Thursday, October 19, 2017

Burnt Peak Fire: Mixed-Severity Fire in the Applegate Foothills

The Burnt Peak Fire backed down the slopes of the Collings-Kinney Roadless Area into the Upper Applegate Valley.
I recently hiked the Burnt Peak Fire in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. The fire burned mostly within the Collings-Kinney Roadless Area in a rugged knot of mountains colonized by dense conifer forest, chaparral, live oak woodlands and deciduous oak habitats. The fire burned to the banks of Kinney and Palmer Creeks in the Upper Applegate Valley.

The Burnt Peak Fire started on August 14, 2017 high on the slopes of Burnt Peak, a summit of scrub brush and forest dividing Carberry Creek from the Upper Applegate Valley. Despite burning in the heat of summer and through heavy fuel, the fire backed down the slopes of Kinney and Palmer Creek, at mixed severity. Heavy smoke inversions and moderate weather conditions kept the fire cool in most of the fire area. The majority of the fire burned in the understory of mixed conifer forest dominated by Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, madrone and live oak. 
An understory burn in the Kinney Creek canyon.
In the Kinney and Palmer Creek canyons the fire burned at low severity beneath large, old fir and maple. It crept to the banks of the streams burning undergrowth. Snags and trees undermined by fire crashed to the forest floor and crossed the streams, stabilizing stream banks, holding moisture and creating pools in these small, fish-bearing streams. The Burnt Peak fire deposited a significant amount of large woody debris in the streams, showing that fires can help create better fish habitat.

The south-facing slope above Kinney Creek after the fire.
Higher on the slopes the fire was mixed, burning some locations at high, low and moderate severity. On the most exposed and rocky slopes stands of stump-sprouting live oak grow among thickets of knobcone pine and greenleaf manzanita. These stands are the remnants of hot, stand-replacing fires that burned between 1854 and 1917. They are fire dependent plant communities requiring periodic stand-replacing fire to persist and regenerate.

Still higher on the southern face of Burnt Peak, dense thickets of post oak, live oak, birchleaf mountain mahogany and silk tassel grow adjacent to small grassy clearings filled with rabbitbrush and laced in tufts of jagged bedrock. The dense brushy thickets burned off, while the fireline built by fire suppression crews stopped the fire just short of the small grassy clearings.
A view from near the summit of Burnt Peak looking across the Burnt Peak Fire in the foreground to the still burning Abney Fire in the background.

In the distance, the Abney Fire still burned on the northern face of the Siskiyou Crest, just below the Pacific Crest Trail, pouring smoke into the valley below. This summer the forests of the Applegate, from the foothills to the spine of the Siskiyou Crest burned, leaving a legacy of soot, snags, and fire-adapted forest habitats. 

After a long summer of smoke filled skies, we have received the blessing of natural, characteristic fire. Our forests have been fertilized with rich mineral ash and armored with nature's fuel reduction. Our wildlife will feast on the new grass and fresh woody shoots sprouting from burned off hardwoods and chaparral. Hollows burned in large, old-growth trees will become protection for the winter's slumbering bears or natal dens for the Pacific fisher. Fire-scorched snags will both feed and house generations of woodpeckers and songbirds. Rich fields of flowering plants will carpet the now black, burned soil, providing better habitat for many pollinators such as hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees next spring.

Fire is a natural process, as much a part of the Applegate Valley as the acorns on the oak trees, the salmon in our streams and the towering pine trees. The return of fire brings renewal and life to a landscape intentionally starved of fires for decades. The rejuvenation has already begun, transforming the white ash into green, verdant re-growth. 

Low-severity fire in Kinney Creek.

The Burnt Peak Fire allowed the long-suppressed natural process of fire to once again create a multitude of ecological benefits. The forests of the Siskiyou Mountains are well adapted to wildfire and the effects of the Burnt Peak Fire were both characteristic and beneficial. 

The Burnt Peak Fire demonstrates that many forests, just like those on Kinney and Palmer Creek can sustain healthy, mixed-severity fire, despite decades of fire suppression. The current rhetoric of catastrophic fire is a false narrative based more on fear than reality. When you actually walk and explore contemporary wildfires in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains you will find more renewal than destruction and more life than death. These fires are not destroying our forests, they are making them wild and whole again.
Forests just like this can be found all across the Applegate watershed and are often targeted for commercial thinning by federal land management agencies. We are told that the stand density, fuel loading and species composition makes these stands highly susceptible to uncharacteristic fire effects. We are also told that we must chose to either log these forests, or lose them to high-severity fire. Yet each summer thousands of acres, just like this, burn at low-severity all across our region. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

2017 Creedence Fire: The Smoke has cleared on Grayback Mountain

A view into the headwaters of O'Brien Creek from Grayback Mountain. Both sides of O'Brien Creek Meadows and the forested ridge to the right underburned in the Creedence Fire, leaving a rich, green forest canopy.
The Creedence Fire began with a strike of lightning on August 14, 2017 and burned in the back-country surrounding Grayback Mountain and the Kangaroo Roadless Area. Two fires were ignited, one on the lower slope of Bigelow Creek, and another high on the ridge near O'Brien Creek Meadows in the Grayback Mountain Botanical Area, at the headwaters of Carberry Creek. The two fires later merged to become the Creedence Fire, the westernmost fire in the Miller Complex.

Grayback Mountain is one of the Applegate Valley's most iconic and well-loved landscapes, rising to 7,048' above Thompson Creek, Carberry Creek and the Williams Valley. The forests, meadows, and wilderness-quality landscapes surrounding Grayback Mountain are cherished by hikers, wildflower enthusiasts, and various outdoor recreationists for their beauty and ecological integrity. Grayback Mountain is also a major watershed divide between the Applegate River and Illinois River watersheds. 

A beautiful underburn in white fir forest on the southwest flank of Grayback Mountain, in the Kangaroo Roadless Area.

The Creedence Fire burned 2,093 acres on both sides of the divide, including portions of O'Brien Creek and the Sturgis Fork of Carberry Creek, as well as Little Creek, a tributary of the Illinois River.  

Fire severity in the Creedence Fire was extremely minimal, with the vast majority of the fire burning at low severity. Forests of varying ages, compositions, stand densities, fuel profiles and structural conditions burned at low severity. Nearly all the old, fire-resistant forest in the Creedence Fire burned in the understory, clearing fuel and maintaining canopy conditions. Where high-severity fire did occur, it did so in ecosystems where high-severity fire is both healthy and beneficial, such as montane chaparral, knobcone pine and fire-mediated hardwood stands. These plant communities are dependent on high-severity fire and do not build natural fire resistance. Instead, these habitats are resilient to high-severity fire and respond with increased vigor and significant regeneration.

Fire severity in the Creedence Fire was heavily influenced by atmospheric inversions, favorable local weather patterns and slope aspect, with south-facing slopes sustaining higher fire severity. Pre-fire vegetation patterns also played a role in shaping the mosaic, but fuel loading and stand density had little influence on fire effects.
Species such as knobcone pine depend on stand-replacing fire for regeneration. Periodic high-severity fire promotes vigor, regeneration and renewal in the montane chaparral and knobcone pine plant community.
Recently, the Forest Service lifted a few of its fire related road closures, allowing access to much of Sturgis Creek. Currently, O'Brien Creek Road and the O'Brien Creek Trail are not open for public use and the Grayback Mountain Trail on adjacent BLM land is also temporarily closed. Although the roads and trails are closed, the area is open to rugged, cross-country hiking. A few mornings ago I drove up Sturgis Creek to check things out. 

I parked at the southeast corner of the fire near the banks of Sturgis Creek at about 3,200'. I started up the steep, south-facing slope, first in plantation forest, then into the Kangaroo Roadless Area. 

Dense stands of chinquapin, madrone and live oak grew from rocky slopes along with widely scattered old-growth fir. The massive old fir grow as isolated individuals among the vast groves of hardwood trees. The fire in this portion is mixed, but the large old conifers have mostly survived.

Green leaf manzanita burls.
As I climbed onto increasingly steep, dry, rocky and exposed slopes, the character of the fire changed. The fire ran through the greenleaf manzanita, young live oak, chinquapin, massive, wide-branching knobcone pine, and scattered populations of maturing ponderosa pine and Douglas fir at high severity. 

Although small patches of forest remain, the southwest-facing slope has mostly burned off, leaving the charred root burls of stump-sprouting greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphlyos patula) and the ghostly, scorched-off snags of conifer trees. The odd looking manzanita burls store abundant energy in their bulging root crowns, and the energy is utilized following high-severity fire. The shrubs will sprout back from the charred, black burls. Although not dominant within the stand, a significant population of relatively old knobcone pine burned in the fire, leaving distinctive snags, their branches lined in fire-opened seed cones. 

Chinquapin resprouting weeks after the fire.
To some, the effects of the high-severity portion of the Creedence Fire may appear catastrophic, but for this ecosystem fire represents renewal. The manzanita, live oak and chinquapin will resprout; in fact, the chinquapin has already burst back to life with the fresh green shoots of a new tree, no more than a few weeks after the fire swept through this stand. Knobcone pine is a serotinous species, meaning the heat of fire, especially stand-replacing fire is required to open the resin-sealed pine cone, releasing the seeds and triggering germination. High-severity fire is required for regeneration and renewal in the montane chaparral and knobcone pine plant community that dominates the slope. The Creedence Fire blackened the slope in this particular spot, and in doing so will reinvigorate this specific habitat type, maintaining biodiversity on the landscape. 
The big forested ridge in the foreground underburned in the Creedence Fire. To the untrained eye one would hardly notice. The vast underburn provided fuel reduction, recycled nutrition and restored the natural fire process to these long unburned, old-growth forests in the Kangaroo Roadless Area.

When I reached the ridgeline above the fire seems to have slowed, burning in a mosaic pattern. The fire thinned the Douglas fir, white fir and ponderosa pine groves, clearing understory fuels and recycling nutrition. The vast majority of the stand's largest trees, including ponderosa pine up to 6' in diameter, survived the fire. The north slope dropping into O'Brien Creek burned at low severity, beneath massive, old fir trees. Climbing the ridge, the underburn continued through a variety of stand types dominated by white fir. 

Still climbing upward, I finally broke out of the forest and into open manzanita fields, speckled in symmetrical young fir, some bronze and scorched, while others remain green, vibrant and unscathed. Broad views extend to the south and east. The Abney Fire billowed in the distance, pouring smoke across the jumbled ridges and rugged canyons of the Siskiyou Mountains. 
The green forests and wet meadows in upper O'Brien Creek burned only at the margins. A few stringers of trees were burned in the rocky outcrops, and patches of brush burned in the rocks. For the most part very little has changed on Grayback Mountain.

The rocky ledges offer protection to fire sensitive mountain hemlock then drop into the headwaters of O'Brien Creek, a lush green band of meadow below the rocky summit of Grayback Mountain. Although the fire burned on either side of the meadows, the wet meadow habitat created a barrier for the Creedence Fire and moderated fire severity even further.

As I climbed the ridge towards the summit of Grayback Mountain, the fire burned in a patchy mosaic, torching off patches of manzanita and groupings of windswept fir. The fire burned around, but did not consume the small, disjunct population of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) about halfway to the summit. The small, sparse bench of crushed granite provided a fuel brake, protecting the bitterbrush.

As I climbed towards the summit a misty rain fell and clouds swirled around the surrounding canyons. After a few hours of hard hiking and nearly 4,000' vertical feet, I reached the jumbled mound of white granite boulders at the mountain's 7,048' summit and suddenly the sky cleared. 
A view southeast across the Kangaroo Roadless Area and the Creedence Fire from just below the summit of Grayback Mountain.

I looked out across the Siskiyou Mountains and thought of the political firestorm still raging as the wildfires of 2017 smolder and burn themselves out. I thought of how these natural, unavoidable events are exploited and manipulated to create fear, that in turn feeds political and economic interests. Wildfire, is just that, wild and largely uncontrollable. It exists outside the realm of politics and has no concern for the controversy it creates. It is a natural phenomenon existing in an largely unnatural world. 

Despite the claims of catastrophic fire and devastation, the mountains remain cloaked in a rich green veil of forest, albeit streaked and spotted in the reddish hues of fire-scorched trees. These are fire dependent, fire-adapted systems whose health and vibrancy is intimately tied to a random streak of lightning, an electrical pulse of energy, heat, and finally flame. The diversified forests of the Siskiyou Mountains were born in fire and have been shaped by its influence for millennia. 

The heavily forested ridge in the foreground drains into Little Creek, a roadless tributary of Grayback Creek. The ridgeline and the drainage below burned in the Creedence Fire as a vast, low-intensity underburn.
Now that the smoke has cleared and the fall rains have moistened the dry summer air and sun-baked fuels, we can see through the haze and past the fear. When I looked out across the mountains I felt no regret or sorrow for what was lost, instead I saw a familiar, decidedly functional landscape, undergoing transformation and change. 

In the Applegate watershed, much was gained. Fire was restored to over 37,000 acres, and in some of the most intact habitats in our region. It is my hope that through these fires our forests have become more diverse and fire-adapted. It is also my hope that our human communities can adapt and evolve to embrace this raw elemental force and celebrate the beauty of fire's influence. We must learn to live with fire. It is a vital natural process, with the power to shape our landscape and the ability to capture our minds.

Fire can be destructive in a sense, but like nature's phoenix, it brings renewal. May that renewal continue, both on the landscape and in our collective minds. Fire is a part of life in the Siskiyou Mountains, it is as natural as the wind and rain. As a society we must find ways to embrace and appreciate the role fire plays. 
From the Creedence Fire looking south across Sturgis Creek to Steve Peak. Let us celebrate the beauty of nature's phoenix.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

2017 Wallow Fire: Fire Effects in the Marble Mountains Wilderness


A view across the Wallow Fire in the North Fork of the Salmon River from the Pacific Crest Trail in the Marble Mountain Wilderness.


Since 2012 the Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports have been documenting the effects of wildfires occurring throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou region. We ground-truth and document fire suppression actions and their environmental impacts. We are the only organization getting out on the ground and into the heart of the fires, writing detailed reports about how they burned and how fire suppression actions are impacting the wild places we love.

Our 2017 field season is in full swing. This week we hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Etna Summit and down into the North Fork of the Salmon River into the Wallow Fire, part of the Salmon August Complex. The Wallow Fire burned primarily in the Marble Mountains Wilderness and its surrounding roadless areas. The video below demonstrates the fire effects as seen from the PCT in between Etna Summit and Shelly Meadows. All closures have been lifted in the Marble Mountains and now is a great time to get out and see the fire effects firsthand.

As emergency closure areas are lifted and we can get into remote fire areas, Klamath Forest Alliance will hike the fires, hike the firelines and conduct detailed analysis of fire suppression actions. Part of the analysis also includes a lot of time devoted to scouring over agency documents and fire maps. This important work helps inform the broader discussion regarding fire effects and forest management in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and the need to reform fire suppression actions.

Donate to the Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports and support detailed analysis of wildfires in the Klamath-Siskiyou! Please indicate your donation is intended for the Fire Reports.

This photo of lower Shelly Meadows, at the headwaters of the North Fork Salmon River, in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, shows how the fire stopped at the meadow's edge. Upper Shelly Meadows supports a rare southern population of subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). Despite some high-severity fire effects in the surrounding forest, the wet meadow habitat where the subalpine fir grows remained unburned.


A view east from the Pacific Crest Trail looking down the Mill Creek watershed in the Mill Creek Roadless Area.  
A natural firebreak on the rocky ridge dropping into Kidder Creek, near Martin and Fisher Lakes on the PCT. Notice how the fire burned up the south-facing slope in montane chapparal, yet the fire sensitive Brewer's spruce on the north-facing slope were either unburned or burned at very low severity.

The high elevation forests of the Marble Mountains are adapted to mixed-severity fire. The true fir stands often burn in a complex mosaic of high, low and moderate-severity fire.  
Fire effects in the Wallow Fire, part of the Salmon August Complex, as seen from the PCT on September 26, 2017. 


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Victory for the Siskiyou Crest! Old-growth Logging near Condrey Mountain Canceled.

These vibrant post-fire landscapes will no longer be subjected to clear-cut, post-fire logging as proposed in the Horse Creek Project.
Following the Gap Fire on the Klamath River, the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA), Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN), Siskiyou Crest Blog and other conservation partners joined together in opposition to post-fire logging on the Siskiyou Crest. The Klamath National Forest (KNF) had proposed post-fire logging on the slopes of the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain.  The proposed logging units were located in upper Buckhorn and Middle Creek adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area, the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and the Pacific Crest Trail.

KFA and EPIC responded by publishing the Gap Fire Report, documenting the cumulative impact of fire suppression activities in the Gap Fire. KFA and ANN also played a vital role by monitoring the proposed post-fire logging units. We were the only conservation organizations to conduct detailed, unit by unit monitoring of post-fire logging units on the Siskiyou Crest. We hiked the units, documented the quality of habitat and natural burn mosaic, identified the likely ecological impacts of post-fire logging, and incorporated these observations into our administrative objections. We also publicized our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog.


The work of KFA has helped to protect the wild forests of the Siskiyou Crest.
In response to our advocacy and that of our conservation allies, the Klamath National Forest has canceled 450 acres of the most controversial and damaging units in the timber sale including all 14 units proposed on the Siskiyou Crest. The Klamath National Forest has also agreed to amend their decision and will now drop two miles of new road construction, retain all snags over 45" diameter, commit to prescribed fire and timely fuel treatments adjacent to the community of Horse Creek and work with the Karuk Tribe to manage post fire re-vegetation projects and eliminate plantation development.

We all have reason to celebrate a victory for the Siskiyou Crest because the wild forests near Condrey Mountain will remain unaltered by clear-cut, post-fire logging; however we must also prepare to defend more fire affected forest from being converted to tree plantations. Many wildfires burned throughout our region this summer and this fall, the Forest Service will no doubt be planning more post-fire logging projects. Please consider making a donation to KFA and support our work as we assess the seasons wildfires and oppose the nearly inevitable post-fire logging proposals. Our field work can again contribute to the protection of wildplaces in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

Complex, snag forest habitat will develop into complex early seral habitat supporting an abundance of flowering plants, woody shrubs and young trees. The post-fire landscape, if left undisturbed, can support incredible biodiversity and highly productive wildlife habitat. The snag habitat in this photographs was proposed for road construction and clear-cut logging, it will instead remain unlogged.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Wildfire in the Siskiyou Mountains: The Miller Complex, the Siskiyou Crest and the Upper Applegate

The Cook Fire smoldering in the old-growth forests of the Kangaroo Roadless Area on August 16, two days after ignition.

Wildfires have been burning all across our region. In the Klamath Mountains, south of the Klamath River, fires are burning in the Marble Mountains, up the Salmon River, along the Klamath River, in the Siskiyou Wilderness and in the mountains above Happy Camp and Seiad Valley, California. The Chetco Bar Fire has been burning all summer in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and along the Chetco River. In the southern Cascade Mountains from the North Umpqua, the Rogue Umpqua Divide, and on to Crater Lake fires are burning.

On August 14, 2017 a large thunderstorm drifted into the canyons of the Upper Applegate River. Hung up on the steep ridges, the storm poured rain while thunder and lightening crashed throughout the maze of canyons and peaks surrounding the Siskiyou Crest. 

Twenty-four small fires were lit that evening as lightening touched down into receptive fuel beds. Despite the heavy rain, many of these fire smoldered and crept into forest duff and understory vegetation. Some of the fires extinguished themselves, others were suppressed by firefighting crews. In all, five small fires remained in the wildlands of the Upper Applegate. These included the Abney Fire, Burnt Peak Fire, Seattle Fire, Creedence Fire, and Cook Fire. 
 
The Seattle Fire burning above the Middle Fork of the Applegate River

The Abney and Cook Fires were initially ignited in the Middle Fork of the Applegate River in the Kangaroo Roadless Area. The Creedence Fire was located near Grayback Mountain, also in the Kangaroo Roadless Area, above Carberry Creek. The Burnt Peak Fire began near Burnt Peak in the Collings-Kinney Roadless Area, while the Seattle Fire burned in unroaded old-growth forest near Stricklin Butte, directly above Applegate Reservoir.

The terrain in which the fires were burning was simply too dangerous to conduct on-the-ground firefighting operations. Boulders and massive old snags fell abundantly on the steep slopes covered in old-growth timber. Crews were pulled out for safety reasons and an indirect approach was taken. This provided the fires some room to grow, with suppression and management to steer the fires from important resources, including homes and private property. Given the resources at risk, the nature of the creeping fire, the rugged terrain, and the resources available, crews did their best to monitor and "loose herd" the fire away from homes and down to safe and effective firelines in the canyon bottoms.

It has not been the severity of the fire that has hampered suppression operations, limiting containment, instead it has been the remote and rugged location of the fires. For numerous days the fires grew, but grew very slowly. Crews prepared the roads below the fires and in the case of the Creedence, Seattle, and Burnt Peak Fires, built fireline as well.
By August 18, the Abney Fire had reached the summit of Windy Peak on the watershed divide between the the Middle Fork of the Applegate River and Elliott Creek.

On August 18, the Abney Fire, Burnt Peak Fire, Seattle Fire and Creedence Fire all saw increased fire activity and made small runs. A heavy inversion of smoke has since covered much of the fire, smothering the canyons in smoke, limiting direct sunlight, reducing temperatures, trapping humidity, and moderating fire severity. 

The fires, although resisting containment in this steep, inaccessible country, have not raced across containment lines, they have gradually grown through low-severity backing fire, roll-out and short uphill runs. The Abney Fire crept into the Elliott Creek, Joe Creek and Middle Fork canyons from the ridges above. The Seattle Fire backed into Applegate Reservoir. The Burnt Peak Fire continued east towards Upper Applegate, and the Creedence Fire dropped into O'Brien Creek. 
 
The Seattle Fire burning on the evening of August 18 above Seattle Bar and Applegate Reservoir.

To their credit, local Forest Service staff have been working hard to minimize the cumulative impact of suppressing these natural, mixed-severity fires. Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) have been providing a heavy dose of encouragement and supporting fire crews as long as they are protecting homes, property, ecological and wilderness values. We have also worked hard to inform the community and increase the public's understanding of fire as both an ecological process and a reality of life. We are following the fires, tracking suppression activities and engaging with both agency staff and fire officials to reduce impacts while effectively protecting our community from the real and imminent threat of wildfire. 

Despite our efforts, two unauthorized bulldozer lines, not approved by local Forest Service staff, were built by suppression crews. One in the Kangaroo Roadless Area to contain the creeping Creedence Fire, and another on Bear Wallow Ridge at the edge of the Abney Fire near Stricklin Butte.
The Abney Fire burns into Joe Bar in the Elliott Creek canyon.

On August 28, the Abney Fire backed at low-severity into the Elliott Creek canyon southwest of Joe Bar, a tiny community surrounded by national forest lands. Fire crews utilized responsible firing operations to protect the community and maintain low to moderate severity effects. No homes were lost. 

Meanwhile, the Abney Fire also burned into higher elevation terrain at its southern perimeter and finally broke through the persistent inversion layer. Here, the fire found some oxygen and went for a run up the west slope of Nabob Ridge and into the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. I watched from my home as the fire danced across the ridgeline that night, throwing flames high into the sky.
 
Understory fire burning in old-growth forest at the confluence of Joe Creek and Elliott Creek.

Since this time, the Abney Fire has for all practical purposes been two separate fires: one burning above the inversion in active fire weather, and one burning below the inversion in the cool, moist canyons. In the drafty high country the fire has been more active and will likely be more of a mixed-severity fire, with at least some high-severity effects. Below the inversion the fire is cool and slow, burning mostly beneath the canopy at low severity.

By September 2, the Burnt Peak Fire had begun backing slowly into the Upper Applegate Valley, with the aid of well-placed burnout operations around Palmer and Kinney Creek. The weather and terrain cooperated making the operation smooth and effective. No homes were lost and the fire was low-severity as it backed down the slopes to Palmer Creek Road. 

The Burnt Peak and Creedence Fire are now mostly lined and nearly out, with crews still patrolling the edges. By all accounts the fires were mostly low- and moderate-severity fires with positive ecological effects. 
 
Low-severity fire backing into the Upper Applegate Valley near Palmer Creek Road.

Also on September 2, the Abney Fire crossed the Siskiyou Crest becoming established above the community of Seiad Valley on the Klamath River. The Klamath National Forest is now responsible for the southern portion of the Abney Fire. They have reportedly conducted several high-intensity burnouts on the Siskiyou Crest, unsuccessfully attempting to keep the fire from crossing the ridge.

The fire is now backing towards the Seiad Valley community from Copper Butte and Cook and Green Pass. The Abney Fire is also heading east into Dutch Creek at the heart of the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. Fire crews are building fireline below Scraggy Mountain. Fire officials originally proposed a long bulldozed fireline through the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area to the dramatic base of Scraggy Mountain. The Forest Service, with encouragement from ANN and KFA, has reconsidered and is instead building handline through the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and other sensitive habitats in the Dutch Creek area.

The Abney Fire has also merged with the Seattle Fire and together they are slowly walking up the Middle Fork of the Applegate River and into the Butte Fork of the Applegate at the heart of the Red Buttes Wilderness. Currently the fire is hung up on Echo Creek, but has burned up to the Siskiyou Crest, over Cook and Green Butte and into the fire-dependent Baker's cypress groves on West Fork Seiad Creek. It is also burning up towards Whisky Peak and its unusual, fire-sensitive Alaska Yellow Cedar stands.
Low-severity fire in the Elliott Creek Canyon.

In the meantime, the Klamath National Forest has been managing the Cedar Fire, burning in upper Thompson Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River. The area is spectacular, unroaded, old-growth forest in the Kangaroo Roadless Area. It has been burning slowly up to the flanks of Pyramid Peak and Figurehead Mountain in the Red Buttes Wilderness for some time. 

On September 3, the Cedar Fire spotted far ahead of the line and further into the Red Buttes Wilderness, igniting fires near Mount Emily that are now burning into the Middle Fork of the Applegate River towards the Abney Fire downstream. Mount Emily also supports the rare Alaska yellow cedar. 

The Cedar Fire has also become established in the Upper Middle Fork near Phantom Meadows and in the headwaters of the Steve Fork. It is possible that the Cedar Fire could merge with the Abney Fire, burning nearly the entire Red Buttes Wilderness and much of the Upper Applegate in one large, mixed-severity fire.

The fires have burned mostly in roadless wildlands, amid intact native forest and woodland habitats. Benefiting from the smokey inversion and fighting the steep rocky slopes as they backed into the canyons below, they have burned at largely low to moderate severity, creating a natural mosaic of fire. The fires are reducing fuels, recycling nutrition, naturally thinning our forests, and doing good ecological work.

Low-severity fire burning in mixed conifer forest in the Elliott Creek canyon.

The fires have burned over 18,000 acres. We currently do not know how these fires have burned in the backcountry. We have yet to see the effects. We also do not know how they will burn in the future, as the fires continue to smolder, burn or even rage into the fall. What we do know is that they are likely to burn until fall rains drench our forests and douse the flames. 

It is also still unclear how the impacts associated with aggressive fire suppression will damage our wildlands. ANN and KFA will be joining together to explore the Miller Complex Fire and answer those questions with a Miller Complex Fire Report. 

KFA is also tracking wildfires in Northern California with our ongoing Klamath Fire Reports. We intend to document the benefits of wildfire in our region, the actual severity and mosaic of these fires and the impact of industrialized, overly aggressive fire suppression. In these reports we analyze local wildfires and local fire suppression activities, while advocating for region-wide reform of fire suppression policy. Please consider supporting the Klamath Fire Reports by making a donation to Klamath Forest Alliance and make a note to support the Klamath Fire Reports.


Friday, July 28, 2017

The Pickett West Timber Sale: Old-Growth Logging Disguised as "Restoration"


Old-growth forest in unit 3-11 is targeted for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The stand is an important remnant habitat providing connectivity in a highly altered watershed. Thompson Creek is heavily fragmented by clearcut logging and simplified plantations stands. Unit 3-11 is located adjacent to widespread plantation management and provides a necessary corridor of old forest habitat. The tree with the pink flag around its trunk supports an active Red Tree Vole nest, an important food source for the Northern spotted owl.
The Pickett West Timber Sale is perhaps the worst old-growth logging project proposed by the BLM in southern Oregon for many years. The project is proposing to log some of the last remnants of old forest surrounding the communities of Selma, Merlin, Galice, Wilderville, Murphy and North Applegate. The Pickett West Timber Sale also proposes significant logging in tributaries of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River between Grants Pass and Graves Creek.


The band of late successional forest at the center of the photograph is units 3-9 and 3-11. The high brushy summit is Kerby Peak.
Despite standing above our homes and communities very few have visited these last intact forests, now targeted by the BLM for logging. They are not the iconic wilderness landscapes of the west, instead they are the backdrop to our communities. They also represent the charm and beauty that is bringing people to our region. They are the last fragments of natural, fire resilient, old forest in our rural communities; they are salmon streams; they are Northern Spotted Owl strongholds; they are the last small corridors of intact forest threading our low-elevation habitats together, and they are islands of habitat in otherwise fragmented landscapes. The fact that they are the last, makes them disproportionately important to our communities, to our fisheries, and to our wildlife.
  
A broad-based coalition of conservation organizations, recreation enthusiasts, businesses, fishing organizations, rural residents and citizens across the region will be joining together to protect these last intact stands and oppose the Pickett West Timber Sale. We will not watch these last stands fall to the whine of the chainsaw, instead we will work to preserve them, respect them, and enjoy them, as they define who we are as Southern Oregonians.

Roughly half the Pickett West Timber Sale is located in old-growth stands between 150 and 240 years old. Unit 3-10 in the Pickett West Timber Sale is 160 years old.

The Pickett West Timber Sale targets old-growth stands throughout southern Oregon for heavy industrial logging. Half the units in the timber sale are located in old-growth stands between 150 and 240 year old. These old, complex forests are highly fire resistant, provide important forest habitat, and are also increasingly rare, especially at low-elevations and adjacent to local communities. These stands protect our viewsheds, our clean water, our wildlife habitat and buffer our communities from the effects of uncharacteristic wildfire, while providing accessible and important recreational opportunities like the Thompson Overlook Trail, Applegate Ridge Trail, and Hellgate Canyon on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River.

Ironically, the BLM claims these highly industrial logging treatments are "restorative" in nature. Somehow, reducing canopy cover to 30%, rendering important Northern Spotted Owl habitat "unsuitable," building new roads, logging large, old-growth trees and drastically increasing fuel loads in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) is being promoted as "restoration." In reality, it is a timber grab intended to mislead the public into thinking that old forest logging is necessary to increase forest resilience and restore the natural role of fire.


A "tractor swing road" will be built through this grove of large, old trees in unit 4-1. The trees in this photograph will be logged to provide access for yarding actvities and a tractor swing road will be built through the center of the photograph.

The manipulation of science and the misrepresentation of proposed industrial logging treatments as "restoration" constitutes a new low. The Pickett West project has been designed around — in BLM jargon it is "tiered to" — the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative's ill-conceived Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy (RBCFRS). The strategy encourages our federal land management agencies to industrially log forests across the Rogue River basin. The strategy proposes to log 2.1 million acres across the Rogue River drainage in the next twenty years, increasing the number of acres logged on federal land to six times the current level.

The RBCFRS identifies an excess of closed-canopy, late-seral forest — a finding that contradicts years of ecological research in the area — and is encouraging the agencies to convert closed-canopy, late-seral, and old-growth forest into open canopied, low density stands. The simplistic idea is that much of southern Oregon was once dominated by open, low density forest with a frequent, low-severity fire regime. By logging old, closed canopy stands, the BLM says it is hoping to create relatively stable and more fire resilient forests; however, the outcome of logging old-growth forest to 30% canopy cover will dramatically degrade habitat values and increase fuel loads. Woody understory species will capitalize on the newly created conditions and colonize canopy gaps, creating dense woody thickets and increasing fire hazards. 


The old-growth forest canopy in unit 3-11. Canopy cover in this stand is currently 91%. The BLM is proposing to remove two-thirds of the overstory, reducing canopy cover to as low as 30%.

With each large, old tree removed, resilience to wildfire is reduced. With the drastic canopy cover reduction proposed in the "restoration thinning" prescriptions, highly flammable, young vegetation will proliferate and replace large, fire resistant trees.

To make matters worse, the mythical "open forests" appear to have been greatly overestimated by those promoting this strategy. Yes, we did historically have open forests in southern Oregon, but we also had a lot of closed-canopy forests as well. Much of our region is affected by a mixed-severity fire regime, a fire regime that creates diverse habitat types, including significant closed-canopy forest habitats, open canopied forest and deciduous woodlands as well as large, fire-mediated brush fields in southern Oregon. The world-renowned biodiversity of the Siskiyou Mountains is partially dependent on this seemingly chaotic mosaic of stand conditions, habitat types and fire histories. 

The baseline conditions and reference ecosystems used to promote these "restoration thinning" treatments have been proven inaccurate by numerous local historic vegetation studies. In reality, those studying historic vegetation, interpreting General Land Office surveys  and conducting tree ring research across the region, have found highly variable conditions, highly variable fire return intervals and a mosaic of habitat types across the landscape. 
(Hickman 2011, Dipaolo 2015, Baker 2011, Muir 2006, Duren 2012, Agee 1993, Willis and Stuart 1994.)

Numerous recent historic vegetation studies have found a much broader distribution of closed-canopy forest types than open forest habitats (Hickman 2011, Dipaolo 2015, Baker 2011, Muir 2006, Duren 2012) in Southwestern Oregon. Often, but not always open conditions have been predicated by particular soil types and accentuated by the disturbance history. This is especially true as you transition across the area, from the more arid interior valleys to the more moist habitats in the Western Siskiyou Mountains around the lower Applegate River, Rogue River, and Illinois River watersheds, all within the planning area.


Old-growth, closed-canopied stands like this one in unit 3-11 of the Pickett West Timber Sale are prioritized for treatment and targeted with "restoration thinning" in the Pickett West Timber Sale The prescription calls for 30% canopy cover, converting this stand to an "open" canopy condition.
The RBCFRS is encouraging the BLM to target largely intact, old forest habitats, and the widespread logging of old forest in the proposed Pickett West Timber Sale is a direct result. The strategy requires the removal of large, old-growth trees to meet strict and scientifically unjustified canopy cover targets in an attempt to recreate open forest in habitats it likely never existed.

The strategy also prioritizes the "treatment" of late-seral and old-growth stands over young stands with what they call a "priority multiplier." The "priority multiplier" weighs old forest habitats twice as heavily as younger, more altered stands. The strategy designed by the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and the local Nature Conservancy has provided a greenwash for the BLM, who claims an ecological benefit from industrial, old forest logging, while ignoring the impact of road development, large tree removal, soil disturbance from yarding activities, invasive species introduction, forest fragmentation, impacts to the understory plant community, and increasing fuel loads.

The RBCFRS also promotes heavy industrial logging within nearly all federal land allocations, including Inventoried Roadless Areas, Late Successional Reserves, Botanical Areas, Research Natural Areas, and other important conservation-based land management designations. The implementation of the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy is pushing the BLM towards logging older, more intact forest stands and in sensitive habitats.


Unit 3-11 at the headwaters of Thompson Creek contains naturally fire resistant, late-seral habitat. The stand is not in need of "restoration." The current stand condition only contributes to complex, late-seral habitat conditions, fire resilience and connectivity.

Recently, I have been hiking units all around the Thompson Creek watershed in Selma, Oregon. The BLM is proposing to log nearly every accessible old-growth stand in the watershed, and many of the Pickett West project's worst units are located directly above the rural community of Selma, Oregon. 

Below is a photo essay depicting stand conditions in units I hiked last weekend. These units are proposed for "restoration thinning," and in many cases over half the overstory canopy will be removed. The proposed logging will permanently impact ecological values and nearby rural communities. The vast majority of the Pickett West Timber Sale would produce unacceptable impacts and the entire sale should be canceled.

Unit 3-9 
Canopy conditions in the old forest portion of unit 3-9. This is currently an open canopy and opening it up even further will impact the health of the forest.

Unit 3-9 is located at the headwaters of Thompson Creek. Half the unit consists of unlogged, mid-seral forest. The stand is in the process of self-thinning and is developing habitat complexity through blowdown and other forms of mortality. The western portion of the stand is complex, old forest with stands between 24" and 56" in diameter. A small portion of the stand has been logged, but many old trees were retained and the canopy has recovered in the preceding years. The BLM has documented the stand to be 160 years old, but many of the stand's largest trees are likely much older. 
 
The mid-seral portion of unit 3-9 is healthy and developing complex structure.

The BLM claims the stand is dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. This designation is clearly an error as all the higher quality habitat characteristics of Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat are present. The stand is located within a Critical Habitat Unit for the Northern Spotted Owl and was designated as Late Successional Reserve forest in BLM's 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP). 

The unit should be canceled to protect the stand's late-seral conditions and habitat connectivity in the Thompson Creek watershed. 

Unit 3-10
 
The unlogged portion of unit 3-10 contains higher levels of shading and, thus, less understory fuel.

Unit 3-10 has been previously logged, but contains many large, old trees between 18" and 60" in diameter. The stand was previously selectively logged, creating a dense, shrubby fuel load in the understory. The BLM has documented the stand to be 160 years old and it does, in fact, contain many old-growth habitat characteristics. Thinning this stand will only compound the current fuel loading by opening the canopy and disturbing soils, triggering an aggressive understory response and an increase in fuel loading.


The previous logging in unit 3-9 resulted in heavy understory fuel. 
The BLM claims the stand is dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. This designation is clearly an error as all the higher quality habitat characteristics of Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat are present. The stand is located within a Critical Habitat Unit for the Northern Spotted Owl and within forest designated as Late Successional Reserve in the 2016 RMP. 

The unit should be canceled to maintain late-seral habitat conditions and the canopy allowed to close, suppressing understory fuels that have exploded in growth in response to previous commercial thinning treatments. 


Unit 3-11
 
Incredible old forest in the northeastern portion of unit 3-11. The unit is among the worst in the entire Pickett West Timber Sale.

Unit 3-11 is among the worst timber sale units I have hiked in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The unit is a classic, low-elevation, Western Siskiyou old-growth forest. The forest contains complex structural conditions, a multi-tiered canopy, large, old trees, high quality snags, large downed wood and other late-seral characteristics. The BLM has documented the stand to be 160 years old, but many of the stand's large trees are likely much older. 

Much of the stand is dominated by large, old Douglas fir among a diverse mixture of live oak, tanoak, madrone, dogwood, bigleaf maple and a few scattered sugar pine. Along the small draws that drain the unit, the understory is often lush and abundant with vanilla leaf, red huckleberry, tangles of vine maple, and populations of Hartweg's wild ginger. 

The BLM claims the stand is dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. This designation is clearly an error as all the habitat characteristics of high quality (RA-32) habitat are present. The stand is also located within a Critical Habitat Unit for the Northern Spotted Owl and was designated as Late Successional Reserve in the 2016 RMP.  
The BLM claims unit 3-11 is dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl in the Pickett West Environmental Assessment. In reality, unit 3-11 is complex, old-growth forest providing high quality Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat.
Much of the stand is old-growth forest with trees between 24" and 65" in diameter. Three large trees in the unit are documented to contain active Red Tree Vole nest sites. These sites should be protected by 10-acre, no-cut buffers. These buffers will exclude the vast majority of the unit from treatment and the unit should be canceled. 

The unit is surrounded by plantation stands and along with unit 3-9 provides very important connectivity habitat for late-seral species from the ridgeline above to the upper portions of Thompson Creek. 

The unit should be canceled to protect old-growth habitat values, maintain connectivity in the Thompson Creek watershed, sustain habitat complexity and to retain naturally occurring fire resistance. 

Unit 4-1
Groupings of large, old trees are scattered across unit 4-1.

Unit 4-1 is located on a forested knob in Upper Thompson Creek. The BLM has documented the stand to be 140 years old, but many large trees are likely much older. Two clear cohorts (stand ages) colonize the stand and create distinct diameter classes. A portion of the stand contains relatively even-aged Douglas fir trees between 18" and 30" in diameter. Groupings and groves of large, old-growth trees between 40" and 52" in diameter grow scattered across the unit. I found one of these large, old trees has been documented to support an active Red Tree Vole nest and would require a 10-acre no-cut buffer. 

Two separate sections of tractor swing road are proposed to be developed at the upper portion of the unit, fragmenting habitat, damaging soils and encouraging an expansion of unauthorized OHV use. A single track trail currently exists in the location of one tractor swing road. This trail should be designated for non-motorized use and maintained as part of the non-motorized trail system.

Unit 4-1 and the tractor swing roads proposed to access the unit should be canceled to protect a relatively large block of undisturbed, complex, mid- to late-seral forest. The unit does not currently need "treatment" to maintain healthy habitat conditions. 


Unit 4-1 is located on the ridgeline in the foreground of this photograph. A new tractor swing road would be built across the ridge accessing the uncut forest on the ridgeline's eastern face.

Please contact your local BLM officials and ask them to cancel the Pickett West Timber Sale and protect all old forest over 150 years old in the Pickett West Planning Area. 


Contact the BLM:
Field Manager, Allen Bollschweiler 
abollsch@blm.gov

District Manager, Elizabeth Burghard
eburghar@blm.gov

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pickett West Timber Sale: Logging the Last Old-Growth in Haven Creek

Unit 35-11 is beautiful and intact old-growth forest providing high quality habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. The unit should be canceled.
Extending from the Wild and Scenic Rogue River to the Applegate Valley and over the ridge to the Deer Creek watershed in Selma, the Pickett West Timber Sale is a massive, old-growth logging project proposed by the Grants Pass BLM. Nearly half the project is proposed in stands over 150 years old and new logging prescriptions ironically called"restoration thinning" would drop canopy cover in many stands to as low as 30%. Over half the overstory canopy would be removed, leaving a few scattered trees in place of what was once a forest. 

The new "restoration thinning" prescriptions are designed to convert closed-canopy, old-growth or late-seral forest into "late-seral, open forest." The result is heavy industrial logging and extensive damage to the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl, Pacific fisher, Red Tree Vole, Coho salmon and many other iconic, old-growth dependent species of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. 

Other units would be logged with "density management" prescriptions to 40% or 60% canopy cover, and 14 miles of new road would be built into previously inaccessible and often unlogged forest.
Unit 35-11 consists of intact, structurally complex old-growth forest. The Pickett West Timber Sale is targeting the last old-growth habitats in the Deer Creek watershed for commercial logging. The sale will severely impact many unique low-elevation, old-growth forests. Over half the units proposed for logging support old-growth characteristics and are vital for the survival of the Northern Spotted Owl, Pacific fisher and Red Tree Vole. 

I spent the last two weekends hiking Pickett West Timber Sale units in the mountains above Selma, Oregon. What I found was both disturbing and beautiful. 

The vast majority of the units I have surveyed — 12 of 14 to be exact — have been old-growth forest. Many of the units are remnant stands bordering both private land and federal land clearcut logging units. Others are part of large contiguous blocks of intact forest. The BLM is coming after the last low hanging fruit, proposing to log nearly all the relatively accessible late-seral forest in the upper Thompson Creek watershed. 

The Pickett West Timber Sale should be canceled in its entirety. The project is the worst federal land logging project in Southwestern Oregon for many years. The BLM should cancel the sale and adopt a more responsible, collaborative approach throughout the planning area.

 I recently hiked two units in upper Haven Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek in the Deer Creek Watershed. 

Unit 35-9
 
Old-growth groupings of sugar pine and Douglas fir dominate two-thirds of unit 35-9.

Unit 35-9 is located at the headwaters of Haven Creek. The stand is 51 acres of old-growth and second-growth forest on a steep, southwest facing slope. The southwestern portion of the stand has been logged and is now dominated by mid-seral pole stands. Roughly two-thirds of the remaining unit is uncut, old-growth forest. The Pickett West Environmental Assessment claims the stand is 150 years old, but many of the stand's largest trees are much older. 

The methodology used by the BLM to identify stand age grossly underestimates the age of uneven-aged, mixed conifer stands like those found in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and Pickett West timber sale units. The methodology the BLM uses to estimate stand age excludes the oldest, most dominant overstory trees. They estimate the age of the younger, less dominant cohort; therefore, a stand identified as 150 years old may actually be dominated by trees between 200 and 300 years old. This is likely the case in both units 35-9 and 35-11. 

Despite the harsh, south-facing exposure, the unit is populated by groves of large, old trees.  Many of the old-growth groupings include large sugar pine and Douglas fir. Sugar pine from 30" to 65" in diameter and Douglas fir from 20" to 66" in diameter create complex, multi-layered canopies. Towering old-growth conifers rise above beautiful hardwood stands, including tanoak, live oak, madrone and chinquapin. 

Except for the logged-over portion of the unit, dense, pole-sized stands and young cohorts of fir are largely absent. Fuel loads are minimal due to high levels of canopy cover and the dominance of large, fire resistant trees. The late-seral portions of the stand are naturally fire resilient and highly complex.
Unit 35-9 maintains healthy, highly complex, late-seral stand conditions with exceptional fire resilience

The stand provides important nesting, roosting and foraging (NRF) habitat within a Critical Habitat Unit for the Northern Spotted Owl. The stand is also within a 0.5-mile "owl core" designated to protect the nesting habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. The unit represents potential RA-32 habitat and should be removed from the harvest land base. 

Instead, the BLM is proposing a density management prescription with 40% canopy retention. They are proposing to remove over half the overstory canopy in this unit, reducing canopy cover from 96% to 40%. This drastic reduction will require the removal of many large, old trees.

The area is also very important for the Northern Spotted Owl's  main food source, the Red Tree Vole (RTV). The stand supports six documented RTV nesting sites. Reducing canopy cover will damage habitat values for the RTV by removing potential nest trees, disrupting RTV nest tree recruitment, and destroying the complex, interwoven canopy structure this species requires. The impact will be a reduction in habitat quality, quantity and connectivity.
Old-growth trees like this one in unit 35-9 provide important habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and Red Tree Vole. The old-growth portions of unit 35-9 should be designated as RA-32 habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and removed from the harvest land base. 

The BLM has also proposed two new sections of road to access unit 35-9. The BLM is calling these "temporary roads," but the impacts will be permanent, including compaction, soil displacement, soil erosion, impacts to water quality, increased access by unauthorized OHV use, the removal of large trees, and the destruction of understory plant communities. The roads required to access unit 35-9 traverse steep slopes and will, in places, need a full bench cut, creating a long-lasting environmental footprint.

Unit 35-9 should be canceled to protect late-seral habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and RTV.

Unit 35-11
 
Unit 35-11 is beautiful, complex, old-growth forest that provides important connectivity habitat for late-seral species across environmental gradients in the Haven Creek watershed.

Unit 35-11 is among the worst in the entire Pickett West Timber Sale. The unit is located in the middle fork of Haven Creek in section 35. Unit 35-11 is 59 acres of old-growth forest surrounded by relatively recent clearcut logging and plantation stands, to the north and to the south. The BLM claims the stand is 190 years old, but many trees are likely much older. A significant portion of the unit is undeniably old-growth forest. The old forest along Haven Creek is refugia habitat, providing important connectivity habitat for late-seral species. The area connects the still relatively intact slopes of Kerby Peak to the low-elevation forests surrounding Thompson Creek. 

The stand is NRF habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and is located within the home range of two owls and a Critical Habitat Unit.

The current canopy condition includes 92% canopy cover with significant levels of structural complexity. Stand conditions vary depending on aspect, but in general the stand contains all the characteristics of old-growth habitat, including large, old trees, large snags, large downed wood, high levels of canopy cover and a multi-layered canopy structure. The unit represents potential RA-32 habitat and should be removed from the potential harvest land base. 
Unit 35-11 is potential RA-32 habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and supports many large diameter trees with complex branch structure, creating ideal Red Tree Vole nesting habitat. 

The stand provides important habitat for not only the Northern Spotted Owl, but also the Pacific fisher who often uses low-elevation, old-growth habitat along streams for dispersal, foraging and denning. The unit also likely supports a viable population of Red Tree Vole (RTV). Numerous "wolfy" trees with potential RTV nesting habitat can be found throughout the unit, especially on north-facing slopes. Trees between 45" and 62" diameter dominate the stand, creating ideal conditions for a variety of late-seral species including the RTV, Northern Spotted Owl and Pacific fisher.

At the top of the unit, on a small bench above a spectacular bedrock waterfall, lies an entire stand of potential RTV nest trees, many over 50" in diameter. 


A bedrock cascade on Haven Creek at the center of unit 35-11. The Pickett West Timber Sale has proposed to reduce no-cut buffers along riparian reserves. The impact will be disastrous to streams like Haven Creek.
Vollmer's lily (Lilium pardalinum ssp. vollmeri)
The stream is cold and clear as it runs through a heavily shaded canyon. Haven Creek pours down a series of spectacular bedrock cascades
3'-15' tall. The stream pours down cascades, through giant  river-washed boulders and large downed wood. Thick moss beds line the bedrock channel and Vollmer's lily (Lilium pardalinum ssp. vollmeri) blossoms along the stream with saxifrage, goats beard and elk clover. 

The southern slopes are dominated by old-growth Douglas fir, a few old sugar pine and a well developed secondary canopy of live oak, tanoak and madrone. Large portions of the stand support a broken canopy of live oak, pierced by large, old fir between 30" and 56" in diameter. The understory is sparse and rocky with minimal understory fuel. 
The south-facing slopes above Haven Creek support spacious stands of massive, old Douglas fir with a secondary canopy of live oak, tanoak and madrone. The stand supports complex, old-growth stand conditions and exceptional fire resilience.

The north-facing slopes are lush and productive with groves of massive, old fir between 30" and 65" in diameter. These north-facing slopes support coastal vegetation with large, old-growth fir. Tanoak, live oak, madrone, and Pacific dogwood create a secondary canopy. Evergreen huckleberry, red huckleberry, Cascade Oregon grape, vine maple, azalea, hazel and oceanspray grow in tangled thickets on the forest floor. 

These north-slope forests are particularly complex with large diameter snags, large downed wood and diverse overstory distribution. The oldest trees grow in isolation or in groupings of old-growth trees scattered throughout the stand. Although canopy cover levels are high, the patchy distribution allows enough sunlight to reach the forest floor to encourage large summer berry crops and diverse understory vegetation. 
Lush, coastal-influenced old-growth grows on the north-facing slopes in unit 35-11.

Fuel loading and fire hazards in this stand are extremely minimal. In general, massive old trees with high canopies and thick, insulating bark dominate the stand and create fire resistant stand conditions. The current canopy condition is suppressing understory growth in many locations, limiting fuel loads, maintaining high levels of fuel moisture late into the fire season and shielding the stand from intense sunlight and winds. The combined effect is to naturally moderate fuel loading and fire hazards.

The BLM has proposed a density management prescription, reducing canopy cover by over half from 92% to as low as 40%. Meeting the canopy cover and basal area targets for this stand will require the removal of many large, old-growth trees. The drastic removal of canopy cover will significantly increase understory fuel loading, desiccate the stand, reduce habitat complexity and downgrade Northern Spotted Owl habitat to dispersal. 
 
Old-growth canopy conditions on the north-facing slopes in unit 35-11. The BLM is proposing to remove over half the existing overstory canopy, reducing canopy cover from 92% to 40% after logging operations are completed. Does this stand need "restoration?"

Unit 35-11 should be canceled to protect connectivity of old-growth habitat, maintain Northern Spotted Owl habitat, protect late-seral habitat and sustain fire resilience. 

Submit comments to: 

Grant Pass Inter-agency Office/Don Ferguson

2164 NE Spalding Ave. 

Grants Pass, Oregon 97526

-or-
    blm_or_pwest@blm.gov
Comments are due July 17th