Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Post-Fire Logging on the Siskiyou Crest

The Gap Fire burned at particularly low severity on the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain. The upper reaches of Buckhorn and Middle Creek burned in a natural mixed-severity fire mosaic and should be allowed to recover naturally, maintaining habitat values and connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest.
Last summer the Gap Fire burned over 30,000 acres of forest in the Klamath River watershed near the community of Horse Creek. The fire burned at mixed severity from the Klamath River to the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain. Fire severity was particularly moderate in the high country near the Siskiyou Crest, where the fire burned in a characteristic and healthy mosaic. The fire itself maintained habitat values, restored fire as a natural process, and encouraged natural forest resilience. The Klamath National Forest has responded with a large, post-fire logging project that would log old-growth forest on the Siskiyou Crest and fire effected forests throughout the burn area, including the Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve.

The project will log old-growth forests adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, Pacific Crest Trail and Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area. The last remaining old-growth forest in Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek watersheds would be roaded and logged. The project would impact habitat connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest, fisheries habitat in the Klamath River, and recreational qualities on the Pacific Crest Trail. In all 2,257 acres are proposed for logging under the Forest Service Alternative #2.
Low-severity fire in the high elevation forests near Condrey Mountain, a vital link in the Siskiyou Crest connectivity corridor.

Post-fire logging will increase fire hazards, decrease habitat complexity, impact important wildlife habitat and the natural fire mosaic. The cumulative impact of post-fire logging on federal land and private land has become enormous on the Klamath River and its salmon streams. Following the Happy Camp Fire in 2014, the Forest Service recently implemented the massive Westside Project which clearcut 13,000 acres of fire-effected forest south of the Klamath River. The Fruit Growers Supply Company has also been busy clearcut logging thousands of acres in the Beaver Fire of 2014 and the 2016 Gap Fire. Vast tracks of land have been clearcut, impacting wildlife, streams, soils, forest recovery and slope stability in the Middle Klamath River Watershed. 

We are witnessing the loss of one of our region's last truly wild landscapes. The Middle Klamath River is being carved into pieces by recent salvage logging projects, fragmenting the habitat, reducing forest complexity, increasing fuel loads, and clearcut logging steep, erosive slopes above the Klamath River's last high quality salmon streams. Salmon River, Elk Creek, Grider Creek, Scott River and many others have been impacted by large, post-fire logging projects. The logging has extended to the edge of the Marble Mountains Wilderness and Trinity Alps Wilderness. We cannot allow post-fire logging and road building to impact the Siskiyou Crest. 

The large denuded area in this photograph was logged by a private timber company following the Beaver Fire of 2014. The green forests in the background are proposed for logging in the Forest Service's Gap Fire salvage logging proposal.

The Siskiyou Crest is a regionally important connectivity corridor. Running east to west, the Siskiyou Crest connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains with a single high elevation ridgeline. This important connectivity corridor is the center for biodiversity on the West Coast of North America and allows species migration across broad swaths of the Pacific Coast. For millennia, the Siskiyou Crest has provided a refuge for migrating species as their habitat and range shifted across the region and in response to changing climates. The region will continue to play this role in the face of human caused climate change, providing a migration corridor and repository of biodiversity.

The unique connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest, along with the region's unusual geology and diverse topography has provided small niches for remnant populations stranded in isolated Siskiyou Mountain habitats as they moved across the landscape. Ancient paleo-endemic species surviving only in the Siskiyou Mountains and disjunct plant populations at the far edge of their range, have clung to specific microclimates or unique soil types in the Siskiyou Mountains. The Condrey Mountain/Dry Lake area represents a vital link in this chain of connectivity, providing access between the eastern and western Siskiyou Mountains. 

The Condrey Mountain Roadless Area extends down the northern face of the Siskiyou Crest, into the headwaters of Elliott Creek. The southern face of the Siskiyou Crest burned in the Gap Fire. These southern faces drop from Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain through intact, high-elevation forests on Forest Service land, and into a sea of clearcut, private industrial forest land above the Klamath River. 

The area represents a significant bottleneck in connectivity and the last significant concentration of private land as the Siskiyou Crest heads west towards the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Range. The high-elevation forests in Buckhorn and Middle Creek contain complex forest habitat near the spine of the Siskiyou Crest and directly adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. 
The meadows and forests of the Siskiyou Crest provide important habitat connectivity and should be allowed to naturally regenerate from the Gap Fire.

Logging these forests as proposed by the Klamath National Forest would significantly impact the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest. The complex habitat that they provide will become increasingly important in a changing climate. Resilience to climate change for many natural communities depends on maintaining habitat connectivity on the broadest scale possible. Protecting the Siskiyou Crest is absolutely necessary for the resilience of the West Coast.

The Karuk Tribe has proposed an alternative to the Klamath National Forests post-fire logging frenzy. They have offered a plan that would encourage the reintroduction of fire and the development of fire adapted human communities on the Klamath River. The Karuk Alternative would help to facilitate fire resilient communities by conducting non-commercial fuel reduction along strategic ridgelines and around private land boundaries in the Gap Fire Area. 

The Klamath National Forest has released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and is currently accepting public comment. Please consider commenting on the project, support the Karuk Alternative and advocate for conservation on the Siskiyou Crest.

Click here to sign a letter in support of the Karuk Alternative. 

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