystem process or promote scenic values important at Packer's Cabin and Long Ridge Prairie. In fact, the ground disturbance and heavy equipment use inherent to commercial, post-fire logging will promote the spread of noxious weeds and impact existing native plant communities, hindering the restoration of native prairie habitat. Wildlife snags will be removed, impacting song birds, woodpeckers and cavity nesting wildlife that are currently extremely active in the burn area. The scenic and recreational qualities of Packer's Cabin will also be badly degraded if post-fire logging occurs.

Post-fire, clearcut logging is neither necessary or appropriate given the location and the ecological values present in the area. All post-fire logging units adjacent to Long Ridge Prairie should be canceled. Long Ridge Prairie should be declared a scientific study site, where the agency researches the rich biodiversity of the forest to prairie transition, the restoration of coastal prairie habitats, and indigenous cultural practices with the use of prescribed fire and natural ignitions. 
Packers Cabin
Packer's Cabin is a high value recreation site and popular Forest Service rental. A recreational cabin in a massive stumpfield, is unlikely to remain popular and attractive to visitors in the Brookings and Chetco River area after post- fire logging is conducted. The cabin has been renovated by the Forest Service as a recreation site and the public has invested significant funds in renovating the historic cabin as a recreational site. The historic value of the cabin is important and the recreational value is essentially unrivaled on Forest Service land in the lower Chetco River watershed. Those values would be better maintained by retaining a natural setting and allowing repeated fire to restore historic habitat and prairie conditions. 

After a long visit at Packer's Cabin, we continued up the road, through fire-affected old-growth forest and hardwood stands on the western face of Quail Prairie Mountain. The fire burned through the area in a low to moderate-severity fire mosaic. Patches of forest and woodland were scorched in the fire, while other portions underburned or did not burn at all. The fire mosaic was ecologically beneficial and characteristic. Despite the Chetco Effect winds pushing the fire west, much of the Quail Prairie Creek watershed burned at low to moderate severity. 
Ancient, fire-affected forest proposed for clearcut logging in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. This forest is located just below a saddle on the ridgeline between Long Ridge Meadows and Quail Prairie Mountain. Notice how small I am compared to these very large trees slated for logging.

As we continued up the slope, views across Quail Prairie Creek and the South Fork Chetco River extended to the snow covered summit of Vulcan Peak, a massive white summit towering above dark forests and fire-killed snags. The upper portion of Quail Prairie Creek consisted of scattered conifers, large tanoak stands, harsh serpentine soils and patches of chaparral. 

Much of this area burned at high severity, creating a vast fuelbreak that will slow or stop future fires due to a lack of available fuel. The burn will also reset the biological clock and respond with a vibrant, highly complex, early-seral ecosystem of resprouting shrubs, hardwoods and snags. Wildflowers will no doubt bloom in abundance across these slopes once the snow melts, creating diversity and brilliance long unseen in this area before the Chetco Bar Fire. 

Despite minimal timber volume, and both high ecological and recreational values in the area, the Forest Service has proposed vast post-fire clearcuts and replanting with plantation-like stands. The loss of biodiversity associated with post-fire logging and the development of ecologically sterile tree plantations is staggering and unacceptable in one of the most ecologically diverse portions of the North American continent. 
A view towards Vulcan Peak and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area from near the summit of Quail Prairie Mountain. The snow covered ridge in the foreground is the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary. The Forest Service is proposing to clearcut straight to the Kalmiposis Wilderness boundary for over four contiguous miles. This ridgeline is only one small piece of the proposed clearcut along the wilderness boundary. The Wilderness boundary units must all be canceled to protect wilderness values, scenic values, and to allow for healthy, natural fire regeneration.

At the summit of Quail Prairie Mountain we gazed across the wild, rugged and remote ridges of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area and down the long forested canyon of Quail Prairie Creek. To the west, framed by the canyon of the Chetco River, the Pacific Ocean extends across the horizon. The forests and ridges of the Coast Range meet the water and the waves of the open ocean at the Brookings Harbor, where the clear blue Chetco River flows into the sea. 

The Chetco Bar Fire surrounds us at Quail Prairie Mountain, creating a characteristic and seemingly random mosaic of black and green. Given the Chetco Effect Winds, this pattern is characteristic of fires in the Chetco region. With Chetco Effect Winds, fires have likely burned like this for millennia, and probably always will. The Chetco Bar Fire burned across the region, largely reinforcing the legacy of fire on this  fire-adapted landscape. The Chetco Effect Winds have always whipped across this landscape, spreading flames into otherwise unburnable coastal habitats and sculpting the mosaic in unique and unimaginable ways. The pyro-diversity of this landscape has returned. In the years following this fire, the brushfields, snag forests, broken timber, vast tanoak stands and obvious influence of fire on the historic landscape will attest to this fact. 

The Chetco Bar Fire burned in a characteristic, weather-driven pattern, reinforcing the long-suppressed patterns of fire, weather, wind and terrain across the Chetco watershed. The main difference today is our perception of fire, an inability to see its benefits or allow the fire environment to recover naturally. The Chetco Bar Fire was a large, landscape-scale disturbance, it will shape our landscape for centuries and the natural legacies it leaves will provide complexity and habitat until a new forest is renewed. 

Day 2: Quail Prairie Creek
Lower Quail Prairie Creek directly below a series of large, post-fire logging units.

We spent day two in the Quail Prairie Creek canyon, exploring fire-affected, old-growth forests proposed for post-fire, clearcut logging. The Forest Service has proposed extensive post-fire logging across wide swaths of the Quail Prairie watershed, including units adjacent to the riparian reserve and the inner gorge of Quail Prairie Creek. These units drop into Quail Prairie Creek for nearly two miles in the lower portion of the stream. The logging will increase sedimentation by disturbing soils, removing snags, live trees and future large woody debris. In time, many of the large standing snags would fall to the forest floor or end up in the clear, blue stream, providing habitat and bank stability. Wildfires are well known for the pulse of snags and downed wood they provide. This pulse of wood creates significant benefits to nearby fisheries and streams. The large wood deposited after fires is very important for the health of our imperiled anadramous fish.

Ancient, fire-affected forest proposed for clearcut logging in both roadside hazard logging and unit salvage on the northwest facing slopes above Quail Prairie Creek.
We hiked a northwest facing slope through both stands underburned in the fire and forest scorched at high severity. Tanoak, evergreen huckleberry, Pacific madrone, chinquapin and other species have begun to resprout, creating the first signs of vegetative recovery and producing nutritious browse for local deer and elk. 

A 72" diameter tree proposed for logging.
Although portions of the area were even-aged plantation stands, the majority of the area contains intact forest legacies and exceptional biodiversity that will be enhanced as the forest regenerates and evolves in response to the Chetco Bar Fire. Many large, old growth snags are proposed for logging in both roadside hazard units and post-fire logging units, some snags targeted for removal are over 70" in diameter and are likely hundreds of years old. Thousands of acres throughout the Quail Prairie watershed are proposed for clearcut, post-fire logging in old forest habitats and in plantation stands. 

In a few locations young redwoods can be found growing among forests once dominated by Douglas fir. In one location we found old-growth Douglas fir trees scorched at high severity and a single redwood tree, scorched by the fire, but responding with vigorous, green basal sprouts throughout the trunck of the tree. This single redwood tree, likely spread into the area from the nearby Snaketooth Butte redwood stands, is located within a roadside hazard unit. The entire stand of fire-killed Dougals fir snags will be removed in the roadside logging prescriptions. The felling and yarding of massive old Douglas fir trees will potentially damage the isolated redwood tree, reducing its viability.

We also hiked large portions of proposed post-fire logging units in lower Quail Prairie Creek, including sections 2, 3 and part of section 36. What we found was shocking! Large swaths of fire-affected forest are proposed for removal, with logging proposed in intact habitats on steep, erosive slopes. Although some are saying that the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project will focus on second growth plantation stands, the units in Quail Prairie Creek demonstrate otherwise. 

The Chetco River is simply too valuable to clearcut and degrade with post-fire, clearcut logging.

The proposed Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project will have severe impacts to the exceptional water quality and fisheries habitat in the Chetco River watershed. The project will log previously unmanaged and unlogged habitats with complex forest legacies. Fire-killed snags will be removed across large portions of the landscape, reducing snag habitat, large downed wood recruitment, decreasing slope stability and increasing sedimentation rates. Logging old snags and living green trees will degrade late successional values and wildlife habitat, while reducing forest complexity for hundreds of years.
Post-fire, clearcut logging on private timberland in the Chetco Bar Fire area. Do you want your public land to look like this? The Forest Service does. Stop the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project!

Forest regeneration will also be impacted by removing large snags and trees, disturbing soils, destroying natural tree and shrub regeneration and damaging soils. Tree planting prescriptions proposed to follow clearcut logging will homogenize the post-fire environment, limit biodiversity, and eliminate the fire-adapted conditions that develop after a large wildfire. 

Numerous scientific studies conducted across the region demonstrate that dense tree plantations tend to burn at high severity and encourage stand replacing fire effects. It is widely understood that plantation stands sustain the highest level of fire severity in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and are extremely susceptible to stand replacing effects. Unfortunately, the Forest Service is proposing to create an additional 13,000 acres of new plantation within the forests of the Chetco River. The results will be disastrous.

The Wild and Scenic Chetco River is one of the wildest, clearest rivers on the West Coast. It defines the Wild Rivers Coast of southern Oregon and is far too valuable to clearcut and degrade with post-fire logging and plantation development. The uniquely diverse and fire-adapted forests should not be converted to even-aged monoculture tree plantations. The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project should be canceled. Post-fire logging will not benefit the watershed, will not reduce fire risks, and will not encourage the regeneration of healthy, diverse forest ecosystems for the future. 

Stop the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project!
The beautiful lower Chetco River after the Chetco Bar Fire.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Keeping Southern Oregon Wild! Klamath Forest Alliance Opens a new Siskiyou Office in Southern Oregon!

The Klamath Forest Alliance works hard to protect, restore and rewild the Siskiyou Crest as a vital connectivity corridor

The Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) has been advocating for the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains for 29 years. Specifically, we advocate for wilderness and roadless landscapes, biodiversity, wildlife, connectivity and the ecological integrity of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. KFA has long been focused on the watersheds of northern California. Since 2012, through a coalition with the Siskiyou Crest Blog, KFA has broadened our scope. We have expanded our advocacy into the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon, from the Wild Rivers Coast to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

In the last few years, KFA has taken a leading role in numerous successful campaigns to cancel or significantly alter the Nedsbar, Pickett West and Savage Murph Timber Sales on BLM land. We implemented successful campaigns to cancel post-fire logging on the Siskiyou Crest following the 2014 Beaver Fire and the 2016 Gap Fire on the Klamath National Forest. In total, over 6,500 acres have been canceled in local timber sales due to the work of KFA and our allies. We have also advocated for and secured the closure of 10 unauthorized off-road vehicle routes on BLM and Forest Service land in the Applegate Valley.  

The Applegate Valley is one of Klamath Forest Alliance's focus areas in southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains.

To continue serving the Siskiyou Mountains and building a strong grassroots environmental community in southwestern Oregon, KFA has started a Siskiyou Office based in the Applegate Valley and run by Luke Ruediger from the Siskiyou Crest Blog. Specifically, we will focus on protecting, restoring and rewilding the Siskiyou Crest, the Applegate Valley, the Wild & Scenic Rogue River and the Kalmiopsis region on the Wild Rivers Coast of southern Oregon. Our goal is to maintain the region's incredible biodiversity, connectivity and ecological integrity. We intend to keep the Siskiyou Mountains wild by defending against immediate threats and advocating for permanent protection of regional wildlands. 

KFA's Siskiyou Office focuses on providing in-depth, on-the-ground monitoring and analysis of federal land management projects and activities. We submit detailed, site specific, science-based public comments, administrative protests, objections and appeals throughout the NEPA process. We also submit detailed monitoring reports to land management agencies and environmental regulators, regarding the actual results of federal land management projects and activities. 

We publicize our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog to inform and empower the local grassroots environmental community. We organize grassroots support for conservation throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou region and advocate for the permanent protection of regional wildlands and biodiversity hot spots. 

Please consider supporting our new Siskiyou Office with a tax-deductible donation.  

Our current work and advocacy includes organizing around the following issues in the Siskiyou Mountains:

The Middle Applegate Timber Sale
Klamath Forest Alliance will work to ensure wild places like the Wellington Butte Roadless Area are excluded from the Middle Applegate Timber Sale proposed by the Medford District BLM.
The Middle Applegate Timber Sale has been proposed by the Medford District BLM in a vast planning area encompassing the entire Middle Applegate River watershed. The planning area includes the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, the Enchanted Forest Trail, Billy Mountain, Old Blue Mountain, Slagle Creek, Ferris Gulch, Thompson Creek, Humbug Creek, Bishop Creek and Forest Creek. The East Applegate Ridge Trail and large portions of the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail are also within the planning area. 

KFA will strongly oppose any attempt to build new roads or log the Wellington Butte Roadless Area or other intact ecosystems in the planning area. We will work with the Applegate Valley community to oppose irresponsible logging or road building in the Middle Applegate River watershed. 

Clean Slate Timber Sale

The Clean Slate Timber Sale has been proposed by the Medford District BLM in the mountains around Selma, Oregon in the Deer Creek watershed. The project proposes to log uncut, old-growth units at the headwaters of Thompson Creek and McMullien Creek. These units provide important habitat refugia and connectivity in an otherwise heavily fragmented watershed. 

KFA will advocate for cancellation of late successional and old-growth units in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. 

The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project
Klamath Forest Alliance is currently getting out on the ground in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project monitoring old-growth logging units in the Quail Prairie Creek Watershed.
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has proposed a massive post-fire logging project in the lower Chetco River watershed. The project is located adjacent to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, and either adjacent to or within numerous Roadless Areas. The proposal includes 13,626 acres of clearcut, post-fire logging and plantation development across vast areas in the lower Chetco River watershed.

The Chetco River is known for its extreme water clarity and incredible native fisheries. It is also known for its vast wilderness landscapes, intact habitats and extreme biodiversity. KFA intends to protect these important values and defend the Chetco River watershed from rampant clearcut post-fire logging and plantation development.

Seiad Horse Post-Fire Logging Project

The Klamath National Forest has proposed a large, post-fire logging project on the Siskiyou Crest near Cook and Green Pass. The project is proposing a roughly 3,000-acre contiguous clearcut on the south face of Copper Butte and directly adjacent to both the Kangaroo and Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Areas. 

The project would significantly impact the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest and increase cumulative watershed impacts in both Horse Creek and Seiad Creek, which are both important coho salmon streams in the Klamath River watershed.

The Siskiyou Crest is an important connectivity corridor and climate refuge. We consider the protection of the Siskiyou Crest our highest priority and will fight the Seiad Horse Project with everything we've got. 

OHV Monitoring
Klamath Forest Alliance began the Applegate OHV Monitoring Project with Applegate Neighborhood Network in the spring of 2014. The goal of the project is to document the impact of uauthorized OHV trail development and use in the Applegate River watershed. We document unauthorized OHV trails and their environmental impacts. This information is used to advocate for closure of damaging OHV trails on both BLM and Forest Service land.
We have focused on monitoring the Wellington Butte, Burton-Ninemile, Boaz Mountain and Dakubetede Roadless Areas on BLM land. We have also focused on monitoring designated Botanical Areas, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and the Little Greyback Inventoried Roadless Area on Forest Service land.

We hope to continue this program in 2018 and continue closing unauthorized OHV trails in the Applegate watershed and beyond.

Help keep Southern Oregon Wild!
Klamath Forest Alliance is working to protect the wild rivers, wildlands, and forests of the Siskiyou Mountains, including the Wild and Scenic Rogue River and the Zane Grey Roadless Area on BLM land.
For more information on Klamath Forest Alliance

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Squishy Bug Timber Sale: "Salvage" Logging, Bark Beetles and Invalid Assumptions for NEPA Analysis

A large "group selection cut" in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale on the west face of Woodrat Mountain above Ruch, Oregon. The BLM removed many large, living trees in this unit, creating small clearcuts in forest that survived the 2016 bark beetle outbreak.

View the full report:

In the spring of 2016, a relatively large-scale outbreak of flat headed fir borer beetles spread throughout the more arid portions of the Applegate Valley. The usually chronic, but low levels of bark beetle mortality generally present in the Applegate were temporarily replaced by an increased and eruptive level of bark beetle mortality. This relatively short-lived outbreak was triggered by the drought conditions of 2013-2014 that allowed flat headed fir borer populations to expand quite rapidly. Although this was a large-scale outbreak for the region, it was selective, killing Douglas fir trees in patches in marginal habitats and in previously logged areas.

The Klamath Forest Alliance, Applegate Neighborhood Network and the Siskiyou Crest Blog work together to examine BLM timber management in the Applegate Valley. Our recent monitoring and research has shown a connection between BLM thinning operations and concentrated bark beetle mortality. In November 2017, we provided a detailed monitoring report to the local BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Bark Beetles, Timber & the BLM in the Applegate Valley: An Overview of Bark Beetle Science and Land Management on the Medford District BLM

In our report we documented how many forests subjected to commercial thinning in the Applegate Valley since 1990 have sustained high levels of bark beetle mortality. This is significant for many reasons, the most obvious of which, is that since 1990 nearly every timber sale proposed by the BLM in the Applegate watershed was predicted to have beneficial or restorative effects. BLM analysis and USFWS consultation is heavily dependent on the predicted "forest health" benefits of commercial thinning. The assertion is that by removing trees, reducing canopy cover levels, and reducing competition between trees, both individual tree and stand level vigor will improve. According to BLM analysis, the projected increase in vigor will translate directly to an increase in resistance to bark beetle mortality.

This stand like, many others in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale, was commercially thinned in the 1990s and then logged again roughly 20 years later. The BLM claimed in earlier environmental analysis that commercial thinning would accelerate the development of late successional characteristics and canopy conditions would recover in between 10 and 30 years. This previous analysis has proven invalid and inaccurate. In the 20 years since the initial "forest health" thinning, the canopy conditions have unraveled due to significant mortality and "salvage" logging in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale.
The agencies also claim that in the long term, habitat values for late successional (i.e old-growth dependent) species like the Northern spotted owl (NSO) and Pacific fisher will be improved through commercial logging. BLM analysis claims that by reducing competition and increasing both vigor and growth, the development of late successional characteristics will be accelerated, creating high quality habitat for the Northern spotted owl. 

Unfortunately, although many large, landscape-scale commercial thinning projects have been implemented in the area since 1990, they have often failed to create the intended or predicted results. The heavy commercial thinning treatments implemented by BLM have instead made many forest stands more susceptible to drought stress and less resistant to bark beetle mortality. They have also progressively degraded late successional habitat conditions through commercial thinning operations and their unintended consequences.

A group selection cut in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale on Grub Gulch, a tributary of Sterling Creek. The vast majority of the trees removed in this unit were live, green trees that survived the 2016 bark beetle outbreak in the Applegate Valley.

Recently, the BLM approved the Squishy Bug Timber Sale in the Sterling Creek watershed and on the western face of Woodrat Mountain above Ruch, Oregon. The timber sale was approved with a Categorical Exclusion (CX), meaning it was approved without the normal public comment process and without a thorough Environmental Analysis (EA) or review. 

In the CX approval document the BLM describes the timber sale as a "salvage" and hazard tree logging project that will remove only dead and dying trees. The agency utilized Forest Service guidelines for hazard tree removal along roads, landings and work sites (Filip 2016). The Forest Service document identifies guidelines for evaluating public safety hazards associated with dead standing or damaged trees. The document provides guidance for hazardous tree removal; however, it does not consider or provide guidance for green tree removal or logging in areas far from roads or infrastructure.

In fact, the guidelines recommend against removing live trees under a CX stating, "In some cases, line officers have decided to remove live trees that have a very low-probability of survival post-fire (e.g. trees with >90% crown scorch or consumption) within striking distance of roads that would most likely become dangers in the future. This usually requires a different level of NEPA than a road maintenance Categorical Exclusion." (Filip P. 45)

Many live trees have been logged in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale.
Unfortunately, the BLM did not follow these recommendations, instead they misused their CX authority and the hazard tree removal guidelines in order to log many green, living trees with little to no sign of bark beetle activity. Many of these trees were far from roads and infrastructure. These green trees posed absolutely no elevated safety risk and should not have been logged without public input or a thorough environmental analysis. 

Bark beetle mortality in both chronic, low level conditions and in eruptive outbreaks has been shown to be highly selective. Bark beetle outbreaks can result in strong natural selection, promoting trees with favorable genetic traits for bark beetle resistance. 

These same trees — those that survived the bark beetle outbreak of 2016 and contain favorable genetic traits — are now being logged by the BLM in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale. The removal of potentially bark beetle resistant trees and the intensity of logging taking place will reduce resistance to future bark beetle outbreaks by removing genetically adapted trees and impacting microclimate conditions that support bark beetle resistance.

The actual results of the Squishy Bug Timber Sale are very similar to a green tree timber sale, yet the rigor of analysis and the public involvement process was not. By suggesting that only dead and dying roadside hazard trees would be removed, the agency evaded the more detailed analysis required for green tree logging.  

Many of the Squishy Bug units extend far from roads and include the removal of many large, green, healthy, genetically adapted trees that pose no public safety risk. In numerous units it is estimated that up to 80% of the trees removed were green, living trees. These units often included "group selection" logging where trees were removed in patches, perhaps one to two acres wide that function like small clearcuts. The units are punctuated by these little clearcuts that look like denuded stumpfields. The remaining portion of these stands were heavily thinned, leaving perhaps 15%-25% canopy cover in some units and only scattered overstory trees. 

A unit in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale on the western face of Woodrat Mountain. Despite being analyzed as a "salvage" logging timber sale that would remove only dead and dying trees, many green, living trees were logged. Notice the thick layer of green foliage on the forest floor. This demonstrates the number of living trees logged in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale.

It is highly likely that the residual trees left after logging in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale will begin to lose vigor and the stands will further decline, losing canopy and overstory trees to bark beetles, wind-throw, drought stress, and disease. Some trees intended for retention have been badly damaged in yarding operations, including both conifers and hardwoods such as oaks. Logs were also dragged through the units, creating significant soil disturbance that will likely increase soil erosion rates and noxious weed spread. 

It is important to note that the Squishy Bug Timber Sale is being implemented entirely within previously logged units. It is also important to note that these units were nearly all logged utilizing the BLM's so-called "forest health" thinning prescriptions. The intended outcome was a forest of increased vigor, increased resistance to bark beetle outbreaks, and stands where old-growth or late successional characteristics have been accentuated by commercial thinning operations. Instead, these stands have unraveled and become the center of the 2016 bark beetle outbreak in the Applegate Valley. Contrary to the projections that logging will accelerate late successional characteristics, many of the stands have reverted to early-seral habitat conditions — the exact opposite of what was predicted.

A unit in the Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale in Deming Gulch, a tributary to Sterling Creek and the Little Applegate River, after it was logged in 2014. The Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale environmental analysis incorrectly projected that logging would increase "forest health" and resistance to bark beetle infestations. The unit was logged in 2014 and was followed by a significant bark beetle outbreak. This photo was taken in 2016, two years after the initial logging. Notice how many of the leave trees died after logging occurred.
This lower photograph depicts the same area after the Squishy Bug Timber Sale in March 2018. Although the stand was predicted to respond positively to the previous Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale, canopy cover conditions deteriorated due to bark beetle mortality and "salvage" logging. The trees that died after Sterling Sweeper were then logged in the Squishy Bug Timber Sale, leaving a small clearcut where a forest once stood.

Applegate Neighborhood Network and Klamath Forest Alliance have released a new report on the Squishy Bug Timber Sale. The report provides further evidence of invalid Endangered Species Consultation and inaccurate or incomplete environmental analysis. The projected benefits of commercial logging are simply not materializing. BLM and USFWS have so far refused to accept the reality of this situation; instead, they continue with the same mantra, that commercial thinning has only beneficial outcomes, hoping that if they repeat the mantra enough times it will become true. Unfortunately, the results are written across our landscape and the implications are clear: BLM logging practices in the Applegate Valley are having detrimental impacts. These impacts include significant overcutting, increased drought stress, increased bark beetle mortality, increased fuel loading, and a progressive loss of late successional habitat characteristics. 

Please read our full report, The Squishy Bug Timber Sale: Salvage Logging, Bark Beetles and Invalid Assumptions for NEPA Analysis

The Squishy Bug Timber Sale created small clearcuts, removing living and dead standing trees.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The 2017 Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports: Wilderness Wildfire on the Klamath River

The upper portions of Dillon Creek burned at largely low severity during the Eclipse Complex Fire, moderated by recent fire footprints and atmospheric inversion layers. 

The Klamath Siskiyou Fire Reports:
(Click on these links to view)

The summer of 2017 was an epic fire season. The combination of widespread lightning storms and limited fire suppression resources led to significant fires throughout the region, especially in remote areas. In the remote backcountry of the Klamath River, fires burned for many months. The lack of resources and minimal homes at risk allowed fire crews to "loose herd" the fires into the Wilderness where they burned largely without suppression efforts. The result was a series of vast Wilderness fires with positive fire effects and a characteristic mosaic of mixed-severity fire.

The Island Fire began deep in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area on June 25, 2017 during an early summer lightning storm. The Island Fire later merged with the Wallow Fire in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area, becoming the Salmon August Fire. The fires burned over 60,000 acres in the North Fork of the Salmon River and in surrounding watersheds. The Salmon August Fire made dramatic wind and weather-driven runs between August 29 and September 5, burning 70% of the fire area in only eight days.
The Salmon August Fire burned in the high country of the Marble Mountains.

The Clear Fire began in the South Fork of Clear Creek on July 25, 2017, west of Happy Camp, California. Within the next month, numerous lightning caused fires, including the Clear, Prescott, Oak, Young, and Little Buck Fires merged, becoming the over 90,000-acre Oak Fire. The Oak Fire burned in and around the Siskiyou Wilderness in the Clear Creek, Dillon Creek, Oak Flat Creek and the South Fork of the Smith River watersheds. 

The Cedar Fire burned east of Happy Camp and was included with the Oak Fire to become the Eclipse Complex Fire. The Cedar Fire burned in the upper portions of Thompson Creek in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and into the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness Area.
The Cedar Fire burned in the Kangaroo Roadless Area adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness.

 The fires of 2017 burned in a largely natural, mixed-severity fire mosaic, reducing fuel loads and maintaining healthy habitat conditions across hundreds of thousands of acres in our region. Despite extensive attempts to suppress these fires, it was a change in weather conditions that extinguished the fires in October, not fire suppression crews. 

The Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) has published two new fire reports, documenting the fire effects, ecology and suppression impacts of the Salmon August and Eclipse Complex Fires in northern California. Our reports explore the actual on-the-ground fire effects and utilize each case study to advocate for the reform of fire suppression policies. We believe that managed wildfire is the most important restoration tool available to federal land managers and is vital to the health and diversity of our wilderness landscapes.  

Check out the 2017 Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports. The reports will help enrich your understanding of wildfire and wildfire management in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains!
The Eclipse Fire burned in the Siskiyou Wilderness Area and around Bear Lake in the Kelsey Range. The fire burned at characteristic levels of fire severity with 74% low, 18% moderate and 8% high severity fire.

The Klamath Siskiyou Fire Reports:
(Click on these links to view)

2017 Eclipse Fire Report 

Please consider making a tax deductible donation to KFA! 
Donate here

Friday, March 2, 2018

Victory for the Savage Murph Timber Sale!

This beautiful, old, fire-adapted forest at the headwaters of Rocky Gulch above North Applegate Road was proposed for logging in the Savage Murph Timber Sale. The unit has been canceled, along with the over one mile of new road construction proposed to provide logging access.
For the last year, Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) has been working with local conservation partners to oppose the Pickett West Timber Sale, a massive timber project proposed by the Grants Pass BLM. The original Pickett West Timber Sale proposed to log thousands of acres of old forest on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River, in the mountains above Selma, Oregon and in the Applegate Valley around Wilderville, Murphy and North Applegate.

KFA has been opposing this sale, by conducting extensive field monitoring of proposed timber sale units and submitting extensive public comments, appeals and administrative protests. We worked very closely with local, grassroots, conservation partners, Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and the Deer Creek Valley Natural Resource Conservation Association. The results have been largely positive. Hundreds of acres of units were canceled on the Rogue River, and the entire Selma portion of the timber sale was withdrawn, including 1,500 acres of old forest.

This old-growth forest on Cheney Creek was proposed for logging in the Savage Murph Timber Sale. The unit has now been canceled.
Despite our best efforts and previous successes, the Applegate Valley portion of the timber sale, known as the Savage Murph Timber Sale, was scheduled to move forward. The proposal included heavy industrial logging in hundreds of acres of old forest, numerous new roads, and significant impacts to the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail.

This unit above North Applegate Road on "Snail Gulch" was proposed for logging in the Savage Murph Timber Sale. The unit includes open, healthy forest surrounded by chaparral. Over one mile of new road construction was proposed to access this unit for logging.

KFA continued monitoring units, publicizing our findings and opposing the Savage Murph Timber Sale. Recently, the BLM met with our partners at ANN regarding the Savage Murph Timber Sale, and we are pleased to report that the vast majority of the sale has been canceled! We consider this a major victory for the Applegate Valley.

All logging units between Murphy and Wilderville have been withdrawn. These units included old-growth forests and damaging new road construction. Logging was proposed in the Slate Creek, Cheney Creek, Panther Gulch and Bull Creek watersheds.

This beautiful ridgeline was proposed for new road construction in the Savage Murph Timber Sale and the forested knob in the background was proposed for heavy commercial logging. Both the road construction and the logging unit have been canceled!
In the North Applegate area, the BLM is now proposing a drastically reduced timber sale. Numerous units of old-growth or late successional habitat and significant road construction have also been canceled, including portions of road construction and old-growth logging units on the proposed trail corridor for the Applegate Ridge Trail. The current proposal includes roughly seven units and 192 acres above North Applegate Road, but nearly all of the most damaging units have been canceled from the sale.

Although we have successfully advocated for the cancellation of many damaging units in the Savage Murph Timber Sale and throughout the Pickett West Planning Area, KFA needs your support to continue protecting the forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. 

The BLM originally proposed new road construction through these beautiful oak woodlands and moist meadows west of Murphy, Oregon near Southside Road. The road construction and the logging unit the road was proposed to access have been canceled!
Going forward the BLM will be planning timber sales under the new 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP). The 2016 RMP proposes to increase industrial logging on federal lands and institute heavy logging in many important habitats throughout the state. Here in southern Oregon we must defend our last old forests from the upcoming onslaught by BLM. KFA will be immediately focusing our attention on the Clean Slate Timber Sale in the mountains surrounding Selma, Oregon and the Middle Applegate Timber Sale in the Applegate Valley. 

The intact forests at the headwaters of Rocky Gulch were proposed for logging in the Savage Murph Timber Sale. The units have been canceled and the area's wild beauty will be retained.

Please consider supporting our work with a tax-deductible donation to KFA! With your help we can continue our on-the-ground monitoring programs and passionate public land advocacy in the spectacular Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. 

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