Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Klamathon Fire

The Klamathon Fire burned lightly in upper Hutton Creek in the Soda Mountain Wilderness.

The Klamathon Fire: Tragedy, Devastation & Natural Fire Mosaic

The Klamathon Fire was many different things in different settings. At times, the fire was influenced by high winds and tragically raged through the community of Hornbrook, California, doing great damage as it burned homes and took one person's life. For all those affected, the Klamathon Fire was no doubt tragic and terrifying.

Yet at other times, the fire crept and smoldered, burning at mostly low to moderate severity in the backcountry of the Soda Mountain Wilderness. Ecologically speaking, the fire was beneficial and productive. The impacts to homes, infrastructure and public safety were significant and are important to acknowledge; however, the ecological benefits of the Klamathon Fire have been mostly overlooked.  
Skunkbush (Rhus aromatica) vigorously regenerating two months after the Klamathon Fire in the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area.

To make things even more complicated, as the Klamathon Fire entered the backcountry of the Soda Mountain Wilderness, fire weather and fire behavior moderated dramatically, yet the BLM's damaging fire suppression response led to extreme environmental impacts. For those who know and love this wild region, the results were devastating.

The Klamathon Fire demonstrates the many difficult conundrums of wildfire in our region. In many situations a single fire can be tragic and devastating to human communities, but also ecologically beneficial at different times and in different locations within the fire. The Klamathon Fire is a prime example of the potentially complex outcome of wildfire.
The Klamathon Fire began as an escaped burn pile on July 5, 2018 outside the town of Hornbrook, California, south of the Klamath River. Pushed by 35-40 mph winds and fueled by fine, grassy fuels, the fire jumped the Klamath River and began growing quickly in open woodlands, grasslands and along the riparian area of Cottonwood Creek. By afternoon, the fire was over 1,000 acres and had raced through the small community of Hornbrook, burning 31 residences, 3 non-residences, and 37 commercial buildings. The fire took the life of one resident in Hornbrook when his home was engulfed in flames as he tried to evacuate. A firefighter was also burned over in his engine, and he sustainied serious burns to his face and body. For the community of Hornbook, the Klamathon Fire was both deadly and devastating. In this sense, the Klamathon Fire was surely a human tragedy with long-lasting impacts.

The fire quickly jumped I-5, closing the four-lane freeway, and continued spreading north towards the Colestin Valley, west into the Siskiyou Mountains and east into the Soda Mountain Wilderness. Funneled by the mountain valley and pushed north by high winds, the fire spread quickly, and by July 7 had grown to 22,000 acres. Fire crews worked furiously to protect homes, private property and private timber as the fire raged through mostly private ranch land and timberland owned by the Fruit Growers Supply Company (FGS).

At the northeastern fire perimeter the Klamathon Fire spread into the Hutton Creek, Slide Creek and Scotch Creek drainages, entering the Soda Mountain Wilderness and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. On the afternoon of July 7, the winds shifted, pushing the fire back onto itself and drastically minimizing fire intensity.
ODF fire crews bulldozed nearly 30 miles through the Soda Mountain Wilderness, including almost the entire Lone Pilot Trail.

Despite a significant moderation in fire behavior and spread, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), working under the direction of the Medford District BLM, began bulldozing into the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area on old roads, and in some locations, creating entirely new dozerlines. ODF crews bulldozed across the Soda Mountain Wilderness over 20 miles from Pilot Rock to Agate Flat, reconstructing old, long abandoned roads. Crews built massive helicopter landing pads and "safety zones," bulldozing large areas where all vegetation was cleared to bare mineral soil. They also bulldozed streams, riparian areas, rare plant populations, archeological sites, and misapplied fire retardant directly into headwater streams.

Ironically, according to the BLM, roughly 80% of the Klamathon Fire was contained using hand built firelines. In fact, the vast majority of bulldozed "fireline" built in the Soda Mountain Wilderness was not used for fire containment and is many miles from any of the actual fire perimeter. Most of the routes opened with bulldozers were located mid-slope, winding in and out of watersheds, and climbing from canyons up to high ridges and then back down again. Simply put, this bulldozing was not strategic for firefighting objectives and was not done to provide direct fire containment, instead the dozer routes were built to facilitate convenient vehicle access through the Soda Mountain Wilderness, where motorized use is strictly prohibited. 
A large landing cleared with bulldozers in the Soda Mountain Wilderness near Camp Creek.

With complete disregard for the intent of the Wilderness Act and their congressionally mandated obligation to preserve wilderness character, the Medford District BLM approved the use of bulldozers in the Soda Mountain Wilderness, not for direct fire containment line, but rather to provide vehicle access throughout the protected area. In fact, the BLM has proceeded to approve routine vehicle access throughout the Soda Mountain Wilderness for over two months since the Klamathon Fire began, and even after it has been out.

They also built extensive dozerlines along the high ridge between Porcupine Gap and Bean Cabin, directly adjacent to, and in some places, crossing the Pacific Crest Trail. Crews bulldozed a large portion of the Boccard Point Trail, a former roadbed that had been fully decommissioned and revegetated to become a very popular wilderness trail. Nearly the entire Lone Pilot Trail was also bulldozed from Pilot Rock to Lone Pine Ridge. The impacts to the region's wilderness character have been great, but the ecological consequences, such as soil compaction, extreme sedimentation and surface soil erosion, increased stream turbidity, noxious weed spread, and the harassment of wildlife are also very concerning and perhaps just as long lasting. 
A bulldozer line on the eastern wilderness boundary near Agate Flat

The fire suppression tactics used within the Soda Mountain Wilderness during the Klamathon Fire are unprecedented in the Klamath-Siskiyou region. The implementation of Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST) during wilderness fires is typical in this region and is mandated in many Wilderness Management Plans. MIST includes the use of mule teams, foot paths, helicopters, and spike camps for access. These MIST tactics are routine in Wilderness Areas and most other National Monuments and National Parks. 

The option of MIST was available to the Medford District BLM. They simply chose to ignore their mandates to preserve wilderness character and instead bulldozed extensively across the wilderness area. The aggressive fire suppression tactics implemented within the Soda Mountain Wilderness by the Medford District BLM are not only unprecedented, but they have also likely been implemented in direct violation of the Wilderness Act.
A large helipad bulldozed in the Soda Mountain Wilderness south of Pilot Rock.

These suppression actions demonstrate a complete disregard for wilderness values by the Medford District BLM and ODF. They also demonstrate a need for corrective actions within the agencies. Specifically, land managers need to know that responsibly managing the Soda Mountain Wilderness is a requirement of their job. It is not an optional, discretionary decision, but rather a mandate handed down by congress. Wilderness designation is the dominant land use allocation and overriding management objective for the Soda Mountain Wilderness — it cannot be ignored.  

The designation of Wilderness is also a promise made to the American public, to protect our most intact, wild heritage. This promise was blatantly violated by the BLM during the Klamathon Fire. 
Crews bulldozed across the Soda Mountain Wilderness, including directly through many streams such as this stream crossing in upper Scotch Creek on the Lone Pilot Trail.

The devastation and long-lasting ecological impacts of the Klamathon Fire within the Soda Mountain Wilderness are all associated with the suppression actions approved by the Medford District BLM. The approval to use bulldozers was highly inappropriate and rests squarely on the shoulders of local BLM land managers. This decision is particularly troublesome given the proven effectiveness of handlines that actually contained and controlled the Klamathon Fire. The fact that hotshot crews utilizing handline actually contained this fire, demonstrates that the damaging suppression actions approved by local BLM line officers were not only an irresponsible violation the Wilderness Act, but they were also completely unnecessary.   

A Natural Fire Mosaic
Klamathon low-severity fire in upper Slide Creek in the Soda Mountain Wilderness.
Despite the human tragedy in Hornbrook and the ecological devastation of BLM's fire suppression response in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, the Klamathon Fire burned in a highly productive and beneficial mixed-severity fire mosaic. For the forests, woodlands, grasslands and chaparral habitats of the region, the Klamathon Fire was a dynamic natural event with positive ecological implications.

The fire burned into the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and southern margin of the Soda Mountain Wilderness on steep south-facing slopes below the massive volcanic plug known as Pilot Rock. These slopes are naturally quite diverse and jumbled, with a wide variety of habitat types and fire regimes. 

Dry mixed conifer habitats dominated by ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and white fir grow in the upper elevations, mixed with beautiful oak woodlands, mixed hardwood habitats, grasslands, and dense chaparral. The lower elevation areas are extremely arid and desert-like, containing arid grasslands and juniper steppe reminiscent of the Great Basin.

While the Klamathon Fire was an accidental, unnatural ignition, its fire effects were characteristic and ecologically beneficial. The fire was fueled by wind and weather events, maintaining a natural, diverse fire mosaic on the dry ridges extending north from the Klamath River. Although fire severity mapping has not yet been released, it is evident that much of the fire burned at low to moderate severity, with small isolated patches of high-severity fire. 
Brewer's oak sprouting back after high-severity fire in the Hutton Creek drainage.

The high-severity fire effects often occurred in dense stands of Brewer's oak (Quercus garryana var. breweri). Brewer's oak is a variety of white oak genetically predisposed to low, short statured growth patterns. Brewer's oak thrives on natural disturbance such as high-severity fire and quickly responds with vigorous resprouting. Other locations that burned at high severity include chaparral patches and scattered conifer stands. 

Low-severity fire effects in oak woodland in lower Scotch Creek.
Many of the oak woodlands, conifer habitats and riparian areas burned in a beautiful mixed-severity pattern with predominantly low-severity fire effects.

Throughout the fire area conifer habitats are widely scattered, growing in isolated groves surrounded by oak woodland, juniper habitat, grassland, or rock outcrops. Many of these conifer stands contain massive old-growth trees and late-successional characteristics. They are found on more productive sites and mostly at higher elevations on north- and east-facing slopes. Nearly all these stands burned at low severity, burning off young regenerating conifers, shrubby understory species and ground fuels such as duff, downed wood and herbaceous fuels, while maintaining largely intact canopy conditions.

Habitat for western juniper is also scattered throughout the fire area. The species is largely found on rocky sites or in arid grasslands on south- and west-facing slopes. 

Much of the juniper in the area is widely dispersed with broad, open grown trees dotting the ridges and steep grassy slopes. Although they often grow in locations that are relatively fuel limited, western juniper is also notoriously flammable and many of these sites are extremely dry, exposed and windy locations. Many fire ecologists would have predicted significant juniper mortality, yet throughout the Klamathon Fire, western juniper burned at very low severity and the fire largely maintaining the ancient, open canopied stands scattered across Slide Ridge, Lone Pine Ridge and the headwaters of Hutton Creek. In many locations the low grassy fuels burned at extremely low severity with very minimal juniper mortality.
The majority of western juniper habitat in the Soda Mountain Wilderness, Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument burned at low-severity in the Klamathon Fire. The fire burned in grass beneath open stands of western juniper.

Although the area had no recorded fire history and likely had not burned in over 100 years, the Klamathon Fire burned in a healthy mixed-severity fire mosaic. The fire maintained the complex patterns of chaparral, grassland, woodland and conifer forest found in this diverse and spectacular region. Although a tragedy in Hornbrook, California, the backcountry of the Soda Mountain Wilderness and the biodiversity of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument were enhanced by the regenerative flames of the Klamathon Fire. The fire provided the natural fuel reduction needed in an area that has experienced fire suppression for decades.

The Klamathon Fire will have numerous long-lasting effects. In the communities along the Klamath River and the Colestin Valley it will be remembered as a wind-driven fire with tragic human impacts. In the Soda Mountain Wilderness it will be remembered for the suppression impacts memorialized by bulldozer treads and bulldozed habitats. 

It is my hope that the the Klamathon Fire will be most remembered for how little it changed this landscape. The Soda Mountain Wilderness and its wild, diverse mosaic of habitats has been enhanced and maintained by the Klamathon Fire. Over these next few years, the Klamathon Fire will bring vibrancy and renewal to a landscape long starved of fire. It will also remain the same wild, beautiful landscape so many have fought for, but so few have fully explored.
The low-elevation portions of the Klamathon Fire in the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area burned at largely low severity, maintaining the open-form juniper and patchy oak woodlands on the arid slopes of Lone Pine Ridge.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Smoke, Haze & Hypocrisy from the BLM

Late successional forest like this in unit 3-11 is targeted for logging in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. These fire resistant old forests will be heavily logged, "regenerating" young brushy vegetation that will significantly increase fuel loads and reduce fire resilience.
While smoke hangs in the air and fires still burn in the mountains around us, the Medford District BLM has been busy not just fighting fires, but also approving the first timber sales proposed under the 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP). 

Meanwhile, the timber industry, the elected officials that serve them, and public land managers have been busy promoting rhetoric to support their push for "active management," a supposed panacea to smoke and fire, and a subtle euphemism for industrial logging disguised as "forest restoration."

According to the BLM, implementation of the the 2016 RMP, "will contribute to restoring fire-adapted ecosystems in the dry forest landscape of southern Oregon in increasing fire resiliency. The Proposed RMP will increase stand-level fire resistance and decrease stand-level fire hazards from current conditions." 

Yet, through the smoke, the haze, and the misleading rhetoric, the BLM has proceeded to approve the Clean Slate Timber Sale near Selma, Oregon and the Griffin Halfmoon Timber Sale near Howard Prairie Lake, just outside the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

This image shows the northern end of Howard Prairie Lake. The areas outlined in red are some of the units in the Griffin Halfmoon Timber Sale. Take note, they are some of the only late successional  forests in the area. These areas contain important wildlife habitat and the most fire resilient forests in the area surrounding Howard Prairie Lake. Also take note that extensive clearcut logging and deforestation from private and federal timber sales has reduced much of the existing forest cover to young plantation stands or grassland habitats. The areas in red will be logged to between 10%-20% canopy cover.
These timber sales have been designed to maximize timber outputs and reinstitute clearcut logging (rebranded as "regeneration logging") on public lands. Both timber sales were specifically approved to produce timber for the BLM's annual O&C timber quota, while admittedly increasing fuel loads and future fire severity. 

The Griffin Halfmoon Timber Sale has proposed to conduct 757 acres of "regeneration" logging, replacing mature forests with young plantation-like stands. Although some overstory trees will be retained, canopy cover retention could be as low as 10%-20% following the commercial logging operations. The majority of the harvest area would be replanted with commercially valueable species. These plantation stands have been shown to significantly increase fire severity while providing little habitat value. 

The Griffin Halfmoon Timber Sale will also remove 918 acres of Northern spotted owl habitat and an occupied nesting site for the great grey owl. According to the Environmental Analysis proposed commercial treatments, "would have negative effects to habitat suitable for use by fisher for denning and resting and for some fisher prey species due to the removal of trees and other vegetation."

The Clean Slate Timber Sale will log beautiful, diverse old-growth forest in unit 9-5.

The Clean Slate Timber Sale has proposed to eliminate 450 acres of Northern spotted owl habitat and 175 acres of late successional forest dominated by large, old, fire-resistant trees. This includes some of the last stands of old-growth forest in the watersheds above Lake Selmac and the Deer Creek watershed. Although the BLM claims these are not "regeneration" harvest units, they will be logged to between 25% and 35% canopy cover with up to 30% of each unit consisting of small clearcuts called "group selection harvests." 

These group selection harvests will be planted like little plantations and will quickly become chocked in brush. The drastic canopy reduction will necessitate the removal of 2,085 large, fire resistant trees over 20" in diameter and will encourage the highly flammable regeneration of young trees, shrubs and sprounting hardwoods. 

Both timber sales propose to convert currently mature, fire resistant forest into young, regenerating forest that is both highly flammable and susceptible to high severity fire effects. Perhaps for this reason, both timber sales contain the exact same language in their Environmental Assessments regarding fuel loads and future fire severity. The BLM states, "For the first 1 to 5 years after harvest, these stands would remain a slash fuel type until the shrubs, grasses, and planted trees become established. After the establishment of regeneration, these stands would move into a brush fuel type. Brush fuel types are more volatile and are susceptible to high rates of fire-caused mortality. Stands could exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control...For 5 to 20 years following planting, the over all fire hazard would increase in these stands."

All trees in this photograph, except the tree on the left marked with red paint, will be removed from unit 3-11 in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. The project will replace fire-resistant old trees with highly flammable young "regeneration." Current conditions in this stand are highly fire resistant.

These timber sale are neither fuel reduction nor forest restoration, but they are "active management," and they will actively make fires more severe and harder to control. After a summer of fire and smoke, the residents of southern Oregon should demand more from their public land managers. I'm not sure what makes me choke more: thick wildfire smoke or the hypocrisy of BLM timber sale planners who are making the situation worse.

-This article was originally published in the Medford Mail Tribune as an Guest Opinion on September 9, 2018 by Luke Ruediger from the Siskiyou Crest Blog and Klamath Forest Alliance

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports: More Fires, More Fire Reports and a New Website

The 2018 Taylor Creek Fire as seen from the headwaters of Pickett Creek. KFA will be exploring this fire as part of a new Klondike and Taylor Fire Report.

Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) would like to announce our new website highlighting the Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports. Our Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports track local wildfires, document their fire effects, and the environmental impacts associated with fire suppression activities. 

Since 2012, we have conducted detailed analysis and on-the-ground monitoring of ten separate fires throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We have utilized case studies in the Klamath River Watershed, the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, the Kalmiopsis region, in the Applegate Valley and on the Siskiyou Crest. All our fire reports can now be found in one place at:

Our reports document a pattern of damaging fire suppression activities and beneficial wildfire effects on public lands throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We are the only regional environmental organization with a program specifically focused on the reform of fire suppression policy and the reduction of environmental impacts associated with backcountry firefighting. 
Large dozerlines were cleared in the Soda Mountain Wilderness during the 2018 Klamathon Fire. KFA will be highlighting the egregious impacts of fire suppression in the Klamathon Fire with the upcoming Klamathon Fire Report.

Fire suppression has quickly become one of the largest threats to our wilderness and roadless landscapes. Even protected areas such as Wilderness Areas, National Monuments, National Parks and all manner of Forest Service or BLM land can be subjected to damaging industrial fire suppression activities. 

Each summer our wildlands and conservation areas are being bulldozed, blown up with fireline explosives, doused in toxic firefighting chemicals, "snagged" along roads and firelines, backburned, and degraded through fire suppression activities.

The 2018 fire season has been particularly active in southwestern Oregon with fires burning throughout the region. These fires have burned through some of our most cherished wildlands, including the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, Siskiyou Wilderness, Soda Mountain Wilderness and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Fires have also burned in recreation areas west of Grants Pass, Oregon on the Rogue River, Illinois River, Taylor Creek, and Briggs Creek. 
Low-severity fire burned through large portions of the Soda Mountain Wilderness and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in the 2018 Klamathon Fire.

While these fires have burned mainly remote, backcountry areas, they have also burned into or adjacent to rural communities. Portions of the fires burning adjacent to communities and in the most remote backcountry have been managed under the same aggressive, full suppression response, leading to severe fire suppression impacts in some of our most intact, protected landscapes. 

For example, the BLM bulldozed 20 miles of dozerline in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and at least an additional 20 miles in other sensitive portions of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, including along the Pacific Crest Trail. Forest Service Botanical Areas on the Siskiyou Crest were also bulldozed during the Hendrix Fire, and fire managers have approved dozerlines in wilderness areas more during this summer's fire season than in the last twelve years in Oregon and Washington combined.   
Beneficial mixed-severity fire effects in the Taylor Creek Fire.
The impacts of backcountry fire suppression have intensified this summer in the Siskiyou Mountains. The Klamath Forest Alliance intends to continue our important and visionary work tracking local wildfires, documenting fire suppression impacts and advocating for the reform of fire suppression policy.

The Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports will be exploring the following regional wildfires as soon as the smoke clears. 
  • Klamathon Fire in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monunment and Soda Mountain Wilderness. 
  • Klondike & Taylor Creek Fire in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and surrounding watersheds.
  • Hendrix Fire on the north slopes of the Siskiyou Crest in the Little Applegate Watershed.
  • Natchez Fire in the Siskiyou Wilderness and surrounding watersheds above Takilma, Oregon and Happy Camp, California.  
 Please consider supporting our work with a tax-deductible donation! Now more than ever, the Siskiyou Mountains need fire savvy activists, with the courage to advocate for wilderness, wildfire and the reform of fire suppression policy. KFA is ready to address these impacts!

For more information: 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Taylor Creek Fire: Wildfire on the Wild Rogue

The Taylor Creek Fire burned into the famous Hellgate Canyon on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River at low to moderate severity, leaving most of the conifer overstory intact.
The Taylor Creek Fire burned this summer in the mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon. The fire burned through a diverse mosaic of mixed conifer forest, oak woodland, mixed hardwood stands, serpentine savanna, and rugged serpentine barrens. The Taylor Creek Fire has burned 52,838 acres and is 95% contained. 

The fire began on July 15 in a large lightning storm that lit fires throughout southern Oregon. The Taylor Creek Fire was one of many fires in the area, but it outpaced many of the local fires, burning roughly 20,000 acres in the first week. By early August, the Taylor Fire had merged with the Klondike Fire as it burned east from the Illinois River canyon. Large tactical firing operations occurred on the long ridgelines connecting the Illinois River to Onion Mountain above the Illinois Valley. Although administratively considered two separate fires, for all practical purposes the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires create one large fire footprint extending across 140,921 acres, and growing. It is currently only the northwest portion of the fire that is actively moving in the big, wild country around Silver Creek and in the Illinois River Canyon. 
Mixed severity fire effects on Pickett Creek in the Taylor Creek Fire.

I recently had the opportunity to visit portions of the Taylor Creek Fire to document fire effects. Although the fire area is currently closed to the general public, it can be accessed with a permit through the Forest Service and Josephine County. 

What I saw up Limpy Creek, Pickett Creek, and on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River between Hellgate Canyon and Galice, Oregon, was a spectacular mosaic of mixed severity fire. Many of the canyons remain largely green and vibrant with forest that underburned at low severity in the Taylor Creek Fire. Small patches of forest and woodland torched, creating small openings in the vast low severity fire that occurred in lower Limpy Creek, Pickett Creek and along the Rogue River. Other portions of the fire—often higher on the slopes, and in the steep, windy headwalls—burned at high severity, leaving a rich mosaic of burned and underburned forest.

Low severity fire in the grassy serpentine savanna on Pickett Creek in the Taylor Creek Fire.
Despite all the rhetoric about "catastrophic," high severity fire, many of the fires in our region contain largely low to moderate severity fire effects. Like many fires in our region, the Taylor Creek Fire burned in a largely natural mixed severity mosaic, leaving a diversity of forest types, successional stages and burn severity scattered in the already highly diverse and jumbled landscape. 

Wildfire is a natural, regenerative process, and although recently it has become highly politicized and polarizing, it has long played a positive role in shaping the diversified forests our region is known for. Despite our best efforts to extinguish them, fires manage to become established in remote, hard-to-reach places, especially when the weather and terrain align. When fire activity increases and the fires spread across the rugged, complex of mountains, canyons and ridges of the Siskiyou Mountains, they become extremely difficult to contain. 
From near the headwaters of Pickett Creek, looking east towards the Rogue River Valley near Grants Pass, Oregon, after the Taylor Creek Fire.

Although the Taylor Creek Fire threatened numerous communities as it backed down towards the Rogue River, no homes were lost and the fire appears to have had only positive ecological effects, including large areas of low severity and moderate severity fire. Smaller portions of the fire burned at high severity, leaving behind soot, ash and fire blackened snags. The diversity left behind is staggering and the regeneration will be spectacular. 

The fire has enhanced the diversity and resilience of these forests, creating an even more vibrant Rogue River and demonstrating the natural fire resilience much of southern Oregon still sustains. 

Low severity fire effects in Limpy Creek in the Taylor Creek Fire. 
A high severity burn patch in upper Limpy Creek, looking down into green, underburned forest.

Very little has changed on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River downstream from Hellgate Canyon. The fire burned at low severity, reinforcing existing vegetation patterns and reducing fuels.

A beautiful, natural fire mosaic on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River after the Taylor Creek Fire.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The 2018 Fire Season: A Destructive New Paradigm in Backcountry Fire Suppression, and a Challenge for the Environmental Community

Last year Azalea Lake in the Red Buttes Wilderness burned at mixed severity in the 2017 Miller Complex Fire. 
The 2018 fire season has been very active in southern Oregon and northern California, with both lightning and human caused fires burning across the region. Domesticated landscapes and urban areas, as well as wildlands and wilderness areas have burned, filling the canyons and valleys with smoke. 

At times, the fires have burned slowly, creating low to moderate-severity fire effects. At other times, wind and weather-driven runs have scorched the forest canopy, spread quickly and burned with intensity. The result is a diverse mosaic of mixed-severity fire, creating complex structural conditions, a variety of plant communities, staggered successional stages and uniquely biodiverse and abundant post-fire landscapes. 

Although the 2018 fire season has been tragic due to the loss of life and the burning of many homes, much of the backcountry fire activity, so far, appears characteristic for our region. Fire severity has been moderated by heavy smoke inversions for much of the summer, but when the smoke lifts and the wind blows, fire behavior responds with increased intensity. (For more information on how localized wind affects fire behavior check out this research.)
Wildfire has triggered dynamic ecological changes on the slopes around Lonesome Lake in the Red Buttes Wilderness. Before the 1987 Fort Copper Fire this area supported a high elevation forest. The Fort Copper Fire burned at relatively high severity, and twenty-five years later the 2012 Fort Complex Fire also burned through these once forested slopes. The repeat fires facilitated the area's transformation into beautiful meadow-like slopes filled with native grasses, wildflowers and abundant wildlife. In the canyon below Lonesome Lake the old-growth forest was maintained by wildfire and remains vibrant old forest after the 2012 Fort Complex Fire.

Wildfire is a dynamic natural process driving ecological change, rejuvenating plant communities, diversifying our forests, and reducing fuel in landscapes across the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. If managed properly and under the correct weather conditions, wildfires can be suppressed before they impact communities, and used as a tool to restore fire-adapted ecosystems. 

Some fires, for example the Carr Fire currently burning near Redding, California, and the Taylor Fire burning outside Grants Pass, Oregon should be responsibly suppressed to protect communities and public safety. Because fire managers prioritize front country fires during initial attack efforts, many of the fires extinguished by fire crews this summer were located close to communities and important infrastructure. Over 100 fires were extinguished on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest alone, while the most remote and difficult fires continue burning.
The Burnt Peak Fire burned in the Upper Applegate Valley in the 2017 Miller Complex Fire. The fire backed safely to the community below, with no loss to homes or infrastructure. The fire was fully suppressed, but impacts were minimal due to the indirect containment strategy and the patience of fire managers. The long-term effects of the Burnt Peak Fire are profoundly positive for the forest and the nearby community.

Fire managers have the ability to implement the "Appropriate Management Response" during wildfire suppression activities. This means that crews can aggressively suppress some fires or portions of a fire, while suppressing less aggressively on other portions. In some places the fire can be fought indirectly, allowing the fire to burn within predetermined boundaries to prepared firelines. This reduces fuel, restores fire as a natural ecosystem process, and allows fire crews to safely focus their energy where it is most necessary, adjacent to homes and communities.

For example, fires like the Klondike Fire currently burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area and Illinois River canyon, could be managed by suppressing the eastern flank before it impacts the community of Selma, Oregon, while the southern and western margin in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness could be allowed to burn into natural barriers created by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, 2013 Labrador Fire and the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire footprints. 

These recent fire footprints are likely to either not burn at all, or burn at mostly low severity. In fact, the Klondike Fire's southern and western perimeter is currently hung up at the boundary of the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire, which is acting like a natural fire break. These portions of the fire have hardly moved for over a week and contain very little active heat according to Forest Service infrared maps.
The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire footprint is providing a 190,000-acre natural fuel break west and south of the current 2018 Klondike Fire.

The Natchez Fire burning on the Siskiyou Crest between Takilma, Oregon and Happy Camp, California could also be managed both to protect communities and restore a more natural fire regime in the Siskiyou Wilderness. This fire could be suppressed where it threatens communities and steered southwest into the 2017 Eclipse Fire footprint, the sparse, rocky summits surrounding Preston Peak, and the Siskiyou Wilderness Area. It is highly likely that the fire could stall out in the rocky and recently burned terrain.

The ecological impact of fire suppression activities, such as the use of bulldozers to build fireline, the ignition of high severity backburns, heavy snag removal, and the creation of helipads, safety zones, and hoist sites in Wilderness Areas, Roadless Areas, Botanical Areas, old-growth forests, Late Successional Reserves and other wildland habitats is becoming more significant with each passing year. 

Environmentalists and public land watchdogs need to be aware of the increasing ecological damage sustained in our wildlands during fire suppression activities. Just as we provide public input on other activities that affect the public lands we love, such as timber sales, pipelines, oil drilling, mining, etc., we must also provide land managers with input regarding fire management. (For information on how to track wildfires, wildfire effects and fire suppression impacts check out this link)

In many cases the impact of discretionary fire suppression activities is far more severe than the impact of the wildfire itself. Currently, irresponsible fire suppression is one of the most damaging forms of land management affecting our roadless wildlands and protected Wilderness Areas. Irresponsible, backcountry fire suppression activities are degrading our wildlands, their intact roadless values, and the complex ecosystems they support.
This dozerline was built in the Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument through miles of old-growth forests, rocky lithosol meadows filled with wildflowers, rare plant populations, and both across and adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail. This dozerline is many miles from the Klamathon fire perimeter and did not serve as fire containment line. The impacts from the dozerline on the Soda Mountain Wilderness will be permanent, yet provided no benefit to fire suppression crews.

This season we have seen an escalation in the war against fire and smoke, we have also seen a severe escalation in environmental impacts associated with fire suppression activities. Damaging fire suppression tactics have been approved in many of our wildest, most intact landscapes by both the Forest Service and BLM, including the Soda Mountain, Siskiyou and Kalmiopsis Wilderness Areas, the Big Red Mountain Botanical Area and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. 

For the first time in many years the wilderness areas of southern Oregon and northern California have been subjected to the use of bulldozers in designated Wilderness Areas. The approval to bulldoze firelines and access routes inside designated wilderness areas was virtually unheard of until this season, yet fire managers have approved dozer use in all three of our wilderness fires. 

Most egregiously, an estimated 35 miles of dozerline now crisscrosses the Soda Mountain Wilderness and adjacent portions of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Rare plant populations, the Pacific Crest Trail and other wilderness trails were bulldozed by fire suppression crews, creating extreme impacts to the region's intact plant communities and biodiversity. The impact of suppression activities in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is both unprecedented and entirely unacceptable. Both ODF and BLM are responsible and need to hear from us.
An estimated 3/4 of a mile of the Boccard Point Trail in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was bulldozed by BLM and ODF fire suppression crews, destroying a popular wilderness trail and degrading wilderness values. The fireline was miles from the Klamathon fire perimeter and was never used for fire containment.

The environmental movement has spent many decades working to protect Wilderness Areas that are now threatened by irresponsible, environmentally damaging and overly aggressive backcountry firefighting. As a movement we must encourage the use of restorative, low-impact fire suppression tactics and strategies, especially in our wildlands. We must also document and address the impact of heavy handed fire suppression activities on our public lands. In many cases, these impacts could be avoided while safely and effectively suppressing or managing wildland fires.

If these impacts continue to be ignored by the environmental community, many of our most beloved wildlands will be bulldozed, roaded, heavily backburned and riddled in large landings. Wilderness trails and ridgelines will become raw, weed infested dozerlines, habitat for rare plant species will be destroyed, and wild streams will be "snagged" of all large, dead standing trees. As time goes on and these impacts are repeated across our landscape, significant wildlands and important biodiversity will be lost. As environmentalist, we must address these impacts with solutions that include the protection of communities and important habitat values.

After having last year's Miller Complex Fire burn to my own off-grid homestead surrounded by Forest Service land, without the loss of property or the need for damaging fire suppression tactics (only minimal, light backburning was used), I know firsthand that under good weather conditions our rural communities can live with wildfire and our forests can benefit from effective wildfire management. It is our responsibility as rural landowners to create defensible space around our homes and support fire crews so they can be safe while protecting private property in often rugged, remote and difficult terrain. To a certain extent our homes and the lives of firefighting personnel largely depend on our ability to be prepared.
A massive "safety zone" built on the 640 road north of Oak Flat and the Klondike Fire near Flat Top Mountain. The impact of safety zone development on this site will be severe, with permanent impacts to soils and botanical resources. Photo credit: Inciweb

The Klamath Forest Alliance will be publishing a series of fire reports for this summer's wildfires in southwestern Oregon. We will be exploring the mosaic of the fires, evaluating their effects and documenting fire suppression impacts.  Please consider supporting this visionary and challenging work with a generous, tax-deductible donation. We have a lot of research and field monitoring to do across the region and we need your support!

We will be covering the following wildfires in southern Oregon:
  • Klamathon Fire in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and Soda Mountain Wilderness Area
  • Klondike Fire on the Illinois River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the surrounding inventoried roadless area. 
  • Natchez Fire on the Siskiyou Crest in the Siskiyou Wilderness and surrounding Klamath National Forest lands,
  • Taylor Fire on the Rogue River near Merlin and Galice, Oregon.  
  • Hendrix Fire on the Siskiyou Crest near the Big Red Mountain Botanical Area and Research Natural Area.

Look for more information on this blog regarding fire suppression impacts to wilderness areas, roadless areas and botanical areas sustained during the 2018 fire season.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Clean Slate Timber Sale: Old-Growth Forests and Northern Spotted Owl Habitat Targeted for Removal

Unit 3-11 of the Clean Slate Timber Sale contains uncut, old-growth forest on fragile soils. The unit would be logged to between 25%-35% canopy cover and Northern spotted owl habitat would be removed.
Throughout 2017, local residents organized and worked hard to shut down the southwestern portion of Grants Pass BLM's Pickett West Timber Sale outside Selma, Oregon on Deer Creek. This portion of the Pickett West Timber Sale proposed to log over 1,500 acres of old forest habitat and was withdrawn due to significant public opposition, effective community organizing and unacceptable impacts to the red tree vole, a preferred prey species of the threatened Northern spotted owl.

Although this was a significant victory, many of us knew it was not the last struggle over ancient forest habitat in the Deer Creek Valley. Portions of the Deer Creek Watershed have been identified as "Timber Harvest Landbase" in the BLM's 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP), meaning the BLM intends to log these stands to meet their annual timber quota. Although some of the stands included in the "Timber Harvest Landbase" are old-growth forest, the BLM values them only for the logs they will produce.

Following cancellation of the Pickett West Timber Sale, the Grants Pass District BLM announced a new timber sale in the Deer Creek Watershed called the Clean Slate Timber Sale. An Environmental Assessment (EA) was recently released and is currently open for public comment. 

Unfortunately, the sale is not operating from a clean slate (pun intended), and units from the Pickett West Timber Sale have been included in the Clean Slate project. The Clean Slate Timber Sale targets some of the last stands of complex, old-growth forest at the headwaters of Thompson Creek and McMullian Creek.

The BLM admits in the Clean Slate EA, "Nearly all the BLM administered lands contained in the Clean Slate planning area have had some form of commercial timber management in the last eight decades. About half has undergone some form of clear-cut or regeneration harvest." (Clean Slate EA, P. 65). 

Ancient uncut forest is a rarity in the Clean Slate Planning Area. The BLM is proposing to heavily log some of the last intact forest in the area, including unit 3-11.
The fact that nearly the entire planning area has been previously logged, and about half has been clearcut, makes the remaining late successional forest exponentially more important than ever before. The complex, old forest habitats proposed for logging in the Clean Slate Timber Sale should be canceled to protect, what are admittedly, the last remaining late successional habitats in the area. 

The retention of these last old forests will ensure that habitat for late successional species, such as the Pacific fisher, the Northern spotted owl and its prey species, remain on the landscape. Retaining the last old forests will also protect and preserve the most fire resistant portions of the landscape. 

The Clean Slate EA proposes to heavily log 175 acres of late successional or old-growth forest to between 25% and 35% canopy cover. The EA also proposes 461 acres of commercial logging, 450 acres of which will completely remove Northern spotted owl habitat.  The BLM admits that this habitat will take at least 50 years to recover, and according to the new RMP will then again be ready for additional timber harvest, "therefore closed canopy conditions are not expected to be regained in the foreseeable future." (Clean Slate EA, p. 90). This constitutes a complete loss of old-growth characteristics, and Northern spotted owl habitat. 

Unit 9-5 in the Clean Slate Timber Sale contains complex, old-growth forest habitat, beautiful hardwood groves and minimal fuel loading. 
Proposed logging in currently complex, old forest habitats will disproportionately impact Northern spotted owl prey species. According to the EA, proposed treatments in NRF [Nesting, Roosting, Foraging] habitat contain, "stands that currently have well established middle and top layer structures. Some units have ground and understory cover. These stands many have populations of flying squirrels, red tree voles, and woodrats because of the increased structure such as cavities, platforms and layered vegetation providing cover from predators. These stands would be heavily thinned" and would subsequently not be expected to "maintain stable populations of flying squirrels or red tree voles, or may have reduced density levels, and may not function as secure foraging habitat for spotted owls due to lower canopy cover levels." (Clean Slate EA, P. 94).

Logging these units will also remove large, fire resistant trees while also increasing fuel loads. Logging operations will generate highly flammable slash and drastically reduce canopy cover. The soil disturbance and increased sunlight associated with yarding activities and canopy cover removal will encourage shrubby understory growth, as well as tanoak and young conifer regeneration. The prescriptions for the Clean Slate project were specifically designed to meet annual timber quotas, not to reduce fuel loading or increase forest health.

Instead of reducing fuel loads, the canopy gaps intended to encourage regeneration of young, early-seral vegetation will create a "brush fuel type" (Clean Slate EA, p. 192) that could increase future fire severity and decrease the effectiveness of fire suppression activities adjacent to the community of Selma, Oregon. These canopy gaps are embedded within all proposed thinning units and will represent up to 30% of the stand. 

"For 5 to 20 years following planting, the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands." (Clean Slate EA, p. 192).

Dense understory fuel loads developed in response to previous thinning treatments in unit 3-9. Proposed treatments in the Clean Slate Timber Sale will open canopies even more drastically, encouraging an aggressive understory shrub response and an increase in fuel loading.

The forests of the Deer Creek watershed were not historically dry forests with open stand conditions and a low-severity, high frequency fire regime as the BLM claims. The Deer Creek watershed averages between 50 and 70 inches of rain per year and grows relatively moist, productive forest associations. The Doug fir/tanoak and Doug fir/live oak plant associations grow lush forests dominated by a mixed-severity fire regime. Slopes are often steep and soils very rocky, with outcrops and rocky talus-like slopes, shaded by large old conifers and beautiful groves of hardwoods including tanoak, live oak and madrone.

A view northwest from the Kerby Peak Lookout in 1934.
Early landscape photographs of the Deer Creek Watershed in 1934 show a mixed habitat, with closed canopied forests dominating the landscape, especially on north- and east-facing exposures, in gulches, riparian areas and on the lower 1/3 of the slopes. On south-facing ridges forests often mingle with small, early successional openings located near the ridges, summits and most exposed portions of the landscape. These openings appear to be either associated with serpentine soils — such as the south face of Round Top Mountain — or fire. They contain young, chaparral habitats, early successional forest regenerating from wildfire, and on the lower slopes adjacent to the valley, logged over stands impacted by human settlement. 

The patterns of the mosaic in 1934 show a history of mixed-severity fire and relatively limited human development. The open canopied forest described in the Clean Slate EA is a rarity on the landscape in 1934, when a much more active fire regime influenced the region and much less commercial logging had taken place. The BLM is claiming that these forests were open habitats with large populations of pine and oak, yet the soils, precipitation levels, plant associations and historic photographs demonstrate otherwise. 

Rather than recreating the historic landscape, the BLM will create highly unstable, degraded habitats — novel ecosystems with little resemblance to natural fire-adapted forest communities. The open forest hypothesis, is in this case, is a thinly veiled excuse to justify the heavy timber extraction and excessive canopy cover reduction envisioned in the highly controversial and still heavily litigated 2016 RMP.

Unit 9-5
Unit 9-5 contains a beautiful mix of hardwoods and large, old Douglas fir. The unit is one of the last remaining late successional habitats in the McMullian Creek watershed.

Unit 9-5 is located on an extremely steep, north-facing slope at the headwaters of McMullian Creek. McMullian Creek drains into Lake Selmac and has been heavily logged from top to bottom. The vast majority of this watershed has been converted into fiber plantations, including large swaths of both BLM and private timber land. The upper McMullian Creek Watershed also has the highest road density in the planning area, at an astounding 7.78 miles of road per square mile. The BLM has proposed two new "temporary" roads to access unit 9-5 in the Clean Slate project.

Unit 9-5 is one of the only remaining fragments of old forest in the entire McMullian Creek watershed, surrounded by clearcuts and young, simplified plantation stands, it is also a refuge for wildlife. The unit consists of massive old fir and sugar pine, among dense tangles of tanoak and beautiful groves of mossy live oak. The slopes are incredibly steep and covered in rocky talus, making them particularly slow to regenerate following logging operations. 

The western portion of the unit faces northeast and supports a dense tangle of multi-stemmed tanoak and massive, widely spaced Douglas firs. The overstory layer is broken and complex, with groves of old-growth fir towering above the secondary canopy of hardwoods. Portions of the stand are completely unmanaged and contain intact biological legacies not otherwise found in the McMullan Creek watershed. 

A small headwater fork of McMullian Creek dissects the unit at its center, trickling through moist, fern laden streambanks and down beautiful cascades. The large, old trees and their massive root systems, as well as the downed wood they eventually deposit along the small, swift moving stream provides stability and habitat, while their canopies provide shade, moderating the habitat, creating climate refugia and cooling the stream. This headwater stream provides connectivity for species such as the Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher, it also provides thermal cover for local ungulates such as deer, and protection for resting and denning habitat for black bear. 

Numerous red tree vole nest sites have been identified within unit 9-5 and populations of other Northern spotted owl prey species, such as flying squirrel are also likely to live here. The forest is currently identified as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern spotted owl, meaning it provides important habitat for the spotted owl's entire life cycle. Following logging treatments, spotted owl habitat would be "removed," meaning it would not provide even the most basic habitat elements and would likely be avoided by spotted owls and their prey species, including the red tree vole and flying squirrel.
The eastern half of unit 9-5 contains incredible stands of live oak and Douglas fir on steep, rocky slopes.

To the east, the unit faces northwest and supports a distinctly different forest type. Beautiful groves of mossy live oak grow from steep talus slopes and shaded rock outcrops. A complex mosaic of massive old growth fir and sugar pine grow in groupings and as solitary old individuals above a lower canopy of live oak. The soils are harsh and rocky, but shaded by old trees and covered in dense moss beds, that likely support the lungless Del Norte salamander. The species breaths through its skin and lives in the mossy talus, where cold, moist conditions are available year round. The shade and cooling effect of large old trees is essential to this species, and its specific habitat requirements include late successional characteristics, relatively high levels of canopy cover, and often, moss covered talus habitat. All habitat requirements are present in unit 9-5.

The Del Norte salamander also has a very small home range and cannot effectively disperse from damaged habitats. Impacts from the Clean Slate Timber Sale could drastically reduce populations of Del Norte salamanders, significantly impact available habitat and/or create extirpation of localized populations. 

Unit 9-5 should be withdrawn from the Clean Slate Timber Sale.

Unit 3-11
This photograph depicts the logging "mark" in unit 3-11. The two 30"+ DBH trees in the foreground are unmarked, meaning they would be logged in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. The trees in the background contain a red-hash mark and would be retained in logging operations.

Unit 3-11 is located at the headwaters of Thompson Creek. The stand consists of beautiful old-growth forest on extremely steep and rocky slopes. Large portions of the stand have never been logged and contain complex, late successional forest habitat. The stand is also located within an important connectivity corridor linking the ridges to the stream below. The corridor contains mostly mature forest habitat in a sea of plantation stands and relatively fresh clearcuts.

The habitat complexity, high canopy cover, adequate snag and downed wood habitat, canopy layering and thermal cover provide important habitat for the Northern spotted owl and its prey species such as the red tree vole and flying squirrel. In fact, numerous red tree vole nests have been located within the stand. Unit 3-11 should be protected under Recovery Action 32 of the Northern Spotted Owl Revised Recovery Plan, due to its complex forest habitats and intact biological legacies. 

Part of the reason unit 3-11 has never been logged is due to its classification in the Timber Productivity Capability Classification (TPCC). The TPCC is utilized by the agency to identify fragile soils where timber harvest and road construction should be avoided. A large portion of unit 3-11 was considered too rocky and unstable to build roads or sustain timber harvest. Rather than avoid this rocky, unproductive and unstable area, the BLM simply changed the TPCC classification to allow logging the fragile soils formerly identified in unit 3-11 (Clean Slate EA, p. 218).  

The mark in unit 3-11 is a red "leave tree mark," meaning the trees marked with red paint would be retained in logging operations. As you can see in this photograph, the four large trees in the background would be logged while one tree marked red would be retained. Notice the suppressed understory growth and minimal fuel loading associated with closed canopied late successional forest in the area.
The heavily logged stands adjacent to unit 3-11 are choked with heavy fuel loads of brush, regenerating hardwoods and young, highly flammable fir trees. At the same time, the broken, old growth canopy found in unit 3-11 is moderating fuel loads by suppressing understory growth and maintaining cool, moist habitat conditions. These stands and their towering old growth trees, are not only the most productive wildlife habitat in the area, they are also the most fire resistant portion of this heavily altered landscape.

Although the soils are poor, trees over 70" in diameter have managed to grow from the rocky substrate. Moss-covered tanoak and towering old Douglas fir rise above the rugged slopes, creating a cool, protective, multi-layered canopy. Although the large conifers are relatively open spaced and scattered about in majestic old groupings, the closed canopy conditions create a cool, moist habitat, sheltering the stand from heavy winds and temperature extremes. The understory is lush and abundant with tangles of vine maple and more open slopes carpeted in vanilla leaf, Oregon grape and rocky scree.

The slopes are extremely steep, but are punctuated by small, flat benches. These are old depositional sites associated with historic landslides. They are now colonized in spectacular old groves of fir, cedar, tanoak and a few sugar pine. The deep soils, old forests and relatively gentle terrain provides productive growing conditions and additional capacity to retain soil moisture. 

The complex ancient forest in unit 3-11 is proposed for heavy industrial logging in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. Unit 3-11 should be canceled.

Unit 3-10
The previously unlogged portion of unit 3-9 will be heavily logged in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. This photograph was taken after the timber sale mark, which shows that only one tree will be retained in this beautiful grove.

Unit 3-10 consists of mature and late successional forest habitat in the same connectivity corridor as unit 3-11. Although most of the stand was commercially thinned, much of the habitat still contains mature forest and relatively large, old trees. A small portion of the unit at its northeast corner has never been logged and contains a concentration of large, old trees with relatively closed canopy conditions. The heavy canopy cover has suppressed understory growth, naturally limiting fuel loads and increasing fire resilience. 

Other portions of the stand have been heavily thinned, and have responded with increased fuel loading. The fuel loads are now extreme and the stands are so heavily choked with understory growth that they can hardly be walked through. The impenetrable understory of dense shrubs, tall regenerating hardwoods and highly flammable conifer regeneration will significantly increase future fire severity and impact fire suppression crews' ability to manage or control a fire while it is still small. 

The current condition in large portions of unit 3-10 does consist of extreme fuel loading and overly dense understory conditions, yet this condition is more associated with previous logging than fire suppression. Prescriptions proposed in the Clean Slate Timber Sale appear more intensive than those previously implemented in unit 3-10 and will only make the problem worse.

The stand should be deferred from commercial harvest to allow canopy conditions to recover and again suppress understory growth.  

Unit 3-9
Unit 3-9 lies directly below unit 3-11 on very steep, rocky slopes above Thompson Creek. The unit has been previously logged, but still contains large, old-growth trees, significant heterogeneity and relatively healthy forest habitats. Unit 3-9 is also located in the same connectivity corridor as unit 3-11.

The eastern portion of the unit consists of healthy mid-seral/mature forest habitat, with natural decadence and complexity, as well as minimal fuel loading. The western portion contains many large, old Douglas fir trees towering above a secondary canopy of live oak. The stand is developing naturally into complex, mid to late successional habitat and should be maintained for connectivity, late successional wildlife habitat, and to encourage fire resilience. 

The level of canopy reduction proposed in the Clean Slate Timber Sale will drastically increase fuel loading by encouraging a heavy understory shrub response and removing large, fire resistant trees. 

Unit 3-9 is currently not in need of management to maintain the stand in a desirable condition and should be withdrawn from further consideration in the Clean Slate Timber Sale.  

Unit 21-12
All the trees in this photograph will be removed in logging operations in unit 21-12. The mark in this unit is extremely heavy and will increase fuel loading directly adjacent to residential properties on Thompson Creek.

Unit 21-12 is located on a west-facing slope above Thompson Creek and represents an important low-elevation forest habitat. The stand consists of mid to late successional Douglas fir, sugar pine, live oak, madrone and tanoak. 

Much of the stand is dominated by large, relatively fire resistant Douglas fir, but significant populations of sugar pine colonize the western-most portion of the unit. On this western face, numerous large, old sugar pine and Douglas fir grow in groupings and scattered groves. The BLM has proposed extremely heavy logging in this portion of the stand, retaining very little but the scattered pine trees. Many large, old fir trees between 24" and 32" DBH are marked for removal and the hardwood component is likely to be badly damaged during logging operations. 

The sugar pine marked red would be retained while Douglas fir (including large trees over 30" DBH) would be virtually eliminated from the western half of unit 21-12.
Fuel loading is likely to increase adjacent to private residential properties on Thompson Creek Road due to the excessive levels of large tree removal and canopy reduction. The reduction of canopy cover to between 25% and 35%, with large, 1-4 acre openings scattered throughout the stand will encourage a dramatic understory response. The EA admits that harvested stands will experience increased fuel loading for between at least 5 and 20 years, putting the residents on Thompson Creek at risk. 

The eastern portion of the stand is more closed and is dissected by a number of small draws. The forest contains closed canopy groves of Douglas fir and sugar pine. The more piney eastern portion of the stand is dispersal habitat, while this more productive eastern portion is classified as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat. The area is also located within the home range of two Northern spotted owl nest sites. All Northern spotted owl habitat will be removed due to canopy cover loss and the removal of large trees and other essential habitat elements.

A large section of road reconstruction is necessary to access unit 21-12 and portions of the unit will be subjected to ground-based yarding. The proposed logging prescriptions in unit 21-12 will significantly impact soils, fuel loading, community fire safety and wildlife habitat. Unit 21-12 should be withdrawn from further consideration in the Clean Slate Timber Sale. 

Unit 22-5
Unit 22-5 consists of lush forest on a north-facing slope. Portions of the stand has been previously logged, but also contains many large, old fire resistant trees. Other portions have never been commercially harvested. 

Large Douglas fir dominate the stand, with a secondary canopy of mossy tanoak and a dense understory of evergreen huckleberry. The canopy structure is relatively open and has naturally developed a dense woody understory.

The stand will simply not benefit from the proposed logging treatments and canopy reduction; understory huckleberry and tanoak response will make conifer regeneration extremely difficult. Fuel loading will significantly increase as brush and stump sprouting hardwoods species already present will further dominate the stand.  

Unit 22-5 is located within the home range of two Northern spotted owls and on the boundary of a third home range. The unit is currently classified as dispersal habitat, but would be removed due to canopy reduction and the loss of habitat complexity. Many large, old trees would be removed to achieve the proposed canopy cover targets, opening new ground for brush conversion.

Unit 22-5 should be withdrawn from further consideration in the Clean Slate Timber Sale

Please Comment Now on the Clean Slate Timber Sale!

Send Comments To: 
Allen Bollschweiler
Grants Pass Interagency Office
2164 NE Spaulding Ave. 
Grants Pass, Oregon 97526

or via email at:

Talking Points:
  • The EA states that nearly the entire planning area has been logged and about half has been clearcut. Unlogged and late successional stands like those found in units 3-11 and 9-5 should be canceled to protect the last remaining late successional habitat in the project area.
  • Unit 3-11 meets all the criteria of Recovery Action 32 and should be protected as complex, late successional habitat. 
  • Units 3-11, 3-9, 3-10, 9-5, 21-12 & 22-5 should be canceled to maintain late successional and connectivity habitat. These units also contain fire resistant, old forest that should be deferred from treatment in the Clean Slate Timber Sale.
  • The portions of unit 3-11 previously classified as "Fragile Soils," and therefore not allocated for timber harvest or road building, should be deferred from treatment and appropriately reclassified as "fragile" to protect soil resources and avoid reforestation failures.
  • The level of canopy reduction proposed will increase fuel loading and encourage an aggressive understory shrub response. The Clean Slate EA admits that openings created in all timber sale units will increase fuel loads for at least 5 to 20 years. These opening will be embedded within all logging units in up to 30% of each unit.
  • Fire safety for the community of Selma, Oregon should not be compromised for timber production. The 2016 RMP claims that active management will increase resilience to wildfire effects, the findings in the Clean Slate EA demonstrate that logging operations will increase fuel loading in all treated stands due to canopy reduction and gap creation.
  • The BLM is proposing to remove 450 acres of Northern spotted owl habitat and assumed that they will not regain suitable habitat conditions in the foreseeable future. This is inconsistent with the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern spotted owl that recommends active management to create and maintain NSO habitat. The BLM has proposed a total long-term loss of NSO habitat in the Clean Slate Timber Sale.