Monday, February 4, 2019

A Temporary Victory for the Siskiyou Crest! Judge Orders Injunction on Siskiyou Crest Post-Fire Logging

The Miller Complex burning in the Middle Fork of the Applegate River Watershed in August 2017.
The Miller Complex Fire burned roughly 36,000 acres on the Siskiyou Crest and in the mountains of the Applegate River and Klamath River watersheds in 2017. Much of the Miller Complex burned beneath a dense smoke inversion, dampening fire behavior and creating large swaths of cool, understory fire. Near the ridges and on south-facing slopes, the fire burned with more intensity, creating mixed severity fire effects, with significantly more vegetative mortality. The fire was diverse, dynamic and had profoundly positive ecological effects.

On September 1, 2017 as the fire reached Cook and Green Pass, crews from the Klamath National Forest lit large backburns, under high winds and extreme weather conditions. Quickly their backburns backfired, and fire intensity increased. The fire quickly burned over prepared firelines on the Siskiyou Crest and began backing aggressively into the Seiad and Horse Creek watersheds. The fire burned roughly 10,000 acres in just two days and much of Copper Butte's southern face was scorched. The area included knobcone pine stands and chaparral adapted to high severity fire, vast tree plantations created after post-fire clearcut logging in the late1980s, as well as beautiful old-growth forests at the headwaters of Seiad and Horse Creeks. 

The Miller Complex Fire naturally extinguished itself on the southern face of the Siskiyou Crest near Slaughterhouse Flat and Johnson's Dairy. (Photo taken one month after the fire.)
This relatively large high severity fire patch was centered among previously created plantation stands and in naturally fire dependent chaparral. Islands of old forest survived, even within the interior of this large high severity fire patch, and at the edges of the fire area, significant stands of old-growth forest also survived. Due to shifting weather conditions that, in turn, moderated fire severity, the fire's spread abruptly came to a halt on the southern slopes of the Siskiyou Crest, and the eastern-most portion of the fire was naturally extinguished in high elevation mountain hemlock and true fir forests. 

Predictably, the Klamath National Forest responded with a large post-fire, clearcut logging project called the Seiad Horse Project. This project proposed 1,269 acres of clearcut logging in some of the most important habitat on the Siskiyou Crest for both connectivity and biodiversity. 

The timber sale project proposed logging large swaths of old, fire effected forest near Cook and Green Pass. Cook and Green Pass is at the geographic center of the Siskiyou Crest and is famous for its botanical diversity. The area is surrounded by numerous designated Botanical Areas. It is also traversed by the Pacific Crest Trail and near the beautiful Red Buttes Wilderness Area. The units proposed for logging are directly below the Siskiyou Crest and in uninventoried roadless areas directly adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area and Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. The Klamath National Forest also proposed roadside hazard logging on an old mine road (Bee Camp Road) located within the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area near Cook and Green Butte.
The large old trees marked blue would have been logged within 50' of the PCT at Cook and Green Pass. These old trees would have been logged within the Kangaroo Roadless Area, but have been temporarily protected by our recent legal action. (Photo taken spring 2018.)

Although KFA has opposed this project since day one and we have tirelessly campaigned to cancel the sale, unfortunately, the project was promptly approved by Klamath National Forest Supervisor Patty Grantham. The agency broke the project into three large timber sales: the Pitchfork Timber Sale, the Low Gap Timber Sale and the Copper Timber Sale. KFA filed Administrative Objections, but could not resolve our objections through the Administrative Process. 

After exhausting administrative remedies, we filed litigation against the project with EPIC, KS Wild and the Western Environmental Law Center. Unfortunately, the Low Gap Timber Sale was auctioned and sold before we could get our day in court. It is now mostly logged off. The Copper Timber Sale and the Pitchfork Timber Sale have sold, but had not yet been logged.
High elevation forest burned in the 2017 Miller Complex Fire. This stand, just below the Siskiyou Crest, is targeted for clearcut logging in the Copper Timber Sale. We have secured a Temporary Restraining Order to halt logging operations on the Copper Timber Sale and hope to secure a permanent victory by winning on the merits in our upcoming court challenge. (Photo taken one month after the fire.)

Recently, we went to the California District Court seeking a Temporary Injunction to stop the logging while our court case precedes. Our injunction was authorized, enjoining the Copper Timber Sale and the roadside "hazard" logging units in the Kangaroo Roadless Area and within 50' of the PCT. 

Judge Troy L. Nunley authorized the Temporary Injunction, forcing the Klamath National Forest to postpone all logging until our case is heard on its merits. Currently, we have not permanently canceled the Copper Timber Sale, but we have won a temporary reprieve. 

The vigorous vegetative response would be heavily impacted by post-fire logging. (Photo taken fall 2018.)
The temporary injunction was authorized because the court found that the public interests would be significantly harmed if logging was allowed to continue and we were "likely to succeed on the merits of the case." We are contesting, and Judge Nunley agreed, that the Seiad Horse Project could irreparably harm aquatic resources, increase sedimentation in salmon bearing streams, violate the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, violate the Northwest Forest Plan restrictions on logging large snags in Late Successional Reserve forests, and violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) due to inadequate project analysis.

Currently the high elevation forests of the Siskiyou Crest and the Copper Timber Sale are safe and we hope to secure this as a permanent victory. Please consider making a donation to the Klamath Forest Alliance. We need your help to keep the Klamath-Siskiyou Wild!

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A portion of the Copper Timber Sale enjoined by the recent temporary injunction. KFA and our conservation allies hope to turn this into a permanent victory! (Photo taken one month after the fire.)

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