Local Applegate residents, The Siskiyou Crest Blog, The Klamath Forest Alliance, and the good folks at KS Wild have begun monitoring Nedsbar Timber Sale units in both the Upper and Little Applegate Valleys. In our recent timber sale monitoring we have found units that are healthy, fire adapted and in no need of manual thinning whatsoever. We have also found units that are overly dense, fire suppressed stands that would benefit from a restoration based thinning approach.
In our initial forays we have found numerous units which contain old-growth characteristics. Some of these units have been influenced by relatively recent wildfire, while others are located within roadless wildlands that represent some of the most intact ecosystems remaining in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. Logging these units would increase fuel risks to rural residents of the Upper and Little Applegate Valleys, increase future fuel loads, and impact Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, and Siskiyou Mountain salamander habitat.
The Nedsbar Project Area lies within an important connectivity corridor linking the Rogue Valley to the Applegate Valley, and the Siskiyou Crest to the Marble Mountains Wilderness and the vast wildland habitat in the Klamath Mountains south of the Klamath River. The area provides a low elevation corridor that links with the high elevation land bridge of the Siskiyou Crest. The connectivity provided by the Little and Upper Applegate Valleys has been identified in the Applegate Adaptive Management Area Ecosystem Health Assessment published by the BLM and Forest Service in 1994. The area should be protected from regeneration logging and heavy commercial thinning that severely impacts canopy coverage, structural complexity, fire resilience, and the habitat provided by large, old trees.
I will highlight a few units recently surveyed by Community Monitoring Program volunteers that contain old-growth characteristics, open, fire resilient stand structure, and excellent wildlife habitat.
|Open Douglas fir stands in the western portion of unit 14-30.|
Unit 14-30 lies entirely within the Buncom Roadless Area on the north slope of the low, arid ridge system dropping from Cinnabar Ridge to the confluence of the Little Applegate and Applegate Rivers. Surrounded by chaparral and oak woodland on three sides, the unit supports an isolated stand of late and mid seral Douglas fir with a few ponderosa pine and madrone. The forest represents some of the driest Douglas fir habitat west of the Cascade Mountains. Heavy thinning in this unit will increase light infiltration, allowing for the encroachment of surrounding shrubfields and the regeneration of young conifers in the understory that will significantly increase fuel loads.
The western margin of the unit supports open groves of large, old Douglas fir. The forests are generally not overly dense, but support a relatively closed canopy condition. Large, old trees grow in clumps or clusters around the unit with a few isolated patches of younger regenerating fir and madrone. The central portion of the unit is more dense and even-aged, with a small oak opening supporting large, old oak trees and widely spaced conifers.
|The southeast portion of unit 14-30 supports open, old stands of Douglas fir.|
The southern portion of the unit, near the ridgeline, supports scattered older trees growing from rocky substrates that likely harbor populations of the Siskiyou Mountain salamander. The unit's southeastern corner supports beautiful, open groves of Douglas fir with a well developed understory of native grass. The unit is a thriving, diverse community that supports not only old-growth characteristics, but also fire resilient forest habitat.
|Open, fire adapted forest in Unit 15-30|
Unit 15-30 lies entirely within the Buncom Roadless Area. The unit is located at the western margin of the roadless area, above Upper Applegate Road near it’s intersection with Eastside Road.
Unit 15-30 is identified by the BLM as a structural retention unit (Ponderosa Pine). It is a very narrow unit within a long, isolated stringer of conifer forest. This narrow band of forest is surrounded by chaparral consisting of buckbrush, silk tassel, manzanita, and oak. The unit is northfacing and moderately steep. Two distinct stand types can be found within the unit: relatively dense pole stands are found on the lower end of the unit, while the upper half of the unit supports late seral stands of mixed pine and fir.
The stands in the upper half of the unit underburned in 1987, thinning the stand and creating a fire-adapted, open structured forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The understory is open and somewhat grassy due to a combination of recent fire and northwest exposure; a nicely filtered canopy has enabled the stand to resist shrub encroachment from the surrounding brushfields. Much of the stand supports a very low fuel load with little fuel laddering or pockets of dense understory vegetation.
The upper portions of unit 15-30 need no treatment whatsoever for fuel reduction or forest health. In fact, the upper fire adapted portions of the stand could be seen as a “reference condition” for similar dry forest habitats. These conditions include the presence of large ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, open structured, fire influenced stand conditions, and well developed herbaceous understory communities dominated by native plants.
If logged, the upper portion of the unit could be influenced significantly by shrub encroachment due to the heavy canopy removal proposed within a stand that is surrounded on three sides by dense chaparral habitat. The increased sunlight and ground disturbance associated with logging would likely facilitate the spread of highly flammable chaparral species into the understory of this currently open stand. The results could include a substantial increase in fuels, fuel ladders, and fire risks within the Buncom Roadless Area and the adjacent Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) along Upper Applegate Road. The upper portions of unit 15-30 should be canceled to protect the resiliency, habitat values, and “reference” conditions found within this beautiful stand.
|Dense stands in the lower end of unit 15-30.|
The lower end of the unit is more dense, even-aged, and vertical in structure. Pole stands with scattered dominant trees grow in a contiguous closed canopy forest. Douglas fir dominates the north facing slope from the little gulch to the ridgetop above. Understory fuels are relatively non-existent due to the density of canopy.
The lower portion of unit 15-30 could be thinned to reduce density and fuel loads. Treatments should be non-commercial and focused on small suppressed trees. Canopy closure should be maintained and the stand “thinned from below” to reduce the likelihood of shrub encroachment.
Unit 33-20 lies on the north slope of the long, dry ridge dividing the Little Applegate River from Yale Creek. The south face of the ridgeline consist of manzanita, oak, and pine, while the north slope consists of a mixed conifer forest of fir, pine, and madrone.
|Old-growth ponderosa pine in unit 33-20|
The upper portion of unit 33-20 is rather dense with suppressed fir poles, many snagged out or of extremely low vigor. Scattered, large pine grow in clump formation along the ridge itself; some have begun to succumb to drought stress, competition, and beetle outbreaks. Fuel risks are significant due to the density of vegetation.
The lower two-thirds of the unit consist of relatively intact stands of fir, pine, and madrone, including many large, old trees. The stand underburned in the 1987 Cantrall Fire, creating relatively open, fire adapted conditions. The canopy is generally closed, yet tree spacing is broad, age class diversity is high, and ladder fuels minimal. A few areas contain more dense and even-aged stands of fir. Douglas fir dominates with large ponderosa pine and wide branching madrone growing interspersed throughout the stand.
Roughly one mile of proposed road upgrades will be necessary to facilitate the logging of unit 33-20. The BLM is proposing to upgrade existing decommissioned roads in the area with a clear potential to increase OHV use, noxious weed spread, hunting and poaching pressure, trash, and disruption of relatively isolated wildlife habitat.
The lower, more late seral portions of unit 33-20 should be canceled to protect the important wildlife values associated with old-growth habitat. Non-commerical thinning along the ridgeline could be acceptable if implemented with sufficient design features, including the retention of large live trees, snags, tree form oaks, and large madrones. The idea could be to create a backcountry fuelbreak. The unit could extend across the upper 100’ of the north slope within proposed unit 33-20. The goal would be to create a ridgetop fuelbreak from which hand crews could contain wildland fires. The fuelbreak could also be used to light prescribed burns that could be used to maintain healthy habitat and fuel condition in the area. The project would be part of a larger strategy to create fuelbreak and ridgeline trail systems that would provide anchor points for the management of wildland fire and the use of prescribed fire.
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