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


2 comments:

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