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


Friday, July 14, 2017

Pickett West Timber Sale: Logging Off The Last Large Blocks of Old-Growth Forest in the Deer Creek Watershed.

Old-growth forest proposed for logging in unit 26-3.
The Pickett West Timber Sale is a massive timber management project proposed by the Grants Pass BLM. The project spans across much of interior southwestern Oregon, from Galice and Graves Creek on the Rogue River, to the lower Applegate Valley, and south to the Deer Creek drainage in Selma, Oregon. 

The BLM is proposing to log thousands of acres of old forest in the mountains surrounding the community of Selma, Oregon. The project proposes to convert closed-canopy, old-growth forest into open-canopied, late-seral habitat by reducing canopy cover to as little as 30%. In many places this will require the removal of the majority of dominant overstory trees and the elimination of Northern Spotted Owl habitat. 

The BLM has proposed four units in section 26 at the headwaters of Camp Creek and an unnamed drainage to the south, a tributary of Haven Creek. The area supports hundreds of acres of contiguous, intact, old-growth habitat in sections 22, 23, 26, and 27. The area contains the large blocks of late-seral habitat necessary for the survival of the Northern Spotted Owl and other late-seral species. All units currently provide Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and the vast majority of the surrounding area is NRF habitat as well. 
 
Complex, old-growth forest in unit 26-2 contains high quality habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, red tree vole, Pacific fisher and other late-seral dependent species.

A portion of the area has been identified as Critical Habitat and the entire area is designated Critical Habitat Units (CHU). The area is also Late Successional Reserve in BLM's 2016 Resource Management Plan (RMP). Units 26-1, 26-2 and 26-4 lie within the 0.5-mile owl cores. Numerous of the units likely contain RA-32 habitat, the highest level of NSO habitat available on the landscape and should be removed from the harvest land base.  

The area is currently functional, diverse, highly resistant to natural disturbance, such as insect infestations and wildfire, and represents one of the most intact habitats in the Deer Creek Watershed. 
Naturally open, late-seral forest in unit 26-2 contains all the key elements of fire resistant habitat. The stand is dominated by large, old trees with thick insulating bark, high canopies, closed-canopy stand conditions that suppress understory fuel, diverse, patchy tree distribution, and fire resilient species.

In 2005, the BLM approved the development of the Thompson Overlook Trail, a six-mile, non-motorized trail providing access to the large block of old forest, rock outcrops and natural openings in sections 22, 23, 26, and 27. The trail was approved due to the highly scenic and unique natural features of the surrounding region, including what BLM now identifies as units 26-1, 26-2, 26-3 and 26-4.  

Ancient forest like that found in unit 26-2 is a unique biological and recreational resource. The Thompson Overlook Trail could be one of the region's best low-elevation, old-growth trails, it should not be logged in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
The Thompson Overlook Trail, although approved, has not been developed due to a lack of funding, volunteers and support from BLM staff. Although not yet developed, the trail was approved because of the exceptional value it would provide to local residents and visitors alike. No specific analysis of the Thompson Overlook Trail or the recreational opportunities in the area was documented in the Pickett West EA. Logging units 26-1, 26-2, 26-3 and 26-4 will significantly degrade the recreational experience on the proposed Thompson Overlook Trail.  

The BLM has proposed a nearly half-mile long "temporary tractor swing" road across the currently unroaded ridgeline, providing access to the units for old-growth logging. The impact to soils from the extensive use of this tractor swing road would be significant. Tractor swing roads utilize only one tree suspension and require many more passes than a skid trail. The impact to soils is often far more significant than skid trails and includes dragging old-growth logs across the road bed, over and over again. Impacts will be concentrated and compounded across the entire half-mile long corridor.

Unit 26-1

The complex, old growth forest in unit 26-1 at the headwaters of Camp Creek lies within a 0.5-mile owl core designated to protect the habitat of the Northern spotted owl.

Unit 26-1 is located at the headwaters of Camp Creek among a large, contiguous stand of ancient forest. The unit is located on a very steep northwest-facing slope. The unit provides Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and is located within a 0.5-acre owl core designated to protect known nesting habitat from habitat destruction. 

Much of the stand consists of old-growth Douglas fir with an understory of low statured live oak. The stand supports a multi-layered canopy structure with significant complexity of habitat, including large diameter snags, large woody debris and closed-canopy conditions. The unit contains trees between 20" and 36" in diameter. Although the BLM estimates the stand to be 120 years old, the dominant, overstory trees over 30" in diameter are likely much older.

Alternative 2 proposes a "density management" prescription. The proposed logging would downgrade the current NRF habitat to dispersal habitat by removing large, old trees and excessive levels of overstory canopy. Current canopy cover is 92%, the density management prescription would drop canopy cover to 40%, removing the majority of dominant, overstory trees. 

Unit 26-2 
Industrial old-growth logging or restoration? The towering ancient canopy of unit 26-2 will be reduced from 94% canopy cover to as low as 40%. Imagine over half this ancient canopy removed.

Unit 26-2 is also located at the headwaters of Camp Creek on steep west- and northwest-facing slopes. The 14-acre unit provides important NRF habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Like unit 26-1, it is located within a 0.5-mile owl core and should be protected from industrial logging activities. 

Numerous large, "wolfy" trees between 42" and 70" in diameter dominate the central portion of the stand, providing excellent late-seral habitat conditions and potential Red Tree Vole nesting habitat. The Red Tree Vole nests in large, old Douglas fir trees, often with complex branch structure. Many trees in this stand support these characteristics. The Red Tree Vole is an important food source for the Northern Spotted Owl and, according to the Northwest Forest Plan, its nest trees should be protected from logging with a 10-acre no-cut buffer. The complex forest habitat found in unit 26-2 meets the criteria for what the government calls "RA-32" habitat, the highest quality Northern spotted owl habitat. All RA-32 habitat is required under the Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl to be protected from commercial logging, which will only degrade the important habitat features of these exceptional old stands.

Hartweg's wild ginger
The BLM claims the stand is 120 years old, but many of the large, old trees are likely much older. Dominated by large, old Douglas fir with a low statured understory of live oak, the stand supports relatively moist conditions, including a vibrant understory of Cascade Oregon grape, sword fern, vanilla leaf and the relatively uncommon Hartweg's wild ginger (Asarum hartwegii). 

The current 94% canopy cover is suppressing understory fuels and enhancing fire resistance. The limited understory fuels, tall crown-base height, patchy canopy structure and abundance of large, fire resistant trees combine to create a very fire resilient forest. 

Alternative 2 proposes a "density management" prescription, reducing canopy cover to 40%. The removal of large, fire resistant trees and heavy canopy reduction will increase solar radiation, exposure to drying winds, stand drying and trigger an extreme understory response. The currently low-statured and patchy understory of live oak will expand, filling in canopy gaps and, along with young conifer reproduction, will drastically increase fuel loads, fire risks, and fuel ladders leading into the crown of large, old trees.  

Unit 26-3
Unit 26-3 contains beautiful stands of intact old-growth forest.

South of Camp Creek runs an unnamed tributary of Thompson Creek, which later flows into Deer Creek, a large tributary of the Illinois River. At the headwaters of this unnamed stream is a large block of old-growth forest, contiguous with the ancient forests colonizing upper Camp Creek, the area is a vital connectivity corridor leading from the high forested slopes into the valley of Thompson Creek. Unit 26-3 is an old-growth stand within this vital corridor of late-seral habitat.

The stand is relatively moist, with a lush understory of sword fern, Cascade Oregon grape, vanilla leaf and Hartweg's wild ginger. Large Douglas fir and sugar pine (24"-44" diameter) dominate the overstory canopy layer.  Large diameter snags rise above the slopes, while large, downed logs stabalize the soils. The stand contains all the characteristics of old-growth mixed conifer forest. According to the BLM the stand is 180 years old. 

The stand supports NRF habitat within two overlapping Northern spotted owl home ranges. It also supports a documented Red Tree Vole nest tree, which if buffered as required, would eliminate the entire unit from commercial harvest.

The BLM has proposed a "restoration thinning"prescription in this unit, reducing canopy cover to 30%. To meet canopy cover and basal area targets the BLM will be removing the vast majority of large, fire resistant, overstory trees. The level of canopy cover reduction proposed for retention in unit 26-3 will replace complex, old forest with young, highly flammable regrowth. The increase of fuel loads and fire risks will be severe. Logging large, old, fire resistant trees will also render the habitat "unsuitable" for the Northern Spotted Owl and significantly degrade the habitat surrounding the stand's documented Red Tree Vole nest. 

Unit 26-4
A beautiful, old-growth grouping in unit 26-4. The blue marked trees were proposed for removal in the 2005 South Deer Timber Sale, but the sale was never cut. BLM is now back to log these stands and will likely be removing portions of these old-growth groupings in "restoration thinning." Many dominant trees will be removed to achieve a 30% canopy cover.
Unit 26-4 is located on a south-facing slope above Haven Creek. The unit is part of a large contiguous block of old-growth forest extending across the headwaters of Camp Creek and the unnamed stream to the south and into the upper reaches of Haven Creek. 

According to the BLM, the stand is 180 years old and provides NRF habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. Located on a southern exposure, the stand contains a significant population of large, well space ponderosa pine, sugar pine and Douglas fir between 20" and 36" in diameter. A secondary canopy of madrone and younger, pole-sized Doug fir can also be found scattered throughout the stand. 


The BLM has proposed a "restoration thinning" prescription for this stand. The prescription calls for reducing canopy cover to as low as 30%. The impact on this south-facing slope will be to severely dry the stand and extend fire season due to increased exposure to sunlight and drying winds. The result will be to compound drought stress in the summer months and increase susceptibility to insect infestations and high-severity fire effects.  


Conclusions
The large, contiguous area of old-growth habitat at the headwaters of Camp Creek, the unnamed stream to the south, and upper Haven Creek should be retained for habitat connectivity, the protection of late-seral habitats, and to maintain resilient stand conditions. No commercial logging and new route construction should be approved. The habitat is important for late-seral species and the entire area is identified as a Late Successional Reserve in the 2016 Resource Management Plan for Southwestern Oregon. The logging proposed in the Pickett West project is inconsistent with the values and management directives of a Late Successional Reserve forest. 

The logging will also impact a Critical Habitat Unit for the Northern Spotted Owl by downgrading or altogether eliminating important Northern Spotted Owl habitat. The proposed logging will also impact fuel loading and increase fire hazards by reducing canopy cover and removing large, fire resistant trees. 
Large contiguous blocks of old-growth forest should be retained on the landscape for late-seral species like the spotted owl. Rather than fragment and eliminate or downgrade Northern spotted owl habitat in the name of "restoration," the BLM should cancel all units in section 26 and manage the area for conservation and recreation.

Logging these stands will significantly degrade the scenic and natural environment traversed by the proposed Thompson Overlook Trail. The trail was proposed by local residents and approved by the BLM to provide a high quality recreational experience in the unique, low-elevation forests of the area. The trail was heavily supported by residents of Selma, Oregon and will significantly contribute to their quality of life and local economy. It should not be degraded before it can be built. 

Units 26-1, 26-2, 26-3 and 26-4, along with the tractor swing road proposed to access them, should be canceled. The harm caused to the environment, to the local community and recreation economy far outweight any benefit the timber would provide. Logging some of the last large blocks of low-elevation ancient forest in the mountains above Selma is short-sighted and irresponsible. 


Please consider commenting on the Pickett West Project and ask the BLM to cancel units 26-1, 26-2, 26-3 and 26-4. The deadline for the public comment period ends on July 17, act now!


Submit comments to: 

Grant Pass Inter-agency Office/Don Ferguson

2164 NE Spalding Ave. 

Grants Pass, Oregon 97526

-or-
    blm_or_pwest@blm.gov


Camp Creek, Camp Forest and the Pickett West Timber Sale


Unit 27-12 is a beautiful and increasingly rare low-elevation, old-growth habitat. The unit has been used for decades as an educational laboratory for students of late-seral and old-growth forest habitats. BLM is proposing to log many large trees and reduce canopy cover to as low as 30% in this magnificent old forest. The unit should be canceled to protect the stand's old-growth character and naturally fire resilient forest.
Orville Camp grew up in the Illinois Valley. His family homesteaded the Deer Creek Valley outside Selma, Oregon, starting in 1909. They made a living in the logging and farming industry. A tributary of Thompson Creek, known as Camp Creek, was named for Orville's family. Orville moved away in the 1954 after being drafted into the Korean War. He returned in the fall of 1967 to purchase a portion of his family's homestead on Camp Creek. The 180-acre parcel was ruthlessly clearcut before he acquired the land.

Inspired by the research of Charles Darwin and the science of evolution, he began to manage the land he calls, "Camp Forest," according to the principals of "Natural Selection Ecostry," a light-touch form of forest stewardship that removes only dead and dying trees that are not necessary for ecosystem function. 

In the preceding 50 years Camp Forest has healed and a diverse forest has developed from the young replanted stands Orville originally acquired. Although the careful stewardship of the Camp family has helped, Orville admits that much of the recovery has been due to the old-growth and late-seral forest habitats on adjacent BLM land, providing a repository of biodiversity.
Camp Forest, owned and managed by Orville and Mary Camp, is the large swath of forest at the center of this photograph (the green flat before the valley openings). The forest has grown from a clear-cut over 50 years ago into the maturing forest it is today. In the distance is Eight Dollar Mountain and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

Orville remembers the days of old-growth logging in the Deer Creek Watershed. His family worked in the logging industry, cutting the extensive old-growth forests that surrounded the community of Selma. Today he and his wife, Mary, are advocates for the forests that surround them. They are working hard to protect the old forests that remain. After all these years they don't want to witness more old forest fall to the saw; if Pickett West is logged they may, unfortunately, get a front row seat.

Orville and Mary Camp at the Camp Forest property.
This last weekend Orville looked at me, visibly distressed at the thought of Pickett West being logged all around him, and said, "I am more concerned than I have ever been because these are the last remnants of old-growth. Once they are gone they cannot be recovered and they will never return."

As I left to survey the units surrounding their home Mary wished me luck and sincerely thanked me for my efforts; however, the fact that these forests still stand is largely due to Mary's efforts and the gratitude is mutual.

As I hiked through beautiful, threatened, old-growth forest, I thought of the Camps, their little refuge in the trees and the horror that will fill their hearts if they have to hear these giant trees fall.

Below are a few of the Pickett West units near the Camp Forest property:

Unit 27-12
Old-growth forest habitat proposed for heavy industrial logging to 30% canopy cover in unit 27-12.

Unit 27-12 is a beautiful stand of old-growth forest, located directly adjacent to the Camp Forest property. The area has been used for many years as an educational laboratory for students of ecology and Natural Selection Ecostry. Thousands of individuals from around the world have come to this stand to study its late-seral habitat conditions.

The forest in unit 27-12 contains all the characteristics of old-growth forest, including large, old trees up to 5' in diameter, large snags, downed wood, a complex multi-tiered canopy, high levels of canopy closure, undisturbed biological legacies and sufficient levels of decadence. The Northern Spotted Owl has been seen in the stand on many occasions and their primary prey species, the Red Tree Vole, is also known to nest in a 5' diameter Douglas fir tree.

Dominated by large Douglas fir, tanoak and madrone, with scattered old-growth sugar pine, the stand is naturally quite fire resistant. The understory is also relatively open with minimal ladder fuels. 

In 2005, the BLM approved the construction of the Thompson Overlook Trail, a non-motorized trail leading from Thompson Creek Road to the headwaters of Camp Creek. Due to a lack of funding, volunteers and agency support, the trail has not yet been constructed. A portion of the trail would traverse unit 27-12.

The BLM has proposed a "restoration thinning" prescription for unit 27-12. This prescription will maintain only 30% canopy cover and remove many large, old trees. 

Unit 21-12
Old-growth forest habitat in unit 21-12.

Unit 21-12 is located on a southwest facing slope above the Camp Forest property. The stand supports old-growth characteristics and a wide variety of stand conditions. 

The western portion of the unit consists of predominately 20"-30" sugar pine and Douglas fir with an understory of tanoak, madrone and manzanita. Clear groupings of large, old trees create a filtered, patchy canopy structure. Fire resilience is high due to the dominance of large trees with high canopies and thick insulating bark. The western portion of the stand is dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.

The eastern portion of the stand is slightly more moist due to a faint draw and a more southeastern exposure. This portion of the stand is closed-canopy forest with large Douglas fir and sugar pine trees between 20" and 46" in diameter. The stand supports complex forest habitat identified by the BLM as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. 

The BLM has proposed a "restoration thinning" prescription in this stand. The prescription would remove the majority of the overstory trees, reducing the canopy cover to as low as 30%.

Unit 21-10
Lush, old forest in unit 21-10
Unit 21-10 is a unique, productive, and increasingly rare habitat. The stand supports low-elevation, old-growth forest on a gentle terrace. The gentle terrace covers about 18 acres, all of which is proposed for logging. 

According to the Pickett West EA, the stand is 140 years old, but many of the stand's largest trees are likely significantly older. The stand has a closed canopy with an abundance of large, old trees between 20" and 40" in diameter. Douglas fir and tanoak dominate the area in complex, fire resistant stands. 

The BLM has identified the stand as Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and is proposing to downgrade owl habitat to dispersal. This means that the stand currently provides all the habitat needs for the Northern Spotted Owl, yet after logging has occurred it will only be useful for dispersal and will no longer support nesting, roosting or foraging habitat. 
  
Unit 21-11
Late-seral forest in unit 21-11
Unit 21-11 is located on very steep terrain and supports high quality Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. The stand contains significant late-seral forest habitat, especially on the north-facing slopes. Large Douglas fir dominate these lush north-facing forests, with groupings of large trees scattered across the slope, creating a diverse, filtered canopy and complex forest structure. 

BLM is proposing to log this stand using a "density management" prescription. This prescription will retain 40% canopy cover, while removing many large, fire resistant trees. 

Unit 22-5
Coastal influenced old-growth habitat in unit 22-5.
Unit 22-5 is located on a steep north-facing slope. The forest is lush and coastal with a dense understory of evergreen huckleberry and a secondary canopy of  tanoak. The eastern portion of the stand is uncut, old-growth forest supporting massive old trees with complex branch structure, large diameter limbs and a patchy canopy distribution. According to the BLM, the stand represents dispersal habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. This determination was made in error, as the stand is clearly high quality Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat. 

The BLM has proposed a "restoration thinning" prescription in this stand, removing canopy cover to as low as 30%. 

Logging these last fragments of old, complex forest will have dire consequences for the forests and wildlife of upper Thompson Creek. Forests currently providing refugia for old-growth dependent species like the Northern Spotted Owl, red tree vole, Pacific fisher and flying squirrel will be degraded. Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl will be downgraded to dispersal in density management units and eliminated entirely in "restoration thinning" units.

As canopies are opened, stands will also experience desiccation from increased exposure to sunlight and wind. Fire season will come early to these stands and fire hazards will increase as large, fire resistant trees are removed and fuel loads drastically increase. Opening canopy conditions to as low as 30% or 40% will trigger an extreme "shrub response" in the understory, creating a dramatic increase in fuel loads, reducing fire resilience and threatening the safety of nearby communities. 
Open, resilient old-growth forest in unit 27-13 adjacent to the Camp Forest property.

Nearly half the units proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale are located in stands over 150 years old. The Pickett West Timber Sale is not "forest restoration." This timber sale is an old-school timber grab, targeting the last remnants of old forest in the watersheds it proposes to log. Pickett West will threaten communities across southwestern Oregon by increasing fire hazards and reducing forest resilience. Our watersheds will suffer, habitat will be destroyed, our last old-growth stands will be fragmented and the beauty of our region sacrificed for timber production. 

The Pickett West Timber Sale should be canceled in its entirety and a new, more scientifically valid, socially acceptable and restorative approach pursued. 

Please consider commenting on this project before 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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Gap Fire: Abundant Post-Fire Landscapes and Destructive Post-Fire Logging

The Gap Fire burned at characteristic fire severity in the subalpine forests adjacent to Condrey Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest. The area is renowned for its biodiversity and represents a vital connectivity corridor linking the major mountain ranges of the West Coast.
The Klamath National Forest (KNF) has released a Draft Record of Decision for the ironically named "Horse Creek Community Protection and Forest Restoration Project." The project is actually a clearcut, post-fire logging project cloaked in the newest euphemisms of "restoration" and "community protection." Despite the misleading language, the real motivations become crystal clear when one actually visits the units proposed for clear-cut, post-fire logging. 

The Gap Fire of 2016 burned from the banks of the Klamath River to the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain. The fire burned fast and furious the first few days, burning with intensity as it ran down the Horse Creek canyon, destroying nine homes. Ironically, when the Klamath National Forest was supposed to be protecting the community of Horse Creek; however, they were instead working to minimize the number of acres burned and protecting the extensive private timberlands owned by Fruit Growers Supply Company and a handful of other industrial timber interests. The agency provided virtually no notification or home site protection to the community of Horse Creek. The evacuation of the community was chaotic and poorly implemented, creating a dangerous situation for firefighters and local residents alike. In the end, nine homes burned as the fire raced through the community. 

When the community of Horse Creek needed protection from the Gap Fire, the KNF failed to act in a timely and responsible manner. Instead, the agency worked to protect private timber interests and failed to responsibly evacuate or protect the homes of local residents. "Structural protection" was not provided to many of the communities defensible homes, leading to the loss of nine homes on August 28, 2016.

Now, after the fact, the KNF has proposed a "community protection project" and is focused on yet another large-scale, post-fire logging project on the Klamath River. Many of the proposed units are located miles from any residence on the Siskiyou Crest. Fire behavior at this location, no matter how severe, will not affect the communities in the Klamath River Canyon. 

Significant scientific evidence shows that post-fire logging, especially in old forests, has no positive effect on future fuel loading or fire severity; in fact, many studies have shown the opposite effect, that post-fire logging increases fuel loads with "activity slash" from logging operations, and removes large diameter material that will hold water, build soil, provide microclimate, shade and other important elements. The removal of these elements will increase future fire severity and impact forest regeneration patterns. 

The KNF claims the project will be "restorative," yet the Gap Fire burned at characteristic fire severity, especially in the old-growth, sub-alpine forests of the Siskiyou Crest. The project also proposes clear-cut, post-fire logging in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest, designated to promote old forest habitat, complex forest structure and the habitat elements necessary for late-seral species such as the Pacific fisher and the Northern spotted owl. The clearcut logging proposed by the Klamath National Forest will degrade habitat values for hundreds of years and harm the natural regenerative process taking place.
Does this look like forest restoration? The Forest Service is claiming that clearcut, post-fire logging will "restore" forest communities following the Gap Fire. These denuded slopes were ruthlessly logged by the Fruit Growers Supply Company. The Forest Service hopes to log the Gap Fire, creating similarly devastating results. Is this what are beloved public lands should look like?


The Gap Fire burned throughout the Horse Creek, Middle Creek and the Buckhorn Creek drainage in the Middle Klamath River Watershed. The streams are some of the last cold water refugia in the Middle Klamath Watershed, providing habitat for the imminently threatened coho salmon and steelhead. The project proposes extensive clear-cut logging and tractor yarding in vital habitat for these endangered fisheries. Sedimentation, stream temperatures, stream flows, peak flows and other measures of watershed health will be negatively affected, especially in headwater reaches near the Siskiyou Crest. Compounding these impacts is the extensive private land logging that has occurred in the region following the Beaver and Gap Fires, where private timber companies have cleared thousands of acres on the southern slope of the Siskiyou Crest. 
Private land post-fire logging conducted by the Fruit Growers Supply Company following the 2014 Beaver Fire, directly east of the Gap Fire, The cumulative impact of private and federal land logging following the Beaver Fire and the Gap Fire is creating extensive impacts to soils, fisheries, wildlife habitat, noxious weed spread, and the natural regeneration of forest habitats.

Adding insult to injury, the KNF has proposed logging hundreds of acres of old-growth, fire-effected forest on the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain. Fire severity in the area was low to moderate with positive ecological effects. The Siskiyou Crest is one of the most important connectivity corridors in the Pacific Northwest. The corridor will become increasingly important for connectivity and dispersal as the effects of climate change become more pronounced. 

The Siskiyou Crest is widely recognized for its biodiversity and habitat connectivity. It is the only range in the Pacific Northwest to link the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains and the high deserts of the Great Basin, its diversity is unparalleled, partly because of these habitat linkages. The proposed units are located adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area and the Pacific Crest Trail. The region contains significant biological, recreational and social value. 

The Condrey Mountain area is also a significant "bottleneck" in the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest due to the abundance of private timberland on the southern slope and in the watersheds below in the Klamath River. The units proposed for post-fire logging and new road development in upper Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek threaten the vital connectivity of the region by logging the last intact, old-growth forests in these important watersheds. 

The high elevation forest adjacent to Condrey Mountain, burned with mixed severity fire effects. The intact forests are a "bottleneck" for connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest, which connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains. Clearcut logging in this connectivity corridor will have disproportionate impacts to connectivity across the West Coast. The high elevation connectivity corridor found on the Siskiyou Crest will become increasingly important as climate change forces species to migrate to more favorable habitats. Notice the low severity fire effects in this photograph. The Gap Fire burned through this area, but was far from catastrophic.  

I recently visited the last, intact, fire-effected forests in the Buckhorn Creek watershed. At the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek, above the tree plantations and fresh clear-cuts on private timber land, is an island of intact habitat directly below Dry Lake Mountain and Condrey Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest. The lush mountain meadows and ancient sub-alpine forests are an oasis, linking the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area with the Eastern Siskiyou Crest. Logging these forests will severely impact this now largely intact chain of connectivity with significant impacts to the biological qualities of the Siskiyou Crest and the connectivity of the entire Pacific Northwest.

I hiked the slopes of the Siskiyou Crest from Dry Lake Mountain through the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek. I stopped at Buckhorn Spring, a primitive old camp surrounded by meadows, springs, and ancient forests of mountain hemlock and red fir. Many of these forests underburned in the Gap Fire and are now streaked in early-seral snag forest habitats, providing a location for regeneration, harboring age-class diversity and habitat complexity. Pioneering braken fern, purple lupine, and yellow groundsel have colonized the blackened forest soils, bring a stark, colorful and vibrant contrast to the landscape. Natural communities have been reinvigorated and restored by the fire, providing an abundance and vibrancy not experienced for many decades near Condrey Mountain.
Lush mountain meadows near Buckhorn Spring will be heavily impacted by clearcut post-fire logging. Many of the meadows in the Buckhorn Spring area are surrounded in post-fire logging units, such as the meadow shown above. Unit 118.03, 118.04 and 118.05 surround this beautiful meadow.

I made my way west to a large mountain meadow surrounded in post-fire logging units and new road development. I watched two large, black bear grazing in these lush, snow-fed meadows; protected by the isolation, and housed, fed, and sustained by the complexity of the post-fire mosaic. I watched these two large, but gentle giants graze together in quiet bliss, awakened from a long winter slumber and into this lush oasis. They do not know the nightmare that lies ahead and the damage that will be unleashed upon their home by the KNF. They cannot now imagine the destruction of their mountain home: the howl of the chainsaw, trees crashing, the churning of heavy machines, bulldozers, new roads and the stump fields that could, otherwise, if left to recover naturally, be berry fields, winter dens, grassy clearings to graze in, greenleaf manzanita fields filled with "little apples," and downed logs full of tasty grubs.

As the bears grazed in peace, unaware of my presence and unaware of the decisions made far away by Forest Supervisor, Patricia Grantham at the Yreka Office of the KNF, they could not imagine the terror of losing their home to these machines and the devastation they will be bring. No less important, but perhaps more influential, is our own inability to imagine the horror of losing one's home, of watching it destroyed, of being refugees, and if you survive and return, finding a landscape that you no longer recognize. Generations of black bears, Pacific fishers, spotted owls and anadromous fish across the Klamath National Forest have suffered this fate. I fear these docile giants will suffer the same fate. and watch their home be desecrated for corporate greed.

The disturbance of fire is natural and regenerative, it has sculpted these mountains for millennia. The disturbance of post-fire logging has no natural equivalent and it disrupts the regenerative process; unfortunately, post-fire logging is now sculpting the Klamath River creating novel patterns and sterilized, denuded landscapes. 
Fire is a natural process that benefits forest complexity, creates age class diversity, and has for millennia shaped the mosaic of the Siskiyou Mountains. Post-fire logging will degrade habitat values and connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest through clearcut, old growth logging. This photograph shows current conditions in unit 118.06.

The beauty and abundance of this fire-effected landscape is written across the face of the mountains, in flower-filled meadows, regenerating snag fields and ancient forest habitats. The regeneration, the vibrancy and the seamless continuity in the face of natural disturbance is as clear as the water that pours from Buckhorn Spring.

For the bear, the fisher, the fish, the forests and for the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest, please contact Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham and ask that she publish a Final Record of Decision that does not include the Siskiyou Crest units at the headwaters of Buckhorn and Middle Creek. 

Forest Supervisor, Patricia Grantham 
pagrantham@fs.fed.us

Condrey Mountain/Siskiyou Crest Units: A Photo Essay 
 
Fire severity in upper Buckhorn Creek and adjacent to the Siskiyou Crest was predominantly low to moderate severity, providing ecological benefit and restoring the natural process of wildfire to the forests of the Siskiyou Mountains. The KNF is proposing to negate the positive benefits of the Gap Fire, by logging off the biological legacy it has created. The Siskiyou Crest is not in need of "restoration" and was only positively effected by the Gap Fire.

The intact, high elevation forests and meadows around Buckhorn Spring are proposed for road building and heavily industrial logging by the KNF. The forest in the background of this photo would be clearcut by the agency, leading to simplified habitat, sedimentation and significant impacts to the natural regeneration process. Units 118.03, 118.04 and 118.06 surround this meadow and two new roads will be developed to access the ancient snag forest proposed for logging.
 
A new road is proposed to be built directly through this small snow melt pond in unit 118.06. The new road will significantly disrupt hydrology and degrade the "sponge" found at the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek. This "sponge" holds, stores and releases water late into the season for the benefit of fish and other aquatic life. Features such as this small pond, created when a now long decomposed tree fell on this site, created "pit and mound" micro-topography. The pond, the micro-topography and the ability of this site to hold, store and release water late in the season will be significantly impacted by the development of new roads and the removal of large, fire effected trees.

Unit 118.26 directly below Dry Lake Mountain and the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area. The Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area was designated to protect and provide research opportunities for those studying the complex geology of the region. Instead, the area is now being targeted for clearcut logging. 
Unit 118.04 below Condrey Mountain at the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek. The area contains significant stands of intact, old growth forest. The fire burned at characteristic fire severity, creating a mosaic of old forest, mountain meadows, manzanita fields and snag forests. The habitat is highly diverse and productive for wildlife. The KNF is proposing to build new road into this unroaded landscape, to facilitate clearcut logging of all dead standing snags and live trees the agency claims will succumb to mortality. Currently diverse snag forest habitat will be transformed into stump fields and highly flammable tree plantations.
Which do you prefer? Natural Fire-Adapted Ecosystems or Post-Fire Clearcut Logging:
 
Post fire logging in the Beaver Creek watershed on Fruit Growers Supply Company land. The result of this logging has been far from "restorative" instead, the landscape has been denuded of both standing snags and live trees within the logging area, streams have been heavily impacted, soils significantly disturbed and thousands of acres have been transformed from post-fire landscapes to stump fields infested with noxious weeds. Invasive mullein, star thisle, bull thisle and in particular, cheat grass have invade the post fire landscape, turning thousands of acres of post fire logging areas into noxious weed fields.

The forest in the foreground, directly adjacent to the dry meadow shown in this photograph is identified as unit 118.12 and proposed for clearcut, old-growth logging by the Klamath National Forest (KNF). The forested slope in the background depicts low and moderate severity fire effects and burned in healthy, characteristic patterns. The KNF is proposing to log these intact, fire adapted forests to opportunistically produce timber for the industry. No other credible explanation has been provided by the KNF, the project is plain and simple, a timber grab in areas that would not otherwise be proposed for logging due to high ecological values.