|Complex, fire-resilient, late-seral forest in unit 25-22 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale. The unit lies on a north-facing slope directly above the Little Applegate River.|
I take off my shoes and ford the icy river, reaching a flat, forested river bar on the Little Applegate River's southern bank. Once across the river I find myself amongst large, old fir trees in spacious, closed-canopy stands. Reaching the slope I climb quickly toward unit 25-22 in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Entering the unit, the stand is at first dense with understory fir and scattered overstory trees, but to the west the stand opens into fire-resilient groves of old pine and fir. It is clear that the unit needs fuel reduction and non-commercial thinning, but not the heavy canopy reduction proposed by the BLM. Located directly above a large area of late-seral (i.e. old) forest in the Little Applegate Canyon, this stand provides connectivity and high quality wildlife habitat to species such as the spotted owl and Pacific fisher.
Switching back through the unit I reach a low, oaky ridge dividing Owl Gulch from the Little Applegate River. Here the BLM proposes to build a small section of new road and two new helicopter landing pads to facilitate logging in Nedsbar units 25-24, 25-22, and 25-23. The ridge is pleasant and diverse; a patchwork of oak, pine, and mountain mahogany broken by isles of grass and chaparral.
Very near the proposed helicopter landing unit 25-23 reaches the ridgeline, then drops west into Owl Gulch. I follow unit 25-23 through mid- to late-seral (i.e. mature and old) stands of open-spaced fir with more pine on the upper third of the slope. The stand supports numerous large, old trees and very minimal fuel loads. Ground fuels are virtually non-existent and ladder fuels created by dense regeneration cannot be found. Quickly I drop into Owl Gulch, a small draw lined in bigleaf maple and Douglas fir. The canyon is steep and narrow.
|Beautiful open forest in unit 25-23 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale. The stand is located directly above Owl Gulch in the Dakubetede Roadless Area. Unit 25-23 should be canceled.|
In no time I climb the adjacent canyon wall and onto an east-facing slope in the Trillium Mountain portion of the Dakubetede Roadless Area. Shortly I enter unit 25-21A and 25-21B. The slopes are steep and patchy, covered in broken forests of Douglas fir, punctuated by small oak openings, pine stands, and madrone groves. The stands are mature, mid-seral Douglas fir with closed canopies and relatively dense, vertical structure. Staying within unit 25-21 I wind into a steep draw lined in moss and little tufts of bedrock. The forest slowly opens and groupings of larger, more dominant trees begin to add complexity to the stand. Slowly oak woodlands and grassy bald slopes close in from both sides and the long conifer stringer, identified by the BLM as unit 25-21, ends in a strip of pine/oak woodland facing east and offering broad, spectacular vistas across the upper Little Applegate drainage to Bald Mountain and Wagner Butte. Units from the Nedsbar Timber Sale are scattered across this spectacular viewshed and will potentially impact the region's scenic qualities.
Heading north I reach the ridgeline dropping east from Trillium Mountain and dividing the Little Applegate River from Owl Gulch. Dry fir and pine forest cloaks the ridgeline, then patches of white oak. To the north is a steep timbered slope: unit 25-20 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale. The unit is dense with Douglas fir, while the adjacent southeast-facing slope is piney and relatively open, supporting patches of white oak and mountain mahogany. Climbing steadily I reach the distinctive red flagging used to delineate proposed new road construction in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. A long-closed jeep road makes one long switchback across the eastern face of Trillium Mountain, and at the big, v-shaped switchback, the BLM has proposed a new road heading up the moderately steep ridgeline rising to the mountain's summit. The currently unroaded ridgeline is proposed by the BLM to be impacted with new road construction and the development of landings to facilitate logging both unit 25-21 (a helicopter unit) and 25-20 (a cable yarding unit). The flagged out "right of way" leads to a flat-topped knoll supporting pine and oak. This little knoll is proposed to be developed into a landing to deck and process logs. All vegetation would be cleared and the site leveled; the ridgeline that now feels wild and unmanaged would be accessible on maintained logging roads. Another landing is flagged out above.
Shortly, I can see the summit and the stout, old fir that overlooks the big grassy bald on the mountain's south-facing slope. From the summit of Trillium Mountain the Siskiyou Crest creates a long, high divide between the Applegate and Klamath Rivers. You can see the broad arc of mountains from Grayback Mountain above Williams, Oregon to Wagner Butte on the divide between the Little Applegate and the Ashland Watershed. This broad arc is the Applegate River Watershed and the rugged jumble of summits and ridges below — a region I call the Applegate Foothills. The region represents a relatively intact connectivity corridor that allows for the flow of diversity and genetic exchange between the flora and fauna in southern Oregon and northern California. The low-elevation corridor of the Applegate Foothills and the Nedsbar Planning area provides a vital link in the long chain of connectivity, tying together such varied regions as the fog drenched redwoods of northern California and the high desert habitat of the Great Basin. The region is a significant treasure trove of species sprawling across the foothills in a mosaic of grassland, oak woodland, chaparral, and dry conifer forests.
The wildness and diversity of the region is evident in the vista one sees from the summit of Trillium Mountain. One also sees dozens of Nedsbar Timber Sale units in the watersheds of Owl Gulch, Lick Gulch, Little Applegate River, Yale Creek, and Grouse Creek. When scanning the vista from Trillium Mountain, one fresh scar stands out in the foreground: a small square cut from the forested slope. The square cut from the slope is not a clear-cut, but it has that same hollow, industrial appearance. It is unit 64-1 of the recent BLM timber sale, known as the O’Lickety Timber Sale. It was thinned no doubt, but so drastically so that it no longer serves as nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for the northern spotted owl. The stand was intended to be maintained at this habitat level but was over-cut in the O'Lickety Timber Sale and has been "downgraded" to dispersal habitat. The BLM tells us the results of the Nedsbar Timber Sale will have a similar visual result. In fact, 63% of the proposed Nedsbar Timber Sale units would reduce canopy closure to 40%. The target for unit 64-1 was to maintain 60% canopy closure. It is now as low as 44%.
With this thought on my mind and the beauty of Trillium Mountain surrounding me, I turn my face from the sun and begin my walk back; down the long, wild ridge slated for new road construction and into a forest on the north slope of Trillium Mountain and Nedsbar Timber Sale unit 25-20. The forests proposed for logging are at first dense, dry stands of mature Douglas fir. This relatively even-aged stand has likely regenerated from wildfires in the late 1800s when miners and ranchers routinely burned to facilitate prospecting and to keep the brush back. The slopes are steep with the occasional brief hummock or bench — the depositional remains of historic landslides. I reach a narrow swath of oak and mountain mahogany that divides the forest into two separate stringers of forest. I cross the oak opening and gaze across the Little Applegate canyon to the broad, grassy ridges of the Dakubetede Roadless Area.
Beyond the clearing is another, finer stand of timber. The forest in this section of unit 25-20 is old and complex, a remnant of what once covered north-facing slopes across the eastern Siskiyou Mountains. Such low-elevation forests have become increasingly rare and provide habitat for species such as the Pacific fisher, the flying squirrel and northern spotted owl. Massive old fir with deeply furrowed bark and gnarled old branches grow amongst understory groves of twisted, orange madrone trunks and a few scattered pine. The forest is complex, diverse and spectacular. If the BLM were to log this spectacular roadless mountainside, fuel hazards would increase due to the creation of logging slash and the increase in shrubby understory growth triggered by drastic canopy reduction. Important wildlife habitat would be degraded and roadless wildlands forever transformed into industrial timber management areas. The beautiful old-growth stand and unit 25-20 drop nearly to the Little Applegate River near its confluence with Owl Gulch.
I quickly reach the Little Applegate Canyon and am fortunate enough to find a large cedar log spanning the wide, cold river. Crossing the large cedar log I reach Little Applegate Road and walk back to my vehicle above the Little Applegate Trailhead, an access point for the Sterling Ditch Mine Trail. Winding upstream along the rushing river, I am struck by its beauty and the price we may pay if the Nedsbar Timber Sale is approved as it is currently proposed. The Dakubetede Roadless Area is an important and dramatically diverse region supporting wild, intact habitats and providing connectivity in the eastern Siskiyou Mountains. The Dakubetede Roadless Area should be protected to ensure these attributes are preserved for future generations. The Nedsbar Timber Sale, with it short sighted, profit-driven prescriptions, will degrade the area's wildland character, intact habitat, and scenic qualities. All Nedsbar Timber Sale units within roadless habitat should be canceled and the project's narrow, timber-driven focus should be broadened to include social and ecological values. Units 25-20, 25-21, 25-23, and 25-22 should be dropped as commercial timber sale units and allowed to continue providing the quality of habitat that currently exists in the Dakubetede Roadless Area.