Sunday, November 29, 2015

Update: Westside Fire Recovery Project

The Happy Camp Fire near Hamburg on the Klamath River.

The Westside Fire Recovery Project is an enormous post-fire logging proposal targeting intact, Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest and wild salmon streams in the Mid-Klamath watershed. The project is one of the largest post-fire salvage logging projects proposed in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains in many years. 

The project area extends across the large 2015 fire footprint on the Klamath River, including the Happy Camp, Whites, and Beaver Fires. Units can be found across this vast landscape from Beaver Creek to Happy Camp, and as far west as Sawyers Bar on the North Fork of the Salmon River. Units are located up Scott River, Grider Creek and Walker Creek near Seiad Valley, which are adjacent to the Marble Mountains Wilderness, in important wildlife habitat, and in the Pacific Crest Trail corridor.  Units can also be found on Elk Creek south of Happy Camp, and many other portions of the Klamath National Forest (KNF). This massive logging project would require 14 separate timber sales on roughly 10,000 acres of public land. The KNF has already mapped, planned, designed and invested large amounts of agency energy and taxpayer-provided funding into this devastating proposal.

Yet a few large hurdles still lie in their path. First and foremost, the project is likely illegal for a variety of reasons involving environmental laws and regulations, clean water violations, and endangered species protections. The agency has still not released a Record of Decision approving specific timber related activities and project proposals; thus, the agency could still cancel the project and focus on protecting rural communities on the Klamath River, rather than sending large, old logs to distant mills. 

The project has yet to acquire a Water Quality Waiver from the North Coast Water Quality Control Board, by proving the project will not significantly increase sedimentation or create water quality concerns. This will be no easy task on the steep, geologically unstable slopes the agency has proposed for clearcut logging, or in the critical salmon habitat and numerous cold water tributary streams directly below. 

The KNF has proposed salvage logging in unstable watersheds like Grider Creek, where sedimentation has become a concern following the Happy Camp Fire. Salvage logging operations will only compound the erosion and water quality concerns already impacting these important salmon streams.

Finally, the KNF has not yet finalized consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding impacts to the northern spotted owl. The northern spotted owl is threatened with extinction, due largely to habitat destruction from commercial logging. Recent research has shown that northern spotted owls can inhabit and, in fact, thrive in fire-effected forests as long as biological legacies such as large, old snags are maintained. In a recent letter to the KNF regarding the Westside Fire Recovery Project, USFWS states, "it is estimated that up to 70 spotted owl activity centers may be adversely impacted by the proposed action."

The USFWS letter also states, "Low, moderate, and in some cases high severity fire can maintain habitat conditions conducive for spotted owls, and we recommend minimizing salvage or harvest activities were spotted owls remain post-fire... In general, most scientists agree that salvage logging does not contribute positively to the ecological recovery of the naturally disturbed forests." 

The USFWS letter reminds the KNF of Recovery Action 12, in the recovery plan for the northern spotted owl, and its recommendation to retain, "post disturbance legacy structures (such as large, dead trees whether standing or down) in areas that are managed for spotted owl habitat because these features greatly improve the quality of habitat over time. It is important for action agencies to seek ways to implement important fuel reduction work without over utilizing salvage logging that can adversely affect the restoration of natural conditions." 

Late seral forest stands affected by moderate severity fire, yet proposed for salvage logging in the Westside Fire Recovery Project. This stand is near Tom Martin Peak, on the divide between Scott River and the Klamath River.

Finally, the USFWS letter identifies their concern with the current all or nothing approach taken by the KNF, in which the KNF is demanding that old-growth, clearcut, post-fire LSR logging be tied to other less controversial activities involving public safety, community wildfire protection and forest health projects. The USFWS states: "We are concerned if aspects of salvage logging operations targeted to public safety or forest health improvement are financially underwritten by commercial harvest of on-site timber (i.e., wildlife legacy structure) that would otherwise be retained to meet forest health and wildlife conservation goals. If that is the case with parts of the Westside Project, we recommend that you consider alternative sources of implementation funding that would reduce impacts to forest health and wildlife. We greatly appreciate the budget constraints under which the Forest Service is operating and the need to consider such funding sources. However, we suggest alternative approaches may be more cost effective in the long run given the high level of controversy associated with this project and the potential for costly litigation." 

It appears that USFWS might agree with the many local residents, environmentalists and scientists who oppose the Westside Fire Recovery Project. Post-fire salvage logging does not facilitate recovery in naturally disturbed forests in the Klamath Mountains, nor does it facilitate forest health, fuel reduction or wildlife conservation needs. Northern spotted owls do utilize fire-effected forests, even high severity areas, and the impact of degrading an estimated 70 owl activity centers is unacceptable. Salvage logging significantly impacts northern spotted owl habitat and an illegal "take" of at least one northern spotted owl has already been documented due to salvage logging on private land in the Beaver Fire Area. Promoting damaging, illegal, and controversial timber sales in areas designated for conservation is counterproductive and categorically dishonest. Luckily, the KNF has not approved a record of decision and the project could still be canceled. Contact Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham and ask her to cancel the Westside Project. 

Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham: 

For more detailed information on the Westside Project:  

Buckskin Fire Report: Fully Funded!

The Buckskin Fire Report will explore wildfire, as well as fire suppression impacts, in one of the most unusual wilderness habitats on the west coast: serpentine woodland.

Thanks to our many supporters, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and Klamath Forest Alliance have secured funding for the Buckskin Fire Report, an exploration of wildfire, as well as fire suppression impacts, in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.  The South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area is the largest unprotected wildland in the state of Oregon. Many large streams and wild rivers originate in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and surrounding roadless areas; these streams contain important salmon habitat, unusually high levels of water quality, and high concentrations of rare and/or endemic plants species. 

The area was affected by the 2002 Biscuit Fire and is one of the region's most dramatic fire landscapes. Recent wildfire activity has affected nearly the entire wildland, creating vast fire-adapted habitats. Large swaths of serpentine woodland and forest were burned at high severity during the Biscuit Fire, including portions of Baldface Creek. The 2015 Buckskin Fire reburned through the Baldface Creek area, mostly at low and moderate severity, creating a mixed severity mosaic and maintaining a diverse, resilient forest community.  

Unfortunately, the Forest Service responded to this slow moving fire with brute force, bulldozing many miles of wilderness hiking trail, creating fireline, large helipads, staging areas and denuded safety zones. The agency then backburned large swaths of forest from ridgetop fireline to the canyon of Baldface Creek.

The Buckskin Fire Report will explore the mosaic of this fire and the impact of its suppression. The Buckskin Fire Report will also identify policy reform recommendations and a more restorative approach to wildland fire. Stay tuned for more information on the Buckskin Fire Report.