Monday, January 9, 2017

Pickett West Timber Sale: Cheney Creek, Southside and Highway 238 Units

Old-growth forest proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale on lower Cheney Creek.

The Klamath Forest Alliance and Applegate Neighborhood Network have continued our monitoring effort for the Pickett West Timber Sale. We began on the Applegate Valley portions of the timber sale, surveying units around North Applegate and Murphy. Recently we visited a few units accessed from Cheney Creek Road, Southside Road, and Highway 238 near Murphy.

Cheney Creek Unit

I visited one small Pickett West unit on Cheney Creek on road 37-7-13.1. The unit lies directly adjacent to unit 13-7 of the recently cut Cheney-Slate Timber Sale. The proposed unit is located on a steep, densely wooded northwest-facing slope, directly above the mainstem of Cheney Creek, an important steelhead and coho salmon stream in the Lower Applegate River watershed near Wilderville.


Lush and productive forest proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
The forest is lush, dense and very productive for the Applegate Valley. In these westernmost watersheds, a distinct coastal influence drifts up the river with the winter fog. While the eastern, more interior portions of the Applegate Valley are arid and dry, the westernmost watersheds represent quientessential Pacific Northwest habitat. The increased precipitation and productive soils grow dense, multi-layered forests of tanoak and massive old Douglas-fir. A waist-deep tangle of evergreen huckleberry carpets the forest floor, mixed with half rotted, moss covered logs and stout, branchy Pacific yew trees. 

Old, fire-scarred Douglas-fir trees grow in clusters across the slope, piercing through the secondary canopy of tanoak trees. These are dense woods with the shelter of a closed canopy and the protection of large, dominant old trees. The layered canopy, large old conifers, abundant downed wood, and complex late-seral habitat creates ideal conditions for the Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher and red tree vole.

Higher on the slopes are closed mid-seral forests that also provide important habitat for the Northern spotted owl. Lush, intact forests like this are not in need of "restoration" or silvicultural manipulation — they should be left alone. The stand currently maintains healthy conditions and a natural resilience to fire, insects and disease. The habitat complexity, biodiversity, and cool, protected microclimate is currently moderating fire hazards, buffering the stand from drought stress, insect infestation and the immediate effects of climate change. 
Lush, old forest proposed for logging on Cheney Creek.

This proposed Pickett West Timber Sale unit is an oasis and refuge for wildlife in a changing climate and in a changed landscape. The majority of the Cheney Creek watershed has been heavily logged by both the BLM and private timber interests, leaving islands of old habitat scattered across the watershed. The habitat connectivity provided by this stand, and into the riparian area of Cheney Creek, is important for late-seral species such as Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, red tree vole, and northern flying squirrel. The cool, low elevation forest habitat will become increasingly important to wildlife in a fragmented landscape and changing climate. The unit should be canceled from the Pickett West Timber Sale.

Directly across road 37-7-13.1, in a once lush riparian terrace adjacent to Cheney Creek, the BLM recently logged unit 13-7 in the Cheney-Slate Timber Sale. The unit was logged to within 50' of the fish bearing stream and was tractor yarded. In the process, the rich understory, the nurse logs, and rich alluvial soils were badly damaged as the tractor tread compacted and disturbed soils and large trees were dragged from the streamside terrace to the adjacent logging road. The main component of the understory, dense thickets of evergreen huckleberry, has been removed by the tractor, leaving only bare and compacted soil covered in a layer of logging slash. Nearly all the beautiful bigleaf maples and canyon live oak were cut to facilitate the removal of commercial timber.
Unit 13-7 of the Cheney Slate Timber Sale cut in 2016.
The Purpose and Need in the Cheney-Slate Environmental Assessment (EA) recommended the following: "promote/retain a multilayered stand structure and a diversity of size classes; increase seral stage diversity across the landscape: create conditions that are favorable for the initiation, creation and retention of snags, down wood, large vigorous hardwoods, and understory vegetation diversity in areas where these are lacking" (p.7). The EA also identifies a need to, "improve and protect aquatic, riparian and terrestrial habitats" (p.9); however, the reality on the ground tells a much different story.

Southside Road Unit

The Southside Road Unit is located directly adjacent to a portion of Southside Road, between Murphy and Wilderville, Oregon. A small corner of BLM land abuts Southside Road, providing public access to a unique, beautiful and interesting ecosystem. 


Open oak woodland at the northern portion of the area is not in need of additional manual fuel reduction as it has already been thinned. The area is proposed for fuel reduction in the Pickett West Timber Sale. A low intensity prescribed fire would be the most appropriate treatment on this site.


The northern portion of the area appears to be affected by ultramafic soils such as serpentine. The area is open and sparsely wooded with short-statured oak, a few twisted manzanita and scattered overstory pine or cedar. Native grasses and forbs, now dormant for winter, adorn the rocky soils. The slopes are gentle, rolling, and divided by faint ridges and small trickling waterways pouring through the leaky soil like a sieve. 

The area has been treated for fuel reduction in the past, however, additional fuel reduction is proposed in Pickett West. It is hard to imagine what the agency believes that area needs, as fuels in this location are extremely low for southwestern Oregon, competition is minimal between trees, and soils are poor enough to ensure that very little has grown back since the last fuel reduction treatment. Stand conditions in the oak woodland area appear characteristic. The agency could consider a low intensity prescribed fire in the flashy, grassy fuels, but manual fuel treatment is currently unnecessary.


Mixed conifer forest including large, old-growth trees is proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
Further to the south, the woodlands transition into stands of madrone, black oak, pine and Douglas-fir.  The soils are more productive and the slope undulating between small gulches lined in Pacific yew and bay laurel. The ground is cobbly with very little fine fuel or duff layer — the "soil" is largely covered in mossy rocks the size of a football. Scattered old pine and fir grow among wide branching madrone and a few black oak. The large, old trees support gnarled old branches, broken and flat-topped crowns and other characteristics of old-growth trees. They are scattered about at low density in groupings of two or three or four or more trees. The largest trees grow adjacent to the stream.

A portion of the stand is proposed for commercial logging. 
Growth is slow on these harsh soils.  I bored one tree, only 18" in diameter, that was 147 years old. If this unit was logged a strict upper diameter limit of 18" would be necessary to protect old-growth trees and maintain adequate canopy cover.



Highway 238 Unit
Groupings of large overstory trees should be retained in the Highway 238 stand.
I also visited a proposed Pickett West Timber Sale unit directly adjacent to Highway 238, east of Murphy, Oregon. The area lies directly across the road from a small county-owned property on the Applegate River. Many people access the Applegate River from this highway pullout; however, few realize the forest on the slope adjacent is also public land. 

The area is an isolated parcel of BLM land: the lower portion is targeted for commercial logging, while the upper slope is proposed for fuel reduction.

The stand is mid-seral with scattered old pine, fir, madrone, and on the lower slopes bigleaf maple. Beneath the few scattered old trees, grow relatively dense, closed canopy stands of pole-sized fir trees. In places the understory is covered in a thick carpet of ferns. The unit is proposed for commercial logging and could likely be treated to increase stand health and reduce fuel loading if done with sensitivity. 

A lush understory of ferns colonizes a natural forest opening.

The treatment should target small diameter understory trees, mostly Douglas fir. Trees of commericial size and non-commercial size would need to be removed for the treatment to effectively reduce fuels and positively influence stand structure. A 20" diameter limit and an emphasis on maintaining groupings of dominant trees should be implemented. The slope is north facing; a 60% canopy cover retention target should ensure Northern spotted owl habitat is maintained while ample canopy cover reduces the potential for a dense shrub response.  

Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) intend to continue monitoring proposed Pickett West Timber Sale units. Please consider supporting our efforts with a tax-deductible donation. Specify that your donation will support the Siskiyou Mountains Conservation Program.


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