Friday, May 6, 2016

Applegate Valley Wildlands Threatened by BLM's Proposed RMP

A view from the beautiful upland prairie near the summit of Wellington Butte in the Wellington Lands With Wilderness Characteristics (LWC)
The BLM recently released its Proposed Resource Managment Plan (PRMP). The plan is a template for public land management throughout BLM lands in Western Oregon. Like its former incarnation, the WOPR, the PRMP proposes to drastically increase timber production. The increased logging would include an emphasis on clear-cut logging in the moist forests of the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, and heavy thinning in dry forests in the Siskiyous and southwestern Oregon. Heavily influenced by the timber industry and Association for O&C Counties, the PRMP will maximize timber production throughout the state, while significantly impacting other important natural resources and local communities.

In southern Oregon's Applegate Valley the BLM is proposing to manage large portions of the dry, eastern portions of the Applegate watershed for timber production. The proposed timber production will increase fuel hazards, impact forest health and further degrade northern spotted owl habitat already compromised by recent BLM logging. Numerous areas loved by local residents and heavily utilized for recreation will be managed for increased timber production in the PRMP. The impacts will be severe and should be opposed by all who love these important BLM lands.

Most troubling to members of the Applegate Valley community is the proposed logging and roadbuildiing in the Dakubetede and Wellington Butte Roadless Areas. These areas were inventoried by the BLM in 2013 and identified as "Lands with Wilderness Characteristics" (LWC). The Dakubetede LWC and Wellington LWC were designated by the BLM to recognize significant intact ecosystems and opportunities for solitude in unroaded wildlands. Both areas are loved by the adjacent communities in the Applegate Valley. Due to the wild nature of these areas, yet the relative accessibility, they are also heavily utilized for non-motorized and quiet recreation. 


A view from Goat Cabin Ridge across the Dakubetede LWC. The vast majority of the Dakubetede LWC consists of grasslands, chaparral, and oak woodland — this is not timber country.
In the PRMP, the BLM has proposed to include 1,995 forested acres within the boundaries of these LWCs as part of the "harvest land base." This 1,995 acres represents 18% of the 10,811 unroaded acres in the Dakubetede and Wellington LWCs. Both areas are dominated by non-forest plant communities, including hardwood forests, shrublands, oak woodland, and sweeping upland prairie.

Although much of this forested acreage is remote, arid and relatively unproductive, in terms of timber, the BLM has decided that this small amount of forested habitat is too much to pass up, and they are using this as justification to remove LWC designation in both areas. This will open our cherished wildlands to logging, roadbuilding, and OHV use. According to the PRMP, "management actions [i.e. logging] would degrade wilderness characteristics over time, and eventually, wilderness characteristics will be lost."

This loss of wilderness characteristics will turn our currently remote, unroaded and intact wildland habitats into stump fields, marred by roads and OHV trails. This degradation of important habitat will impact the scenic values of the Applegate Valley, diminish our quality of life and the quality of recreational opportunities these areas provide. Both the Dakubetede and Wellington LWCs are heavily utilized by local Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley residents for recreation and solitude.

The very popular State Scenic Trail, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, traverses the Dakubetede LWC, cutting through the heart of the wildlands. The proposed Jack-Ash Trail, which would connect the towns of Jacksonville, Oregon and Ashland, Oregon, will run through the Dakubetede LWC's northern boundary. The trail will provide an important, accessible, non-motorized trail within a short drive from local population centers. Local residents and tourists alike will utilize this beautiful trail system. It has quickly become a regional hotspot for recreation and a refuge from the growing urban areas around Medford and Ashland. 


Birch Creek is located at the center of the Dakubetede LWC.
Just as BLM's approval of the Jack-Ash Trail is beginning — with small sections proposed to be built this fall — the BLM is threatening to remove the area's LWC protections, degrade its wilderness quality, and log one of its scenic highlights on Bald Mountain in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, Jack-Ash Trail and Dakubetede LWC are under threat and must be protected. The hard work of our community should not be squandered building trails through stump fields.

In the Dakubetede only 499 acres of scattered and extremely dry forest can be found within a matrix of brush, oak, and beautiful grassland. The timber is isolated in small pockets and has never been logged. To remove this timber the area would either need to be helicopter logged — which is likely to be uneconomical — or a vast road system would have to be built across the currently roadless slopes, bulldozing a path from one small, isolated forest stand to the next. The results would be disastrous, unsustainable and the economic benefit not worth the impacts. In fact, the economic benefit of this region is the ecosystem services it provides, the scenic vistas, wildlife habitat, rare plant habitats, and the unparalleled recreation it provides. Today, non-motorized outdoor recreation provides 2.1 billion dollars to the economy of Oregon.


A complex mixture of upland prairie, oak woodland, chaparral and conifer forest in the Wellington LWC.

The Wellington LWC lies northwest of Ruch, Oregon. The area is covered in chaparral, oak woodland, large upland prairies and two isolated canyons with groves of old-growth timber that survived the great fires of the 1930s. These fires burned in the brushy hills between Grants Pass, Oregon and Jacksonville, Oregon, burning large swaths of the landscape. The mosaic of vegetation recovering from those fires in the area is complex, varied and highly diverse.

The Applegate Trails Assoication has proposed a 40-mile, long distance trail that would traverse this long, brushy ridge between Grants Pass and Jacksonville. The Applegate Ridge Trail would connect the two towns, traverse the Wellington LWC and connect with the Jack-Ash Trail to create an 80-mile, non-motorized trail between Ashland, Oregon and Grants Pass, Oregon. The idea is visionary and would provide a connection between communities and our local wildlands  It will also provide important habitat for wildlife and solitude for humans — an escape from the busy, urban world in the valleys below.


Scattered old timber can be found in the drainages and on north slopes in the Wellington LWC.

Unfortunatley, the scattered 1,500 acres of timber in the Wellington LWC is too much for the BLM to resist. Instead of protecting this important island of intact habitat, the BLM has identified the forests of the Wellington LWC for commercial logging and associated road building. According to the BLM, after excluding the forested acreage,"Identified lands with wilderness characteristics within the Dakubetede and Wellington units would drop below the 5,000 acre minimum size requirement under the proposed RMP, and therefore the entire units would not be allocated to the District Defined Reserve-Lands with Wilderness Characteristics."

Low-elevation wildland habitat is increasingly rare, and wildland habitat in close proximity to our growing urban communities is increasingly important to those who live in the region. Together the timber in both the Dakubetede and Wellington LWC constitutes 1/10 of 1% of the proposed "harvest land base" in the PRMP. Surely this small sliver of the harvest land base could be sacrificed for the benefit of the whole.

The Dakubetede and Wellington LWCs are too important to lose, but they are also a small portion of what we will lose if BLM approves the PRMP. Please contact your local state representatives, senators, congressman and BLM officials. Write letters to the editor, organize an event, or if you commented on the original DEIS for this project, consider writing an official protest letter. The future of our wildlands in southern Oregon, as well as our forests across the state of Oregon are at risk.


A view across Long Gulch in the Wellington LWC.
To write an official protest letter of the BLM's PRMP follow these instructions. Official protest letters must be submitted before May 15th. Time is running out!

Also consider supporting the Applegate Trails Association Kickstarter, so we can highlight the beauty and recreational benefits of the Applegate Ridge Trail, as well as the Dakubetede and Wellington LWCs. ATA board members intend to thru-hike the Jack-Ash and Applegate Ridge Trails this spring and make a documentary film advocating for the trails and the wildlands that surround them. The time is ripe to highlight their beauty and the benefits they provide to the local communities in the Applegate and Rogue Valleys.

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