Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area: A Wilderness at Our Backdoor

A view down the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek into the Applegate Valley.
The Wellington Butte Roadless Area is one of the most wild, spectacular, and threatened landscapes in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. It is also perhaps the most accessible wildland in the Applegate Watershed, with immense conservation and recreational opportunities

The region contains a diverse mosaic of plant communities, including sweeping grasslands, dense chaparral, sunlit oak woodlands, intact conifer forests and beautiful, mixed-hardwood stands dominated by madrone.
A flush of annual lupine blooming at the headwaters of the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek.
Spring has arrived in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and the slopes are currently ablaze with the colors of spring, buzzing with busy bees, fluttering butterflies, pollinating flies and beetles. Song birds chirp and sing, happily foraging for insects and seeds on the steep mountain slopes and in the brushy chaparral. Deer graze on the fresh grasses and black bear have awakened from their winter semi-hibernation. Lizards dart across the rocky outcrops and snakes slither through the grasslands eating insects, voles, and mice. It is a time of abundance and beauty in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.

Spring wildflowers abound and fresh green oak leaves have emerged in the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek.
Although the scenery is pleasant and peaceful, the wildlife continue their seasonal patterns and wildflowers bloom as they have for millennia, the future of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area is uncertain. The wild landscape we know and love today could be lost forever.

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area was originally proposed for protection as a Land With Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) in the BLM's 2016 Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP). This designation would have provided minimal, but important interim protections and highlighted the area's wilderness qualities. 

Although the area met all the requirements for LWC designation and is one of the most well-known and well-loved wildlands in the Applegate Valley, the agency withdrew the area from consideration due to scattered stands of marketable timber among a vast mosaic of arid grassland, chaparral, oak woodland, mixed hardwood stands and dry, widely dispersed forest. The only real timber is located in the Deadhorse Fork of Balls Branch (a tributary of Humbug Creek) and Long Gulch, far from any roads, in deep canyons, riparian areas and north-facing slopes. 

The north-facing slopes and canyon bottom of the Deadhorse Fork is likely the largest concentration of uncut forest in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.
Despite significant public support for protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, the BLM has instead responded by opening portions of the area to off-road vehicle use, and is now proposing the massive Middle Applegate Timber Sale, in and around the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.

The Middle Applegate Timber Sale is a large, landscape-scale timber sale proposed by the Medford District BLM. Although the BLM has not yet released an official proposal, the planning area extends across the Middle Applegate watershed from Forest Creek in the east, to Slagle Creek on the west. As proposed, the timber sale could sprawl across the mountains of the Applegate Valley from the town of Ruch, to beyond the town of Applegate. At the center of the planning area is the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and to date, BLM has refused to removed the area from consideration in the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. 
Beyond the large grasslands, on the north-facing slopes of Balls Branch and the Deadhorse Fork, is the largest concentration of forest in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. Residents of the Applegate Valley and conservationists across southern Oregon urge the BLM to withdraw the Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the Middle Applegate Timber Sale.

The social and ecologic cost of removing timber from this area is extremely high, while the quality of timber and the regenerative capacity of the land in question is very low. It is abundantly clear that these wildlands and their minimal timber values are better suited for conservation than timber production, yet BLM pushes forward with plans to log some of the last intact landscapes in the Middle Applegate watershed.

 In early 2017 the Medford District BLM also approved a very controversial Categorical Exclusion (CE) — which means the public was "categorically" excluded from the decision making process — to provide defacto designation of 65 miles of previously unauthorized and illegally built off-road vehicle trails in the John's Peak OHV Area, including the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. They also approved the utilization of public funds and public agency crews or contractors to maintain off-road vehicle trails that have never received formal approval, are creating significant environmental impacts and have never been subjected to the NEPA process or public review. Despite over two decades of significant controversy surrounding the John's Peak OHV Area, the BLM made the decision without a public comment period or public review process. They simply did not want to hear what we had to say. 

The Medford District BLM is effectively encouraging illegal off-road vehicle trail creation and giving large tracks of land to off-road vehicle interests to utilize for their exclusive benefit, including the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. For decades, the BLM has turned a blind eye to unauthorized off-road vehicle activity and now they are codifying this unauthorized use and excluding the public from the process. The implications for the Wellington Butte Roadless Area are severe and eventually off-road vehicle trails could extend across the most remote portions of the region.
The spectacular wildflower fields of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area should be protected from off-road vehicle use.

If the BLM has their way, the Wellington Butte Roadless Area will be lost forever — the wild character replaced with logging roads, log landings, noxious weeds, stump fields and erosive dirt bike tracks.

Fortunately, residents in the area and local environmental organizations have begun tracking the Middle Applegate Timber Sale and are asking the BLM to remove the entire Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the planning area. We ask that the BLM remove the Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the planning area due to significant public controversy, incredible biological values, highly important low-elevation wildlife habitat, and marginal timber values. 

We also ask that the BLM rescind their recent Categorical Exclusion to allow maintenance of unauthorized  OHV trails in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and instead conduct Travel Management Planning as required in the 2016 RMP. 

Finally, Applegate Neighborhood Network, Klamath Forest Alliance and others in the conservation community are organizing a campaign to permanently protect the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. We believe the interim LWC designation should be extended to the entire 7,527 acre Roadless Area, creating the Wellington Butte Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. We also believe local advocates for the Wellington Butte Roadless Area should build a movement towards permanent Wilderness designation for the Applegate Foothills Wilderness, including its most threatened wildland: the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. 

Snowy or cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale) blooming on Balls Branch.
In all, nearly 50,000 acres of intact, roadless habitat exists in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. The wildlands are found scattered around the Applegate. They provide the scenic backdrop to our region; they provide incredible wildlife habitat and contain unique native plant communities, and they also provide highly important recreational opportunities in close proximity to nearby towns and communities. Additionally, the Wellington Butte Roadless Area will one day be traversed by the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail, providing highly accessible and highly scenic recreational opportunities for local hikers and equestrians.

We believe that the Applegate Foothills Wilderness should be protected in perpetuity. We also believe the protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area is the first step in this process. This uniquely accessible wildland, its scenic beauty and intact habitats are worth far more as they are. We will not let them become another BLM stumpfield riddled in off-road vehicle tracks. Please join us and advocate for the protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area!

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area should remain wild for generations to come.



Friday, May 11, 2018

Proposed Logging Along the PCT at Cook and Green Pass!

Proposed logging along the PCT at Cook and Green Pass. The hiker at the right-hand side of the photograph is hiking the PCT, and the Klamath National Forest is proposing to log directly into the trail corridor. Trees marked blue would be logged.
The Klamath National Forest has proposed a large, post-fire logging project in the 2017 Abney Fire footprint. The project would log over 1,200 acres of fire-affected forest in the region surrounding Cook and Green Pass. The project also proposes post-fire logging directly adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and along the Bee Camp Road (47N80) in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. 

Cook and Green Pass is the gateway to the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, it is also located within a major connectivity corridor necessary for the dispersal of wildlife and native vegetation in the region — connecting the Marble Mountains and Klamath River area to the Siskiyou Mountains. The area is protected by multiple Botanical Areas and is thought to be one of the most diverse assemblages of native plants in all of California, with over 300 plant species documented. Many rare plant species can be found in the area, including Baker's cypress, Brewer's spruce, mountain lady slipper, splithair paintbrush, Newberry's gentian, Siskiyou fritillaria, Howell's lousewort, white flowered rein orchid and many others. The area contains many important biological values and should be protected for its own sake. It should also be protected for its important recreational values. 
Large, old trees marked for removal along the PCT at Cook and Green Pass.

Recently, the Klamath National Forest began marking timber along Bee Camp Road in a so-called roadside hazard logging unit. The proposal includes logging roughly two miles of Bee Camp Road, including portions of the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. Some of the logging will occur at Cook and Green Pass in old-growth forests that survived the Abney Fire. Both live trees and dead standing snags are marked for removal.

The logging would impact the Pacific Crest Trail by logging old-growth trees and snags within 30' of the trail and hundreds of feet on either side of Bee Camp Road. Currently, backcountry hikers heading west on the PCT at Cook and Green Pass enter the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area in an isolated stand of old-growth forest before traversing the vast, red rock, serpentine barrens surrounding Red Butte. The experience is memorable and demonstrates the diversity of the Siskiyou Mountains, it will also be significantly degraded by old-growth roadside hazard logging.
 
A live, green tree marked for removal.

The Klamath National Forest's proposal to conduct "roadside hazard logging" on the PCT and in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area should be canceled. Bee Camp Road should be closed at Cook and Green Pass to protect connectivity, botanical resources, roadless values and recreational opportunities along the PCT. Close Bee Camp Road!

Please contact Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham and ask her to cancel post-fire logging along Bee Camp Road (47N80) and close the road at Cook and Green Pass. 

Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham: pagrantham@fs.fed.us

Complex, old-growth forest proposed for logging in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and directly adjacent to the PCT at Cook and Green Pass.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Miller Complex Fire Report: Mixed Severity Fire on the Siskiyou Crest

The Abney Fire burned through large portions of the Condrey Mountain and Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Areas on the Siskiyou Crest in 2017.



The Klamath Forest Alliance has released the Miller Complex Fire Report, a detailed exploration of the Miller Complex Fire, its ecological implications, fire severity, and fire suppression impacts. 

The Miller Complex began on August 13, 2017 with a spectacular thunderstorm. Lightning crashed down throughout the Upper Applegate watershed, igniting 27 fires from the high country on the Siskiyou Crest to the low-elevation foothills of the Upper Applegate Valley. Four major blazes burned throughout the summer, including the Burnt Peak Fire, Creedence Fire, Abney Fire and Knox Fire. 

The fires burned in a healthy, mixed-severity fire mosaic, rejuvenating fire dependent plant communities, maintaining many late successional habitats, reducing fuel and restoring the process of fire to over 36,000 acres. Despite extensive efforts and significant environmental impacts associated with suppressing the Miller Complex, the Abney Fire was only extinguished by the first snow and rain in late October. 
The Abney Fire burned in a beneficial fire mosaic with highly variable fire effects.

Large portions of the Siskiyou Crest burned in a natural mixed-severity fire mosaic, including some of our wildest landscapes in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, Collings-Kinney Inventoried Roadless Area and the Stricklin Butte Roadless Area. 

The Miller Complex was a beautiful, diverse and rejuvenating natural event. The beneficial and highly variable fire mosaic will harbor extreme levels of biodiversity and fire resilience for many, many years to come. Fire is perhaps the most important natural process affecting terrestrial habitats in the Siskiyou Mountains, and the Miller Complex demonstrates the potential of managed wildfire as a restoration tool. 
Low-severity fire effects in the Collings-Kinney Roadless Area following the Burnt Peak Fire.


Please read our full Miller Complex Fire Report.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Action Alert: Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Logging Environmental Assessment Released. Comment now!

The Wild and Scenic Chetco River watershed is being targeted by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for post-fire, clearcut logging. This beautiful watershed deserves better. It is up to us to protect the clean, clear waters of the Chetco River. Please comment on the project now!
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has released its Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. The proposal includes 4,090 acres of post-fire logging, most of which will be implemented as vast clearcuts on steep, unstable slopes. Although you may have heard that the project will log only previously logged plantation stands, this claim is far from the truth. Of the 4,090 acres proposed for logging and replanting, 2,222 acres, or 54% of the proposed logging and artificial reforestation, is located within unmanaged stands (i.e forests that have never been logged). These unmanaged stands contain a variety of habitats and structural conditions, but many of them support late successional or old-growth characteristics. Those stands that burned in stand replacing fire events, but supported late successional habitats before the fire, create highly diverse, wildlife rich conditions identified as complex, early successional habitat. Complex, early successional habitat is the most important post-fire habitat in the planning area, however, these habitats are being targeted for logging due to their enormous timber volumes. This means the lion's share of timber production will be coming off the lands with the highest ecological values. 

The EA acknowledges the importance of post-fire ecosystems stating, "stand replacing events such as portions of the Chetco Bar fire often produce early-successional (early seral) forest ecosystems which are diverse in species, process and structure. Post-fire ecosystems often contain biological legacies, including dead standing (snags) trees, and down woody debris. The legacies and post-fire plant communities provide resources that attract and sustain high watershed to landscape-scale species diversity, including early-successional obligates."  Also, according to the EA, areas subjected to post-fire logging and replanting "are expected to lose their diversity in species, process and structure (complexity)." This loss of diversity, process and structure translates to diminished habitat values, degraded water quality, impacted post-fire regeneration, and more uniform, explosive fuel loads in future fires, due to artificial reforestation and simplified structural conditions.
An example of complex, early-seral habitat in the Mineral Hill Fork. Stands like this will be converted from diverse, post-fire habitat into stump fields and highly fire-prone, plantation-like stands.

Many of the areas proposed for logging contain highly diverse plant communities, geologic histories and burn mosaics. Although many of the proposed units consist of intensely burned habitats, stands with as little as 50% mortality have been included in post-fire logging plans, meaning stands that largely survived the fire will be subjected to post-fire logging practices. 

Numerous important habitats have been proposed for post-fire logging, including units within unroaded, unmanaged or undeveloped areas near Packer's Cabin in the Quail Prairie Creek watershed, at the lower end of Quail Prairie Creek, in the vicinity of High Prairie above the Chetco River, in the Eagle Creek and Mineral Hill Fork watersheds, and above the Pistol River on Sunrise Creek. Many wild and beautiful landscapes will be reduced to stump fields and replanted in plantation-like stands if this proposal is approved. 
The forest in this photograph will be logged as a roadside hazard unit and as unit 25 in the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project. Located at the head of Quail Prairie Creek, this intact forest legacy should be retained and unit 25 should be canceled immediately to protect the important complex, early-seral habitat provided by fire-affected, old-growth stands.

Perhaps more devastating than the logging itself is the over 13 miles of new road construction proposed to access post-fire logging units. These roads will be built on intact ridgelines, on steep, erosive slopes, and above important fisheries habitat in the Chetco River Watershed. The Forest Service calls these "temporary roads," yet there is nothing temporary about the actual ecological impacts of road construction. Numerous of these roads consist of long segments, rather than small extensions of existing roads. Many roads are also proposed to be built across steep, mountainous slopes, creating large road cuts and permanent impacts to hydrology, soils, water quality, fisheries, noxious weeds spread and wildland habitats. Simply closing or decommissioning the roads does not negate these problems. 

The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project is one of the largest, most damaging federal land management projects proposed in our region for many years. The project has no restorative value or benefit to the surrounding ecosystem; in fact, the EA documents that significant scientific research has concluded, "in general, little research supports the idea that salvage logging has beneficial ecological effects on terrestrial and aquatic resources." The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project fails to serve the public interest, and instead, is responsive only to the needs of the timber industry that will profit from clearcutting vast swaths of public land. 

Our public lands will be sacrificed to the highest bidder if this project is approved, but it will be low value "salvage" timber in a market already flooded by the estimated 9,455 acres harvested from private timber lands in the Chetco Bar fire perimeter. This basically ensures that federal timber will be sold at bottom-of-the-barrel prices, creating a net loss to the public taxpayer. In essence, the entire project is corporate welfare, and after footing the bill, the public will be stuck with the long-lasting ecological consequences. 
Unit 121, on the slopes above Quail Prairie Creek, is proposed for tractor logging. The unit contains many large old, fire-killed snags and highly diverse post-fire habitat. The unit, along with many proposed on north-facing slopes above Quail Prairie Creek, should be canceled to protect habitat values, fisheries and water quality. 

The Chetco River is worth far more as a diverse, intact ecosystem, than as just another coastal tree farm. The decisions we make today will impact this beautiful, productive watershed for generations to come. Which do you prefer? Diverse post-fire landscapes or the real catastrophic disturbance taking place in the Chetco River watershed: post-fire industrial logging?



Which do you prefer? Post-fire clearcuts....
...or spectacularly wild river canyons and naturally diverse, regenerating forest?

Please send your public comment as an email message, plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf), or word (.doc) formats to: 
comments-pacificnorthwest-siskiyou-goldbeach@fs.fed.us  

Talking Points for Public Comment
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units in complex, early successional habitat throughout the planning area. 
  • Cancel all units in undeveloped areas identified in the planning area. 
  • Cancel all units in Post-Fire Foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl. 
  • Cancel all new road construction to protect aquatic habitats and water quality in the Chetco River watershed. 
  • Cancel all artificial reforestation units. Natural tree regeneration provides adequate reforestation, creates a more healthy habitat mosaic, harbors higher levels of biodiversity, and provides more patchy, fire resilient, early-seral habitats than artificial reforestation. 
  • Cancel all units in Quail Prairie Creek, Mineral Hill Fork, Eagle Creek, around Packer's Cabin and Long Ridge, above the Chetco River, near High Prairie above Road 1376, and above Mislatnah Creek.
  • Conduct activities that provide for public safety, maintain undeveloped habitats, encourage complex, early successional forests, biodiversity, and create more fire resilient habitats adjacent to the community of Brookings. Backcountry logging and artificial reforestation provides absolutely no benefit to communities at risk in the Brookings area.  
  • Cancel all units that will impact the viewshed for recreational users along the Chetco River and its tributaries. Recreation on the Chetco River helps sustain the economy of southern Oregon's coastal communities. Logging public land will diminish the recreational experience along the Wild and Scenic Chetco River and its tributaries. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Klamath National Forest Proposes Post-Fire, Clearcut Logging on the Siskiyou Crest near Cook and Green Pass!

Upper Horse Creek, the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve, and the Abney Fire viewed from the Siskiyou Crest. The burned forest at the center of this photograph is proposed for clearcut logging by the Klamath National Forest.

The 2017 Abney Fire burned for over two months in both the Applegate River and Klamath River watersheds. The fire burned nearly 40,000 acres on both sides of the Siskiyou Crest, including some of the wildest country in the Siskiyou Mountains. The Abney Fire burned in a characteristic, mixed-severity fire mosaic, creating diversity and habitat heterogeneity on the landscape scale.

After the smoke cleared, the Klamath National Forest (KNF) did what they do following almost every fire season—they proposed to clearcut vast swaths of fire-affected forest in sensitive land management allocations. This year's damaging proposal is located high on the slopes of the Siskiyou Crest and adjacent to Cook and Green Pass, one of the most diverse plant communities in all of California.

The KNF recently released an Environmental Assessment and initiated a public comment period for the Seiad Horse Project. The project is a massive post-fire, clearcut logging proposal on the southern flank of Siskiyou Crest, in the Klamath River watershed. Located in between the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, and the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area, on a steep ridgeline near Copper Butte, the region is wild, remote, spectacularly diverse and particularly important for habitat connectivity.
Inventoried Roadless Areas are depicted in green. Surrounding the Red Buttes Wilderness Area is the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, to the east is the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. The areas depicted with green stripes are uninventoried roadless areas identified by conservation organizations. The area outlined in red shows the Seiad Horse Project area. The Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area is located at the northwest corner of the project area. Logging in this particular location will have significant impacts to connectivity, botanical values, back country recreation and intact native habitats.

The entire project is also located within the Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve (LSR), an area set aside to protect late successional forest habitat and connectivity for the Northern spotted owl, as well as other old forest associates such as the Pacific fisher. The Johnny O'Neil LSR was designated specifically to protect and maintain connectivity between the Klamath River Watershed and the headwaters of the Applegate River, allowing dispersal between southern Oregon and northern California.

The Johnny O'Neil LSR contains large stands of uncut, old-growth forest, especially on the northern slopes of the Siskiyou Crest above the Applegate River and on the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest (RR-SNF). Much of this relatively intact, unmanaged forest burned at low severity in the Abney Fire, clearing back understory fuels, recycling nutrients and maintaining complex canopy conditions.

The KNF portion of the Abney Fire, on the other hand, contained large swaths of plantation forest interspersed with stringers of intact, old-growth forest. The KNF portions of the Abney Fire burned at much higher severity. Previous logging operations had converted large swaths of fire-adapted ancient forest into simplified plantation stands. These plantation stands contained heavy fuel loads and dense, even-aged vegetation with very little fire resistance. The Abney Fire burned through most of these former plantations at high severity, creating relatively large swaths of stand-replacing fire and thrusting the fire into the canopy of the remaining old-growth stands. These old-growth stands are now proposed for clearcut, post-fire logging.
 
This map shows the density of plantation stands on the southern face of Copper Butte before the Abney Fire. Each plantation is outlined in green along with the year it was clearcut and replanted into plantation structure. It is no coincidence that this particularly large, interconnected plantation area burned at high severity. The KNF is currently proposing to clearcut many of these stands again in the Seiad Horse Project, and replant with conifers, despite the correlation between plantation stands and high-severity fire effects in the Abney Fire.


This maps shows fire severity on the southern face of Copper Butte in the Abney Fire. Red depicts high-severity fire effects, while yellow depicts moderate-severity fire effects, and green depicts low-severity fire effects. Using the upside down L-shaped piece of private land in the center for reference, notice the correlation between high-severity fire effects on this map and plantation stands in the map above.

Ironically, many of these plantation stands were developed by the KNF following post-fire logging in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, the stated goal was to reduce future fire severity and accelerate forest establishment. Unfortunately, these goals were not met, and just a few years later the Seiad Creek Watershed Analysis identified these very stands as some of the worst fire hazards in the Seiad Creek area. It is no coincidence that these plantation stands also constitute the largest concentration of stand-replacing, high-severity fire in the entire Abney Fire. 

KNF crews also lit irresponsible backburns during the Abney Fire that compounded the severity of fire effects in upper Seiad and Horse Creeks. Crews added fire and intensity with their backburning operations, and as the fire approached the Siskiyou Crest and merged with intentionally lit backburns, it built momentum. Fire susceptible plantations stands, south-facing slopes, montane chaparral, active fire weather and overly aggressive fire suppression activities combined to create a fast moving fire with significant stand-replacing fire effects. Much of the area burned in a mosaic of stand-replacing fire, punctuated by patches of living, green trees.

A mosaic of live and dead trees in Upper Horse Creek. This forest is proposed for clearcut logging in unit 37 of the Seiad Horse Project.
.
In response to the Abney Fire, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest staff have proposed only hazard tree removal along existing Forest Service roads. The agency is working to protect public safety, preserve the beneficial mosaic of the Abney Fire, and maintain the important biological values of the Siskiyou Crest and Johnny O'Neil LSR.

Meanwhile, the KNF has proposed to clearcut and replant over 2,000 contiguous acres on the southern face of Copper Butte, turning the Siskiyou Crest into a sacrifice zone. The project proposes to clearcut unmanaged forests, fire-affected, old-growth habitats and uninventoried roadless areas. The massive clearcuts would extend from the Seaid and Horse Creek canyons to within a quarter mile of the Siskiyou Crest, severing habitat connectivity between wildlands, major watersheds, and east to west across the Siskiyou Crest Connectivity Corridor.  
A view from the Siskiyou Crest and the Pacific Crest Trail into the Abney Fire and the Seiad Horse Project. The fire-affected forest at the headwaters of Horse Creek is proposed for clearcut logging and plantation development. The impacts to ecological, recreational and scenic values will be severe if the Seiad Horse Project is implemented.

Complex, early-seral plant communities are beginning to develop throughout the KNF portions of the Abney Fire. The snag forests targeted by the KNF for clearcut logging will maintain habitat complexity and aid in the recovery of late successional forest habitats, if left to recover naturally. Unlogged snag forests will contribute large downed wood, standing snags, shade, and microclimates for a diversity of forest species to reestablish themselves in the years following the Abney Fire. 

These complex, early-seral snag forests are also an important and highly diverse successional stage that contributes significantly to the development of complex forest habitats. The standing snags will provide important wildlife habitat for many decades. They will then fall to the forest floor, building soil, holding moisture, reducing erosion and providing important wildlife habitat for hundreds of more years. They will be the only biological input of large wood and large snag habitat on these sites until large, old trees are again established. 
 
Large, high quality wildlife snags such as this one will be logged in the Seiad Horse Project, converting complex, fire-affected, old-growth habitat into biologically sterile tree plantations. The important ecological values of the post-fire environment will be destroyed by post-fire logging. This photograph depicts current stand conditions in unit 9 of the Seiad Horse Project.

In essence, these snag forests provide continuity and biological legacies for the long transformation ahead. As the forest transitions from complex, early-seral habitat into mature or old-growth forest, these fire-killed trees will act as, perhaps, the most important structural feature on the landscape. Snags are the foundation of forest regeneration and must be maintained.

Despite the inherently beneficial qualities of natural fire recovery and the underlying land management allocation (LSR forest), the Klamath National Forest is proposing to clearcut this biologically diverse and highly productive habitat, disturb the complex, natural regeneration of this forest, recreate the same fire susceptible plantation stands that just burned at high severity, and rob future forests of important biological legacies by removing vast tracts of snag habitat. The KNF also proposes to log living, green trees that survived the fire and are predicted by Forest Service timber managers to die within 3 to 5 years. The cumulative impact will be a loss in biological legacies, forest complexity and regenerative capacity, while increasing future fire severity.

The KNF is proposing to log large, old trees and snags in previously unmanaged stands, converting them into biologically sterile fiber plantations. This reckless proposal would severe the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest and the Johnny O'Neil LSR, despite management directives requiring the agency to maintain these important public land values. Unfortunately, the only value the Klamath National Forest currently sees in this post-fire landscape is the value of commercial logging for private industrial profit. 
 
The Klamath National Forest has failed to recognize the ecological or biological values of fire-affected forests; instead, the agency regularly uses wildfire as an excuse to degrade public resources and lose vast sums of public money for the sole benefit of private timber industry profits. The photograph depicts current stand conditions in unit 36 of the Seiad Horse Project.

As they do most every spring, the KNF is proposing to offer public timber from LSR forest to private timber industry interests at extremely low prices and at a massive loss to taxpayers. On the KNF, wildfire is regularly used as an excuse to implement clearcut logging in old-growth forest reserves for the sole benefit of the private, industrial timber industry. 

The Siskiyou Crest deserves better and the KNF must be stopped! Enough damage has been done to this unique watershed by irresponsible fire suppression activities and previous post-fire logging. Please write a public comment on the Seiad Horse Project. We need you to speak up and help defend the Siskiyou Crest. Form letters are often ignored. Individually submitted comments have the most impact.

Send comments to the Klamath National Forest before the deadline on May 7, 2018. Comments can be submitted at this link.

Talking Points: 
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units and focus the Seiad Horse Project on community fire protection rather than back country logging.
  • Implement prescribed fire treatments to reduce fuel loading and protect nearby communities from wildland fire.
  • Cancel all post-fire tree planting, including site prep and plant units, to avoid unnatural fuel loads, stand conditions, and regeneration. 
  • Cancel roadside hazard logging on road 47N80 in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. Road 47N80, the road to Bee Camp, should be closed and the Kangaroo Roadless Area allowed to regenerate naturally after the Abney Fire.
  • Protect the connectivity, biodiversity and other biological values of the Siskiyou Crest by canceling all units within two miles of the ridgeline. 
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units in the East Fork of Seaid Creek.
  • Protect the scenic and recreational qualities of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) by canceling all post-fire logging units within a mile of the PCT.
  • Protect the viewshed of the PCT by canceling all post-fire logging units visible from the PCT between Cook and Green Pass and Slaughterhouse Flat.
  • Build no new logging roads, either "temporary" or "permanent" roads, in the planning area.
  • Focus "fire recovery" actions on mitigating impacts associated with discretionary fire suppression activities, such as fireline rehabilitation, the removal of activity slash along firelines, and the permanent closure of firelines to discourage OHV use.  
  • Cancel all proposed activity in the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area. This area is special and deserves the highest level of protection. The KNF's own website, provides the following description of the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area :
    Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area is 700 acres located within the Siskiyou Crest Zone (T47N, R11W, Secs 8,9,10) and contains a mosaic of plant communities and is considered to be the dividing line between the eastern and western Siskiyous. This area has a phenomenal concentration of native plant species, one of the richest areas in California, with possibly as many as 300 species present. The area also contains a large stand of Siskiyou Cypress (Cupressus bakeri ssp. matthewsii). Rare or sensitive plants present include Pedicularis howellii, Siskiyou lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon), Antennaria racemosa, and Lilium wigginsii. Botanists and plant enthusiasts from around the country have considered the Cook and Green Pass area signifcant for years.                                                                                                                                                                               
    Protect Cook and Green Pass and the surrounding wildlands from destructive post-fire logging. Stop the Seiad Horse Project! 

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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. 

Conclusions
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.