Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nedsbar Timber Sale: Boaz Mountain Units

The Boaz Mountain Roadless Area is the scenic backdrop for the farms, homesteads, vineyards, and residences in the Upper Applegate Valley.
The red lines outline the units on the western face of Boaz Mountain. Unit 34-30 will be cut with a group selection prescription, and unit 33-30 with a structural retention regeneration harvest. Both will be cut to 40% canopy cover or lower.

The scenic backdrop for the entire lower end of the Upper Applegate Valley, from Eastside Road and Star Ranger Station to McKee Bridge, is the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area. This area, although little visited or known, is cherished by local residents, recreationalists, and tourists visiting the area's vineyards, hiking trails, picinic areas and campgrounds. Very few people know Boaz Mountain by name, but nearly all Applegate Valley visitors and residents enjoy its wild, beautiful character. 

The Boaz Mountain Roadless Area rises from the Applegate River as a mosaic of old forest, pristine oak woodland, chaparral, and tawny grasslands. An unnamed butte, that some locals call Redberry Butte, rises rocky, oak-studded and magnificent from Eastside Road, above many of our most cherished local swimming holes, and up to a low saddle on the western flank of Boaz Mountain. Extending from Boaz Gulch Road to Beaver Creek Road, the roadless wildland provides not just scenic beauty, but also important wildlife habitat, including nesting areas for the northern spotted owl, habitat for the Pacific fisher, and ideal winter range habitat for the large herds of black-tailed deer in the Upper Applegate Valley.  

The area is an important link in the connectivity corridor extending from the Little Applegate Valley to Upper Applegate Valley, tying low elevation valley bottom and foothill habitats into the high mountains of the Siskiyou Crest. This connectivity corridor has been identified by both the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District BLM in the Ecosystem Assessment for the Applegate Adaptive Management Area. Unfortunately, the BLM has proposed two large commercial logging units in the Nedsbar Timber Sale that will impact the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area and the scenic beauty of the Upper Applegate Valley. These units, known as 33-30 and 34-30 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale should be canceled.
 
Unit 33-30 
Open, fire-resilient forest in unit 33-30.

 Old-growth forest in low elevation habitat has become increasingly rare due to industrial logging and development. Very few locations in the Applegate Valley support uncut, old-growth forest directly adjacent to the valley floor. One of these locations is the small rocky butte directly below Boaz Mountain. I call this rocky summit Red Berry Butte due to the presence of a small population of hollyleaf redberry (Rhamnus illicifolia) on it's south and western face. This shrub is common and found throughout the chaparral of California, but it is rare in Oregon, found in only a few locations in the Upper Applegate Valley. This small rocky butte may be the northern extent of this species' range.

On the north slope of Red Berry Butte is a beautiful old-growth stand of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The stand is spacious, open, naturally fire-resilient and it provides important late-seral habitat for species such as the Pacific fisher and northern spotted owl. The stand is also proposed for logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale and has been identified by BLM staff as unit 33-30. The unit is the only "Strucutural Retention Regeneration Harvest" left in the Nedsbar Timber Sale, meaning green tree retention levels will be reduced by logging to 16-25 trees per acre and 30%-40% canopy cover. This treatment is meant to "regenerate" a new cohort of trees, creating a drastic increase in understory ladder fuels. These prescriptions are developed by the agency to "treat" (i.e. log) stands "experiencing deterioration from high stand density levels, insects, disease, or other factors." In this situation, however, the agency has proposed logging in an open, fire-resilient, old-growth stand sustaining low levels of mortality from insects or disease. 

The BLM is proposing to break up this grouping of large, old trees in unit 33-30. The large tree marked yellow in the center would be retained, while the other two trees will be removed. Breaking up this type of late-seral grouping can lead to collateral damage to the leave tree marked for retention. Often the roots of these trees are fused below ground and the branches of the trees interlock, making one composite canopy. Habitat conditions within these groupings are extremely complex, creating high quality, late-seral habitat. The groupings also reflect the historic fire-adapted nature of these forests. The retention of existing large tree groupings contributes to fire resiliency and forest restoration objectives by maintaining historic structural conditions. including groupings of old trees.

Healthy canopy conditions in unit 33-30
The mark in this unit leaves the majority of the big, old trees standing, but some large, old trees are marked for removal. Despite the retention of most of the stand's largest trees, not much forest will remain following the proposed logging treatments. According to information provided by the BLM, only 21 trees will be left per acre in this stand following logging operations. The remaining canopy will be highly fragmented, encouraging the currently open understory to regenerate shrubs, young and highly flammable saplings, and other woody vegetation that will drastically increase fuel loads, fuel laddering, and subsequent fire severity in wildfire events. The proposed logging will also increase the stand's exposure to drying winds and sunlight during fire season, increasing fuel/fire risks to adjacent communities in the most densely populated portion of the Upper Applegate Valley. Other impacts include logging many of the medium-sized, maturing trees in the stand, leaving little green tree recruitment to compensate for mortality in overstory trees and impacting the complex, uneven-aged nature of the stand. 

Unit 33-30 supports old-growth characteristics and many old-growth trees, some over 50" in diameter. Some large snags and a few large downed logs can be found on the forest floor. The removal of large, overstory trees will impede snag and large wood recruitment, impacting habitat values for late-seral species. The majority of the old-growth snags found within the unit will likely be felled by logging crews to facilitate occupational safety standards during helicopter logging operations.

Canopy cover in unit 33-30 is currently 75%-80%. BLM prescriptions propose to reduce canopy cover to 30%-40% while retaining only 21 trees per acre. 

Logging unit 33-30 will impact a rare and unique ancient forest habitat and important wildlife habitat. The proposed logging will increase fuel hazards to adjacent communities, and damage the scenic values of the Upper Applegate Valley, impacting tourism, recreation, property values, and the quality of life for those of us who live here in this beautiful valley.  


Unit 34-30
Unit 34-30 in the Nedsbar Timber Sale includes a series of small clearcuts known as "Group Selection" logging. The trees marked white are proposed for removal. The treatment does not thin stands or reduce density throughout the stand, but instead removes 1/4- to 1/2-acre groves of trees, often with little to no green tree retention. These clearings can be marked on 100' intervals, badly fragmenting the stand and creating openings that are likely to regenerate in dense, highly flammable shrubs, conifer saplings, and stump-sprouting hardwoods.

Unit 34-30 lies on the northwest face of Boaz Mountain, overlooking the entire lower end of the Upper Applegate Valley. The unit lies within the heart of the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area in a mid- to late-seral stand of Douglas fir, madrone, and ponderosa pine. Stand conditions currently consist of relatively closed canopy stands supporting very little understory fuel and only moderate levels of density. At 67 acres the unit is the largest commercial timber sale unit in the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

The BLM has proposed a "Group Selection 40%" logging prescription, meaning they plan to remove groupings of trees of up to 1/2 acre wide, often with little to no green tree retention.  The prescription calls for maintaining at least 40% canopy cover. Openings of up to 1/2 acre can be created on 100' centers, leaving a broken canopy, perforated by small 1/4- to 1/2-acre clearcut patches. According to BLM information, unit 34-30 includes 38 group selection cuts, totaling 10-12 acres of cleared forest. These treatments will greatly increase fuel risks to nearby communities in future years, degrade wildlife habitat for late-seral species, fragment forest habitat, and they will not address forest health needs or concerns. 

The large trees marked with white paint for removal are included in a group selection logging treatment that is removing trees that are likely more than 150 years old. The trees in this photo are nearly 3' in diameter. The area proposed for this group selection cut is relatively open and dominated by large, old trees. 

The groupings of trees proposed for removal include dense groves of young Douglas fir, open, spacious groves of mid-seral Douglas fir, and groupings around old pine trees. Large, fire-resistant trees, from 30" to 36" in diameter are marked for removal, especially in the lower end of the unit. 

The creation of 1/4- to 1/2-acre canopy gaps and the drastic reduction of canopy cover will encourage the regeneration of dense understory fuel in the form of brush, young hardwoods, and highly flammable conifer saplings. The increased understory growth will translate into an increase in fuels in the years following logging treatments. 

A prime example of this shrub response can be found in the forests directly below units 34-30 and 33-30. The forest below was commercially logged in the late 1990s to a similar canopy cover level that the BLM plans for Nedsbar in units 34-30 and 33-30. This adjacent, logged-over forest is now suffering from accelerated overstory mortality and compromised forest health — in other words, the leave trees left behind after logging are dying. 

In this adjacent, previously logged forest, canopy cover reduction has also significantly increased fuel loads by creating logging slash and dense understory growth. This increase in fuels is a direct response to commercial logging treatments conducted nearly twenty years ago. The contrast between these two adjacent stands, where on one side is a forest subjected to logging twenty years ago, and on the other side is an unentered and uncut forest, is night and day, with the logged units unraveling and unhealthy, and the unlogged stands remaining resilient, stable and beautiful. 


Unit 34-30 supports very little understory fuel. The canopy of large, relatively well-spaced trees in substantial portions of the unit have suppressed understory fuels, creating a forest that is resilient to wildfire effects. This picture is taken at the center of a group selection cut and all trees marked with white paint are proposed for removal. 
The condition of forests logged almost twenty years ago by BLM in the Boaz Mountain area. These forest stands are directly adjacent to the photograph above and were logged in the East Side Thin Timber Sale, sold to John West in 1997. The contrast in fuel conditions and overstory mortality levels is pronounced, to say the least. 

Unit 34-30 is identified by BLM as dispersal and roosting/foraging habitat for the northern spotted owl; it is also adjacent to a large stand of old forest that has been identified as nesting habitat for the owl. Unit 34-30, along with the adjacent unit, 33-30, provides important habitat for the northern spotted owl and other sensitive species such as the Pacific fisher. Both species are dependent on lower elevation, old-growth and late-seral forest. The reduction of canopy levels to 40% will provide the absolute minimum canopy cover levels for the northern spotted owl, leaving no flexibility or resiliency of habitat to absorb the inevitable mortality that will follow logging operations, winter storms, drought, wildfire, etc. 

Unit 34-30 should be canceled to protect the values of the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area, it's wildlife habitat, intact forests and scenic vistas.

More work ahead on the Nedsbar Timber Sale

Recently, a group of residents from the Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN), Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA), and the Nedsbar Community Alternative Working Group, met with the BLM to discuss the Nedsbar Timber Sale. In this meeting the BLM announced that they will not consider dropping any of the controversial timber sale units from Nedsbar Alternative 4, currently identified as the "Proposed Action." The BLM has thrown up significant barriers to effective collaboration by refusing to address the needs of our forests, wildlands, and the surrounding community. Local volunteers have poured over 1500 hours into this collaboration with the BLM in an attempt to promote a more sustainable and environmentally responsible alternative to the Nedsbar Timber Sale. We have also worked to cancel these controversial timber sale units through dialogue, science and collaboration. 

Unfortunately, our work is not done. The BLM apparently still intends to propose largely the same irresponsible timber sale, with the same unacceptable network of new roads, old-growth and late-seral logging units, impacts to northern spotted owl habitat. roadless wildlands and proposed Back Country Primitive Areas. 

Our wildlands, our habitat, our valley, our watershed, and the scenic backdrop for many rural residential properties is under threat. We have more marked units to review, more communities to organize, more public hikes to lead, BLM field trips, meetings, comment periods, and if necessary appeals, and litigation ahead. Please support our work. Consider making a donation to Klamath Forest Alliance, join us at BLM field trips and meetings as well as in our community monitoring efforts. We need your help.
Stop Nedsbar!

No comments:

Post a Comment