Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pickett West Timber Sale: The Panther Gulch and West Pickett Creek Units

This large Douglas fir tree will be logged in unit 28-4.
 The Pickett West Timber Sale is so huge that it will likely be broken up into numerous timber sales when auctioned off to the highest bidder. The BLM has not even finished the comment period for the Pickett West Timber Sale, but has moved forward with timber sale marking and design in the first timber sale. The first sale proposed by the BLM is called the Pickett Hog Timber Sale and will extend from Pickett Creek on the Rogue River, downstream to Hog Creek and Hellgate Canyon. 


South Fork Panther Gulch
Recently, I hiked into two units in Panther Gulch, a tributary of Pickett Creek and a beautiful little canyon of oak woodland, forests of sugar pine and Douglas fir, bedrock cascades and stark serpentine openings studded with jeffery pine. 

The area is diverse and relatively intact. The lower portion of Panther Gulch was roaded and logged many years ago. The upper portion of the canyon is largely untouched with dense stands of old growth forest and serpentine barrens on the flank of Buckhorn Mountain. The stream runs quietly through clear pools and down bedrock cascades. 

I hiked an old decomissioned road that leads from the still open portions of Panther Gulch Road to a the stream's first major fork.  The area includes units proposed for "density management" retaining 40-60% canopy cover. 

South Fork Panther Gulch: Units 28-3 & 28-4
The conifer forest above the shallow, rocky soils and oak woodland in this photo is a portion of Unit 28-3.

The south fork of Panther Gulch is a beautiful stream running through steep bedrock cascades, sunlit oak woodland and old growth forest of sugar pine and douglas fir mingling with mixed hardwoods such as madrone, black oak, live oak and white oak. 


Unit 28-4 is located near the confluence of the north and south fork, on a low ridge dividing the two streams. The area is deep in the canyon and provides "high relative habitat suitability" for the northern spotted owl. High relative habitat suitability means that the location is one of the most likely portions of the landscape to maintain old-growth conditions over time. The unit is designated as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the northern spotted owl and was identified by BLM to be a 150 year old stand. The agency claims to be "maintaining" northern spotted owl habitat within this unit, but they will be reducing important habitat elements such as canopy layering, decadence, large downed wood recruitment, snag habitat, and large, old trees.


The unit is listed as a density management prescription in the Environmental Assessment, but appears to include a group selection mark, meaning isolated stands of trees within the unit will be logged while others remain untreated. Logging within each "group selection" cut can be classified as thinning, but includes the removal of large, old fire resistant trees. Douglas fir trees up to 36" in diameter are marked for removal in this unit. These trees are likely to be over 150 years old and thus constitute old-growth. 

Unit 28-4 is marked orange to denote "leave" trees that will be retained. Unmarked trees will be logged. As you can see in this picture, a 36" diameter and likely very old douglas fir tree would be removed to "release" the small pine marked for retention.

The stand is a lush mixture of riparian shrubbery, sugar pine, douglas fir and mixed hardwood habitat. The unit should be canceled. 

Unit 28-3 is located just upstream from unit 28-4. The two units are divided by a small area of oak woodland on shallow, rocky soils. Unit 28-3 is a relatively open mixed conifer stand identified by the BLM to be 150 years old. A large portion of the stand consists of black oak, white oak, live oak and madrone groves, punctuated by groupings of large conifers and open conifer stands. 

The unit is identified by the BLM as NRF habitat and would be downgraded to dispersal habitat due to heavy canopy reduction, the removal of large, dominant and co-dominant trees and a significant loss of habitat complexity. 
 
The large Douglas fir trees in this photo would be logged in unit 28-3. Only the sugar pine marked orange for retention would be maintained following "restoration" logging treatments.

The unit provides highly diverse and important old forest habitat. The area is not in need of "restoration" or "density management" in fact, the stand contains significant structural diversity and naturally fire resilient stand conditions. Logging this stand to 40% canopy cover will encourage the development of dense shrubby understory conditions creating excessive fuel loads and fuel laddering. 

The removal of conifers in this stand will also create significant impacts to the stands abundant hardwood species. Not only will many hardwoods be damaged during falling operations, but many hardwoods and standing snags will be removed to facilitate helicopter yarding. Unit 28-3 should be canceled. 

West Fork Pickett Creek: Unit 29-4
Unit 29-4 is mature conifer forest and is proposed to be logged to 40% canopy cover. The large tree marked red at the center of the photograph would be retained, while nearly all other trees will be logged.

I also recently hiked into unit 29-4 high above the West Fork of Pickett Creek. The unit consists of relatively intact old forest identified by the BLM to be a 160 year old stand. The stand is dominated by Douglas fir with a mixture of ponderosa and sugar pine. Many years ago the stand was high-graded and massive, old ponderosa pine were removed. Today, the stand has recovered, the canopied has filled in, the residual trees have grown old, and habitat characteristics associated with old-growth forest such as decadence, complex structure, downed wood, large diameter trees and snags have begun to develop. 

The stand is identified by the BLM as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl. The BLM is proposing to downgrade this habitat to dispersal habitat by bringing the canopy cover down to 40%, post logging. The proposed "Density Management" prescription will also remove many large fire-resistant trees. 

Unmarked trees such as these ones will be logged by the BLM in unit 29-4.

 Much of the unit will be tractor yarded, creating extensive soil disturbance and compaction, damaging soils and increasing erosion rates. The combined result of canopy removal and heavy soil disturbance will trigger excessive regeneration, creating dense understory fuel loads and increased fire risks. 

A new road is also being proposed on the the ridgeline above the unit. The road will necessitate the removal of many large, old trees and permanently impact the stands soil resources.

Unit 29-4 should be canceled from the Pickett Hog Timber Sale. In fact, according to the BLM's 1995 Resource Management Plan no stands over 150 years old should be considered for commercial thinning. 89% of the Pickett Hog Timber Sale (25 of the 28 units)  are over 150 years old. The sale is inconsistent with the 1995 RMP and should be canceled. 

BLM is accepting comments on the Pickett West Project until July 17, 2017

Submit comments to: 
Grant Pass Inter-agency Office/Don Ferguson
2164 NE Spalding Ave. 
Grants Pass, Oregon 97526
-or-
                                    blm_or_pwest@blm.gov
 







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