Saturday, July 5, 2014

Nedsbar Timber Sale: A threat to wildlands in the Applegate Valley

The forested portions of Trillium Mountain in the Dakubetede Roadless Area are being proposed for logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. This photo was taken from the popular Sterling Ditch Trail where Trillium Mountain dominates the skyline for many miles. Commercial logging units in the Dakubetede Roadless Area should be canceled and the area protected for its scenic, recreational and ecological values.

The Medford District BLM has recently proposed a large timber sale in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon. This is the result of recent litigation won by Swanson-Superior Lumber based in Glendale, Oregon. The Medford District BLM has been given a court order, currently under appeal, to drastically increase timber production for corporate logging interests at the expense of regional wildlands, communities and wildlife. In response to the litigation the agency proposed the Nedsbar Timber Sale, encompassing 3,400 acres, or 5 square miles of proposed units spread across much of the Little Applegate Valley and a portion of the Upper Applegate Valley. 

Proposed project prescriptions  include regeneration logging (i.e. clearcut logging), disease management and new road construction. Regeneration prescriptions would require retention of only 16-25 trees per acre, while disease management prescriptions would require retention of only 6-8 trees per acre. These proposed forms of clearcut logging would remove large, fire-resistant trees and open up currently closed-canopy forests to encourage the "regeneration" of young trees in the understory.  

The BLM's Scoping Notice for the project identifies no objectives beyond timber management, leaving many public resources and important forest management objectives outside the purpose and need of the proposed project. The project does not contain management objectives that include a broad range of forest values, including the maintenance and recovery of threatened or endangered species, the retention of late successional characteristics, the management of fire/fuel hazards, or the maintenance and recovery of watershed values such as fisheries and water quality. The Little Applegate River is designated a  key watershed for salmon habitat. Given this, along with the large amount of Wildland Urban Interface located in the planning area, the region's high biodiversity, wildland values, and unique plant communities, this singular focus fails to serve the public interest.

Regeneration and Disease Management Logging
The Little Applegate River is the driest watershed west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Regeneration logging has often historically led to reforestation failures and heavy fuel loads due to an increase in highly flammable activity slash, the "regeneration" of young trees in the understory, and a vigorous shrub and hardwood response. Given the dry nature of the Little Applegate watershed, these issues associated with regeneration logging will only be compounded. The use of regeneration, disease management, and/or overstory removal prescriptions will have negative impacts to the region's fire/fuel hazard, forest health concerns, Endangered Species Act (ESA) habitat values, and late successional characteristics. These prescriptions will also lead to increased wind exposure, sun exposure, and thus decreased soil moisture, drought stress and increased fire risks. All forms of regeneration and disease management logging proposed in the Nedsbar Timber Sale should be canceled. 

New Road Construction
It appears that the BLM will be proposing new road construction to access commercial timber units for the Nedsbar Timber Sale. New road construction could impact the Boaz Mountain, Dakubetede and Buncom Roadless Areas. All new road construction should be opposed to retain wildland characteristics and reduce watershed impacts. 

A map of proposed units in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Light Blue units are proposed for helicopter logging. Purple units are proposed far cable logging, green units are tractor logging, and the brownish/pinkish units are proposed, non-commercial fuel reduction units.

Impact to wildland habitats, roadless areas, and proposed Primitive Areas
            The Nedsbar Timber Sale, if implemented, would log three important roadless areas in the Applegate Valley foothills, including the north slope of Trillium Mountain in the Dakubetede Roadless Area, Cinnabar Ridge in the Buncom Roadless Area, and the north slope of Boaz Mountain in the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area. Commercial logging units in these roadless wildlands should be canceled to preserve the region's pristine character, scenic values, and exceptional recreational opportunities. Both the Buncom and the Dakubetede Roadless Areas have been identified for protection in recent legislative proposals by Senator Wyden as the Dakubetede Primitive Area. All commercial units within the proposed Dakubetede Primitive Area should be canceled until appropriate management objectives are identified for these areas and a formal decision is made regarding their management.  These units should also be canceled due to the impact to scenic values and viewsheds on the Sterling Ditch Trail and the proposed Jack-Ash Trail, a trail that would connect the tourist economies of Ashland and Jacksonville, OR. Much of the local economy (vineyards, property values, recreation, etc) is based around the area's scenic values; industrial logging treatments such as overstory canopy removal, regeneration and disease management will impact this flourishing, localized economy by degrading this scenic, recreational resource.
Wildlife Impacts
The Little Applegate River area provides a narrow “pinch point” in connectivity for late successional species, providing habitat to and from the the Upper Applegate Valley and the Ashland watershed. This connectivity must be retained in any proposed action. The impact of proposed commercial timber extraction to habitat conditions for Pacific fisher and northern spotted owl is well documented, especially when regeneration and disease management logging are involved. Disease management logging is of special concern because documentation shows that 90% of all spotted owl nests in the Applegate drainage are found in dwarf mistletoe brooms in large Douglas fir trees. These are the very trees targeted for clearcut logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Simplified stand conditions and canopy reduction from logging activities have also been associated with downgrades in nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the spotted owl and should be avoided in the Nedsbar Planning Area.

Soil Impacts and Watershed Health:
            The Nedsbar Timber Sale is largely located within the Little Applegate River basin, a key watershed designated in the NW Forest Plan. The potential impact to soil and watershed health due to the Nedsbar Project could be significant, including new road construction, increased OHV use, skid trail development, increased road use due to hauling and timber sale implementation, tractor and cable yarding, regeneration logging, disease management logging, the loss of downed wood recruitment and habitat, soil compaction, etc. The impact of these activities has been shown to negatively effect fisheries resources, ESA habitat and recovery needs, turbidity, water temperature, water quality, water quantity, soil stability, peek flows, etc. These impacts should be avoided in the Little Applegate River watershed for the benefit of important anadromous fish species.

Public trust and Collaborative Efforts
            The project as outlined in the BLM's scoping notice is bound to generate significant amounts of local controversy and will only encourage mistrust between the BLM and local residents. After years of collaborative efforts the community expects more from the agency then irresponsible hand-outs to the timber industry.  If the BLM sees collaboration as a key to future forest management, then accountability is needed from the agency. Far to often the agency talks forest restoration and ecological management, then violates the public trust with disastrous timber proposals including heavy canopy removal, regeneration logging, disease management logging, and new road construction. If the agency does not want to step back into the timber war mentality, then new road construction, regeneration logging, disease management, and aggressive canopy removal should not be proposed in the Nedsbar Project. To include these prescriptions will only generate litigation, protest, mistrust, and public outrage. Trust is built when the BLM walks its talk. Hollow words and business as usual will only further polarize the debate. The wildlife habitat, streams, fisheries habitat, and significant regional biodiversity require a more holistic approach to land management. The current approach is singularly focused, irresponsible, and unacceptable. 

The forested portions of the ridge in the foreground would be logged in the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

An opportunity to get involved
A public meeting is being hosted by the BLM to discuss the Nedsbar Timber Sale with the local community. This is our opportunity to comment and raise concerns about the project and its proposed prescriptions. Please consider attending this important meeting and speaking on behalf of the recreational economy, forests, wildlands, and streams of the Applegate Valley.

Public Meeting: Nedsbar Timber Sale
Where: Jacksonville Public Library
When: July 22, 2014 5:00-7:00 PM



Friday, July 4, 2014

Monarch Butterflies in the Siskiyou Mountains

Got Milkweed?

Monarch butterflies that live east of the continental divide embark on a spectacular annual migration to winter roost sites in oyamel fir trees in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. They are the only butterflies to accomplish such a long, two-way migration each year, something more commonly associated with species like birds, wales, salmon or caribou. Unlike these other species, however, it takes three to four generations of monarchs to complete the annual migration. It is a multigenerational feat. Most monarchs only live a few weeks as adults during the migration, except for the last generation in the migratory process, the overwintering monarchs, which can live up to seven or eight months. Despite their seemingly fragile nature and their short lifespan, individual monarchs can travel hundreds to thousands of miles. Monarchs use the sun as their primary navigational tool, but according to a recently published paper in the journal Nature Communications, they are also capable of using an internal magnetic compass on cloudy days.  

It is less known that monarch butterflies that live west of the continental divide, including monarchs that migrate through the Siskiyou Mountains, overwinter in various groves of trees along the central and southern California coast where they are generally protected from freezing temperatures. Monarchs aggregate in more than 25 roosting sites along the California coast each winter, but their overwintering habitat is threatened by coastal development.

 According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "In the most recent migration, fewer of the orange- and red-winged monarchs made it to the end of the journey than ever before. The monarch butterfly population in Mexico was the lowest ever since 1993 (the year scientists started to monitor monarch butterfly colonies), according to research just released by the WWF-Telcel Alliance and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Office of the Mexican government. The research shows a 43.7% decrease (nearly three acres) in the total amount of forestland occupied by monarchs in and near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The research was conducted over several weeks in December 2013 and the decrease is in relation to December 2012 research."

The WWF lists the monarch butterfly as "near threatened," or a species that is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature calls the monarch migration an endangered biological phenomenon.
Graphic by Journey North
Population of monarchs at the overwintering grounds in Mexico 

Monarch population chart for monarchs living west of the continental divide that overwinter in California

In May, 2014 both Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon passed ballot initiatives that will ban the planting of GMO crops. The landslide victory in Jackson County shows that most people don't want GMO crops planted in Jackson County. The measure passed 65.9% Yes to 34.1% No. In Josephine County the results were 58% to 41%   These two measures will greatly improve the chances of monarch recovery in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Threats to Monarch Butterflies
  • Loss of milkweed
  • Logging of overwintering grounds in Mexico
  • Climate change
  • GMO crops
  • Pesticide use
  • Coastal development of overwintering grounds in California 

Photo essay: The lifecycle of monarch butterflies in the Siskiyou Mountains

On May 15, 2014 I spotted two monarch butterflies fluttering around two separate showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) patches that my wife, Suzie, planted nine years ago. One patch is in our vegetable garden and the other in a native rock garden on the side of the road. Previously we had only seen one tattered monarch scoping out our patches, so this was a hopeful sign. When Suzie got home from work that day I told her what I saw and she immediately inspected for eggs. Sure enough, there were about fifty eggs combined on both the patches of milkweed.  Research has shown that a female monarch typically lays about 700 eggs in its lifespan, so this was not a huge number of eggs.

Monarch caterpillar eggs on milkweed
Monarch caterpillar eggs are very small

Monarch caterpillars are tiny and vulnerable when they first emerge.

Around ten days later the eggs started to hatch and an estimated 15-20 tiny, little caterpillars emerged. They were hard to spot because they hid within the plants and it was hard to keep track of them and know for certain how many there were.

When small the caterpillars stayed within flower buds.

The caterpillars eat the milkweed plant and grow bigger.

The tiny caterpillars got bigger as they ate the milkweed plant, mostly staying within the protection of the flower buds. They never denuded the plants, but rather took little chunks out here and there, allowing for the viability and sustainability of their host plant.

As they get bigger they are easier to spot.
Sometimes they eat the flower buds.

Some small caterpillars died of mysterious causes.

Over the course of a few weeks a number of caterpillars disappeared, but those that remained got bigger and fatter. Monarchs have natural predators, parasitoids, and parasites that can harm monarch eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. It's a tough world for monarchs in their natural setting, and human impacts to habitat just compound the threats.

In just two weeks a caterpillar will grow and need to shed its skin five times. Each skin is called an instar. The stages of a caterpillar's life are referred to as the first instar, second instar, third instar, fourth instar, and the final fifth instar. We observed the caterpillars eating the skin after it was shed, as if it was a source of nutrition.
Hanging out on milkweed

Munching on milkweed

The caterpillars rested under the leaves
5th instar caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar hanging in "J" shape on June 23, 2014.

The caterpillar has attached itself with a cremaster and hangs in a "J" shape as it prepares to shed its old larval skin and begin the formation of the chrysalis.

Monarch in a chrysalis formed on June 24, 2014. 
The scientific name for the monarch butterfly is Danaus plexippus, a Greek term meaning "sleepy transformation." This reflects the species' metamorphosis.

Monarch on showy milkweed in May, 2014

 After its metamorphosis into a butterfly the monarch will eat, mate and lay eggs if it is a female. They will search out and find whatever milkweed they can. Monarchs will use any plant in the genus Asclepias, even cultivars of the native species.  The last generation in the migration will then head south to the California coast to overwinter and start the cycle anew as has happened for millennia.

Monarchs fall to the ground while mating. This photo was taken at the end of January at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in California.

Monarch butterflies cluster together for warmth as they overwinter at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in California. This colony is one of the largest in the United States.

For further information visit the following:

Journey North

Monarch Watch