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


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