Saturday, January 28, 2017

Smokey the Bear Says: Resist!

Image: Alt US National Park Service

President Trump is now in the White House signing Executive Orders and taking unilateral actions to destroy the social fabric of our communities and the integrity of our environment. In my lifetime I have never seen a threat that is so widespread and comprehensive. As a community and as a nation we must stand up for freedom, respect and environmental responsibility. 

On January 21, 2017, millions of people around the world joined the Women's March in opposition to the Trump Administration and the Trump agenda. An estimated 8,000-10,000 people from southern Oregon and northern California showed up in sleepy, little Ashland, Oregon to protest Trump, his cabinet, and his agenda. It was the largest gathering of people of any kind in Ashland — ever! Across the continent and across the world people have begun to stand up and speak out against the corporate takeover of our country by Trump and his billionaire cronies. 

Trump has responded to the protests by signing Executive Orders and Memorandums that threaten the rights of women, immigrants and other disenfranchised people, and encourages the development of the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and even the local Jordan Cove LNG pipeline here in southern Oregon. All these pipelines have been strongly opposed by local communities, affected landowners, tribal governments, and large numbers of the American population. Trump has also declared an open administrative war on climate science, removing information on climate change from government websites and has now imposed a "gag order" on the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Interior so they cannot publicly comment on the disastrous effects of Trump's new climate and energy policy. Although Trump avoids the media, stating that he would rather communicate directly with the people through Twitter and other forms of social media, other government agencies have been barred from such open lines of communication. 

Image: Alt US National Park Service
In response, the folks within the National Parks Service have gone rogue and are posting on Facebook and other sites in opposition to the Trump gag order. Our local government employees, who are entrusted with managing our public lands should do the same. Numerous websites, Facebook pages and twitter accounts have been posted on the web providing opportunities for National Park Service employees to speak out on their own personal time. Thus far, the coalition represents Arches, Shenandoah, Yosemite, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokey National Parks. It is time for Crater Lake, Lava Beds and the Oregon Caves to get involved! Check out the Alternative US National Park Service Facebook page, website and twitter feed, support their resistance and encourage other government employees to stand up. As I write this post, government agencies, including the Forest Service, National Weather Service, EPA and others are joining in, forming unofficial twitter accounts to defy the Trump gag order.

Trump is essentially severing the ties between our government agencies and the public, harvesting mistrust and impacting our ability to create meaningful relationships, transparent planning processes and collaboration. Many wonder how this inability to openly communicate will impact local collaborative processes like the Applegate AMA, the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership, management of the newly expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument,  and other federal land management projects heavily supported by local communities. These popular land management projects depend on open, transparent lines of communication, trust and respect between collaborative partners. It appears Trump is working hard to undermine these efforts, while quietly sacrificing our public lands to industrial interests. 

To make matters worse, Trump has instituted a hiring freeze on government employees. Trump's order, initiated on January 23, states, “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances." Exceptions may be granted for reasons of "national security" and "public safety," although no one currently knows how these exemptions are being defined. The idea is to trim the federal workforce through attrition, despite that fact that since 1994 the Forest Service workforce has declined by 45%. Current staffing levels leave many important issues unaddressed and under Trump it will only get worse. Locally, it means positions such a botanists, wildlife biologists, recreation planners, and firefighting personnel cannot be hired by the Forest Service. 
Image: Alt US National Park Service
Together the gag order and hiring freeze further erodes the delicate trust developed between government agencies and local communities. Many wonder if agencies like our local Forest Service can continue collaborating with local communities and provide acceptable levels of transparency. Others are concerned that the local BLM, already puppets of the industry, will be encouraged to log off our natural legacy and ignore the concerns of our communities. The future is uncertain and as long as federal agencies and the public cannot communicate effectively, controversy, gridlock and litigation will prevail. Hiring freezes and gag orders are not solutions and will only bring more dysfunction to an already broken process and underfunded government agencies.

We are being thrust back into the era of corporate dominance, secretive government management and ineffective environmental regulations that will leave a lasting legacy of environmental destruction, impoverished local communities and devastated resource bases. In the short term, corporate and industrial interests will thrive; in the long term, we will all pay the price. Even Smokey the Bear says: "Resist." I for one will be happy to join him!

 Southern Oregon Woman's March — January 21, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Good Day for Southern Oregon!

Rough and Ready Creek flows into the Illinois Valley from the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The watershed was included in the 20-year Mineral Withdrawal.
Today was a good day for southern Oregon and its wild places. Two major victories in the struggle to protect our last wild, intact landscapes were realized today. It is a victory for the land, for our communities and for the future. Today, President Obama designated a nearly 48,000-acre expansion to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument east of Ashland, Oregon. The BLM also announced a 20-year Mineral Withdrawal in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area on Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek, west of O'Brien, Oregon. The withdrawal also protects Hunter Creek and the North Fork of the Pistol River in coastal southwestern Oregon. The Mineral Withdrawal totals 95,805 acres on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, including some of the region's most pristine streams and fisheries. It also includes 5,216 acres of BLM land in the Medford and Coos Bay Districts. The Mineral Withdrawal protects large swaths of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area from large-scale strip mining and new mineral development.

Both of these wild places are very close to my heart. I learned to love the wildlands of southern Oregon and northern California in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. I can look back at the extended backpacks of my youth, into Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek, enjoying the pristine waters, unique serpentine geology, diverse botany, stark beauty and lonely canyons. I think of swimming clear, blue, rock-bound pools with only cobra lily, Jeffery pine and summer steelhead, as my company.

Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area will be included in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, protecting some of the region's most interesting low elevation habitats.

I think of full moons on Pilot Rock looking across the Cascade-Siskiyou region. I think of long rambling hikes through the Monument, to the volcanic grandeur of Jenny Creek Falls, the wild, rugged canyons surrounding Horseshoe Ranch, and to the summit of Grizzly Peak with its fire swept rock gardens and majestic old forests. I think of cold, clear winter days on Round Mountain and rain-drenched hikes to Lost Creek Falls. In these places I found myself. In these places I found meaning and peace, like I never knew existed. I emerged from childhood with a sense of place and a sense of responsibility to that place, with an undying urge to defend the wild and immerse myself in its humbling solitude. 

Many years ago (1995), I fought with youthful zeal for the old forests we called "Hoxie," forests targeted by the BLM in the Hoxie Griffin Timber Sale and bitterly opposed by a youthful cadre of activists. We toiled in the snow, blockaded the road, occupied log trucks and screamed out in passion for the earth. The sale and its old-growth forests were cut, but a new movement was born and a personal journey began. The struggle to save "Hoxie" was disappointingly lost. How ironic that at the time no one would listen. Today, the president of the United States acknowledged their values and these same forests we so idealistically fought to protect have now been preserved for posterity in the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. 

Today was a good day. Let us celebrate these important victories and give thanks to those who have worked to secure them — thanks, you know who you are. Then let's move on to protect the next wild place. What next? Anywhere wild!

Ancient black oak on Scotch Creek in the Horseshoe Ranch addition to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Pickett West Timber Sale: Cheney Creek, Southside and Highway 238 Units

Old-growth forest proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale on lower Cheney Creek.

The Klamath Forest Alliance and Applegate Neighborhood Network have continued our monitoring effort for the Pickett West Timber Sale. We began on the Applegate Valley portions of the timber sale, surveying units around North Applegate and Murphy. Recently we visited a few units accessed from Cheney Creek Road, Southside Road, and Highway 238 near Murphy.

Cheney Creek Unit

I visited one small Pickett West unit on Cheney Creek on road 37-7-13.1. The unit lies directly adjacent to unit 13-7 of the recently cut Cheney-Slate Timber Sale. The proposed unit is located on a steep, densely wooded northwest-facing slope, directly above the mainstem of Cheney Creek, an important steelhead and coho salmon stream in the Lower Applegate River watershed near Wilderville.

Lush and productive forest proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
The forest is lush, dense and very productive for the Applegate Valley. In these westernmost watersheds, a distinct coastal influence drifts up the river with the winter fog. While the eastern, more interior portions of the Applegate Valley are arid and dry, the westernmost watersheds represent quientessential Pacific Northwest habitat. The increased precipitation and productive soils grow dense, multi-layered forests of tanoak and massive old Douglas-fir. A waist-deep tangle of evergreen huckleberry carpets the forest floor, mixed with half rotted, moss covered logs and stout, branchy Pacific yew trees. 

Old, fire-scarred Douglas-fir trees grow in clusters across the slope, piercing through the secondary canopy of tanoak trees. These are dense woods with the shelter of a closed canopy and the protection of large, dominant old trees. The layered canopy, large old conifers, abundant downed wood, and complex late-seral habitat creates ideal conditions for the Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher and red tree vole.

Higher on the slopes are closed mid-seral forests that also provide important habitat for the Northern spotted owl. Lush, intact forests like this are not in need of "restoration" or silvicultural manipulation — they should be left alone. The stand currently maintains healthy conditions and a natural resilience to fire, insects and disease. The habitat complexity, biodiversity, and cool, protected microclimate is currently moderating fire hazards, buffering the stand from drought stress, insect infestation and the immediate effects of climate change. 
Lush, old forest proposed for logging on Cheney Creek.

This proposed Pickett West Timber Sale unit is an oasis and refuge for wildlife in a changing climate and in a changed landscape. The majority of the Cheney Creek watershed has been heavily logged by both the BLM and private timber interests, leaving islands of old habitat scattered across the watershed. The habitat connectivity provided by this stand, and into the riparian area of Cheney Creek, is important for late-seral species such as Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, red tree vole, and northern flying squirrel. The cool, low elevation forest habitat will become increasingly important to wildlife in a fragmented landscape and changing climate. The unit should be canceled from the Pickett West Timber Sale.

Directly across road 37-7-13.1, in a once lush riparian terrace adjacent to Cheney Creek, the BLM recently logged unit 13-7 in the Cheney-Slate Timber Sale. The unit was logged to within 50' of the fish bearing stream and was tractor yarded. In the process, the rich understory, the nurse logs, and rich alluvial soils were badly damaged as the tractor tread compacted and disturbed soils and large trees were dragged from the streamside terrace to the adjacent logging road. The main component of the understory, dense thickets of evergreen huckleberry, has been removed by the tractor, leaving only bare and compacted soil covered in a layer of logging slash. Nearly all the beautiful bigleaf maples and canyon live oak were cut to facilitate the removal of commercial timber.
Unit 13-7 of the Cheney Slate Timber Sale cut in 2016.
The Purpose and Need in the Cheney-Slate Environmental Assessment (EA) recommended the following: "promote/retain a multilayered stand structure and a diversity of size classes; increase seral stage diversity across the landscape: create conditions that are favorable for the initiation, creation and retention of snags, down wood, large vigorous hardwoods, and understory vegetation diversity in areas where these are lacking" (p.7). The EA also identifies a need to, "improve and protect aquatic, riparian and terrestrial habitats" (p.9); however, the reality on the ground tells a much different story.

Southside Road Unit

The Southside Road Unit is located directly adjacent to a portion of Southside Road, between Murphy and Wilderville, Oregon. A small corner of BLM land abuts Southside Road, providing public access to a unique, beautiful and interesting ecosystem. 

Open oak woodland at the northern portion of the area is not in need of additional manual fuel reduction as it has already been thinned. The area is proposed for fuel reduction in the Pickett West Timber Sale. A low intensity prescribed fire would be the most appropriate treatment on this site.

The northern portion of the area appears to be affected by ultramafic soils such as serpentine. The area is open and sparsely wooded with short-statured oak, a few twisted manzanita and scattered overstory pine or cedar. Native grasses and forbs, now dormant for winter, adorn the rocky soils. The slopes are gentle, rolling, and divided by faint ridges and small trickling waterways pouring through the leaky soil like a sieve. 

The area has been treated for fuel reduction in the past, however, additional fuel reduction is proposed in Pickett West. It is hard to imagine what the agency believes that area needs, as fuels in this location are extremely low for southwestern Oregon, competition is minimal between trees, and soils are poor enough to ensure that very little has grown back since the last fuel reduction treatment. Stand conditions in the oak woodland area appear characteristic. The agency could consider a low intensity prescribed fire in the flashy, grassy fuels, but manual fuel treatment is currently unnecessary.

Mixed conifer forest including large, old-growth trees is proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
Further to the south, the woodlands transition into stands of madrone, black oak, pine and Douglas-fir.  The soils are more productive and the slope undulating between small gulches lined in Pacific yew and bay laurel. The ground is cobbly with very little fine fuel or duff layer — the "soil" is largely covered in mossy rocks the size of a football. Scattered old pine and fir grow among wide branching madrone and a few black oak. The large, old trees support gnarled old branches, broken and flat-topped crowns and other characteristics of old-growth trees. They are scattered about at low density in groupings of two or three or four or more trees. The largest trees grow adjacent to the stream.

A portion of the stand is proposed for commercial logging. 
Growth is slow on these harsh soils.  I bored one tree, only 18" in diameter, that was 147 years old. If this unit was logged a strict upper diameter limit of 18" would be necessary to protect old-growth trees and maintain adequate canopy cover.

Highway 238 Unit
Groupings of large overstory trees should be retained in the Highway 238 stand.
I also visited a proposed Pickett West Timber Sale unit directly adjacent to Highway 238, east of Murphy, Oregon. The area lies directly across the road from a small county-owned property on the Applegate River. Many people access the Applegate River from this highway pullout; however, few realize the forest on the slope adjacent is also public land. 

The area is an isolated parcel of BLM land: the lower portion is targeted for commercial logging, while the upper slope is proposed for fuel reduction.

The stand is mid-seral with scattered old pine, fir, madrone, and on the lower slopes bigleaf maple. Beneath the few scattered old trees, grow relatively dense, closed canopy stands of pole-sized fir trees. In places the understory is covered in a thick carpet of ferns. The unit is proposed for commercial logging and could likely be treated to increase stand health and reduce fuel loading if done with sensitivity. 

A lush understory of ferns colonizes a natural forest opening.

The treatment should target small diameter understory trees, mostly Douglas fir. Trees of commericial size and non-commercial size would need to be removed for the treatment to effectively reduce fuels and positively influence stand structure. A 20" diameter limit and an emphasis on maintaining groupings of dominant trees should be implemented. The slope is north facing; a 60% canopy cover retention target should ensure Northern spotted owl habitat is maintained while ample canopy cover reduces the potential for a dense shrub response.  

Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) intend to continue monitoring proposed Pickett West Timber Sale units. Please consider supporting our efforts with a tax-deductible donation. Specify that your donation will support the Siskiyou Mountains Conservation Program.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Gap Fire Report: Natural Fire Effects, Fire Suppression Impacts & Post-Fire Logging

The Gap Fire burned around the meadows near Buckhorn Spring on the Siskiyou Crest.

The Gap Fire burned between August 27 and September 17, 2016, in the Horse Creek watershed north of the Klamath River. The fire began with intensity, burning under extreme conditions as it approached the small rural community of Horse Creek. Being funneled down the Horse Creek canyon by strong winds and plume-driven runs, the fire tragically burned nine homes on the evening of August 28 — more details about this are included in the report.

By September 1, weather conditions had moderated and the fire burned at low- to moderate-severity as it approached the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain in upper Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek. The Gap Fire brought many benefits to the forests and ecosystems of the Siskiyou Crest: it reduced fuels, recycled nutrients and enhanced wildlife habitat. It also naturally thinned forests, opened forest stands in vast low-severity underburns, regenerated montane chaparral fields with mixed-severity fire and created small, isolated openings in otherwise forested habitats with moderate- and high-severity runs. Habitat complexity, age class diversity and forest heterogeneity were positively affected, reinforcing the ancient mosaic of fire on the southern slope of the Siskiyou Crest.

The Gap Fire on the slopes above the Klamath River.
The Gap Fire burned through the Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve (LSR), a large area set aside to promote late-seral habitat conditions and connectivity between LSR forests and wilderness landscapes on the Siskiyou Crest and in the Marble Mountains. In the Johnny O'Neil LSR, old-growth forest, second-growth forest and dense plantation stands burned in a healthy mixed-severity fire mosaic.

The Gap Fire also burned adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area, the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, a designated Back-Country Area, the Horse Creek Botanical Area and in watersheds providing cold water refugia for threatened coho salmon. The northern portion burned into the high country of the Siskiyou Crest in old-growth red fir, white fir and hemlock forest, adapted to mixed-severity fire. The fire burned through these forests at low- to moderate-severity, creating minimal tree mortality and largely maintaining the ancient forest canopy.

Unfortunately, the Klamath National Forest (KNF) has now proposed a large post-fire logging project in this important landscape. The inaptly named Horse Creek Community Protection and Restoration Project — a name clearly chosen to greenwash the real intentions of the project — calls for clearcutting old-growth snag forest and building "temporary roads" in upper Buckhorn and Middle Creeks. The project also includes post-fire logging in the Johnny O'Neil LSR and tractor yarding on extremely sensitive and erosive schist soils. I encourage folks to vocally oppose this project, support protection of the Siskiyou Crest, and the inclusion of local tribes in the decision making process. 

Old-growth snag forests at the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek on the Siskiyou Crest are proposed for clearcut logging. Small snag patches like this one would be accessed with "temporary roads," tractor or skyline yarded, clearcut and replanted with plantations stands. Both snags and live trees would be cut.

With the support of Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), I have published the Gap Fire Report, an in-depth analysis of the Gap Fire, its fire effects, the proposed post-fire logging and the impact of discretionary fire suppression activities.

The Gap Fire Report can be viewed at the following link:

The Gap Fire Report is the seventh fire report KFA has produced in the past five years. We are attempting to document the impacts of fire suppression and the actual mosaic of contemporary fire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. The result is an extensive case study from across the Klamath-Siskiyou region and its many wildland habitats. The research documents the beneficial effects of contemporary wildfires, the impact of fire suppression activities and potential management recommendations that would reduce the impact of fire suppression activities while maximizing the beneficial effects of wildland fire. 

Check out KFA's Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports 2012-2016