Thursday, December 26, 2019

Klamath Forest Alliance, Siskiyou Field Office: A Year in Review

Klamath Forest Alliance works to protect the wildlands of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
At the Siskiyou Field Office of Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) 2019 was busy and eventful. We advocated for conservation throughout the Siskiyou Mountains, opposing damaging federal land management projects and worked on policy issues surrounding fire and smoke in the state of Oregon. 

This past year we have worked on projects as diverse as the Siskiyou Mountains themselves — from the fog drenched forests of the Wild Rivers Coast and into the serpentine barrens of the greater Kalmiopsis Wildlands. We also worked in the the chaparral, woodlands and forest habitats of the Applegate Valley; the rocky high country of the Siskiyou Crest; the rugged canyons of the Klamath River; and the transition between the Siskiyou Crest and the Cascade Mountains in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

We officially submitted substantial comments for five Forest Service projects and four BLM projects, including off-road vehicle developments and timber sales. We participated in two separate requests for comment for public land protections in Oregon. We also filed two administrative objections and one major lawsuit on Forest Service projects on both the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Klamath National Forest.  

In 2020 we hope to expand our programs and do even more to protect the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and their world-class biodiversity! Please support our work!

  The Applegate Foothills
The Applegate Foothills contain a unique and highly diverse mixture of oak woodland, chaparral and dry conifer forest. They also contain extensive wildland habitats threatened by BLM timber sales, road construction and off-road vehicle use.

KFA has been monitoring multiple projects in the mountains surrounding the Applegate Valley. These projects include the Middle Applegate Timber Sale, the Bear Grub Timber Sale, the Late Mungers Timber Sale and the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project.

   Middle Applegate Timber Sale
A view across the Wellington Wildlands to the Applegate Valley.
In 2018, the Middle Applegate Timber Sale was proposed by the Medford District BLM. The Middle Applegate Timber Sale included a vast planning area sprawling across the Middle Applegate Watershed. At the center of the planning area was the 7,527-acre Wellington Wildlands, a significant unprotected roadless area west of Ruch, Oregon. 

KFA immediately began working with numerous conservation allies to oppose the Middle Applegate Timber Sale and protect Wellington Wildlands. In the fall of 2019, after over a year of consistent campaigning by KFA and others, the BLM officially withdrew the timber sale. Through the efforts of KFA and numerous conservation allies, thousands of acres within the Wellington Wildlands had been spared and the Middle Applegate Timber Sale was canceled!

Bear Grub Timber Sale 

Immediately following the withdrawal of the Middle Applegate Timber Sale, the Medford District BLM announced the new Bear Grub Timber Sale. This timber sale includes the mountains around Ruch, Oregon, the Little Applegate Valley and Sterling Creek. Although the vast majority of the Wellington Wildlands was excluded from the Bear Grub project, a few units have been proposed in the eastern portion of Wellington Wildlands on China Gulch. 

The Bear Grub Timber Sale proposes commercial units along the popular East Applegate Ridge Trail, Jack-Ash Trail and Sterling Mine Ditch Trail. It also includes old-growth units on Bald Mountain in the small, but highly diverse Bald Mountain Roadless Area. Bald Mountain is important for not only its biodiversity, but as a vital link between high and low elevation habitats in the Little Applegate River Watershed.

KFA is working with conservation allies to monitor the proposed timber sale units and has submitted detailed public scoping comments on the Bear Grub Timber Sale. We are committed to working throughout 2020 on the Bear Grub project to encourage the BLM to focus on non-commercial thinning adjacent to homes and communities, rather than environmentally harmful backcountry logging in wildlands.

Late Mungers Timber Sale
Old forest proposed for logging on Mungers Butte.
The Medford District BLM has also proposed a large timber sale in the mountains between Williams, Oregon and Selma, Oregon in the Illinois River Watershed. The project encompasses a large Late Successional Reserve designated to protect habitat for the Northern spotted owl. It is also located in an important connectivity corridor linking the greater Kalmiopsis Wildlands to the Siskiyou Crest. 

The project proposes timber sale units in upper Deer Creek above the community of Selma, in Murphy Creek above Murphy, and in numerous watersheds above the community of Williams in the Applegate Valley. Timber sale units include uncut old-growth forest and diverse, geologically unique serpentine habitats on Mungers Butte.

KFA has been out monitoring the project and in 2020 we will continue leading the opposition to this damaging timber sale.

Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW Project)

KFA has been working on the UAW Project for over four years. We have worked collaboratively with non-profit organizations, Applegate Valley community members, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to create a fire, forests, and habitat restoration project focused on prescribed fire for community fire protection, plantation thinning and native plant and pollinator habitat restoration. 

In many ways we are excited to see the Forest Service embrace a more ecological and community-driven approach to project planning, and we support large portions of the project; however, it has been necessary to oppose new off-road vehicle trails proposed by the agencies in the Beaver Creek Watershed, a salmon bearing tributary of the Upper Applegate River. The proposed off-road vehicle trails have no ecologically beneficial results, cannot be described as "restoration," and have been heavily opposed by the Applegate Valley community. 

In 2019, we provided detailed public comments on the project and filed an administrative objection asking the agency to cancel all off-road vehicle trails in the UAW Project. In 2020 we will continue standing with the Applegate Valley community and advocating for cancellation of all motorized trails in the UAW Project. We will also work collaboratively to implement the beneficial portions of the project and monitor implementation to ensure the project's habitat restoration goals and objectives are either met or exceeded.  
 
The Siskiyou Crest
A view north from Bolan Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest, looking down at Bolan Lake.

The Siskiyou Crest is one of the most important connectivity corridors and botanical hotspots in Western North America. It also contains some of the wildest habitat in our region. KFA has been working on two major projects on the Siskiyou Crest, including the Seiad Horse Timber Sale and a comprehensive campaign for off-road vehicle closures in designated Botanical Areas, Inventoried Roadless Areas and other wildlands along the Siskiyou Crest.

Seiad Horse Timber Sale
The 2017 Abney Fire in upper Horse Creek.
Following the 2017 Abney Fire, the Klamath National Forest proposed the Seiad Horse Timber Sale, a large post-fire logging project near Cook and Green Pass and on the southern flanks of the Siskiyou Crest. The timber sale is located between the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, adjacent to the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area, the Pacific Crest Trail and within the Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve. 

In 2018, immediately after its proposal KFA was out monitoring proposed timber sale units, writing detailed public comments, and filing administrative appeals. After exhausting all administrative remedies, KFA and other conservation allies filed suit against the Klamath National Forest in 2019. We will be arguing our case in the spring of 2020. Stay tuned!


Off-Road Vehicle Closures
Rehabilitating an illegal off-road route on the Siskiyou Crest.
Since 2015 KFA has been working with the Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) to monitor unauthorized off-road vehicle activity and document environmental impacts in the Applegate River Watershed and on the Siskiyou Crest. We have produced numerous off-road vehicle monitoring reports documenting the impact of off-road vehicle use in the region, and we use these reports to advocate for motor vehicle closures in sensitive habitat. In recent years we have focused our energy on protecting the Botanical Areas and Roadless Areas of the Siskiyou Crest from illegal off-road vehicle use. 

We are starting to see results from our hard work, and in 2019, together with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and other organizations, we helped close down and rehabilitate one extremely damaging off-road vehicle route in the Big Red Mountain Botanical Area. The Klamath National Forest also proposed two significant off-road vehicle closure projects on the Siskiyou Crest in 2019.

In 2020 we will continue our advocacy for the Siskiyou Crest, advocating for motor vehicle closures that will protect our botanical and biological heritage. We will specifically support and encourage the expansion of existing off-road vehicle closure projects on the Klamath National Forest, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and on the Siskiyou Crest.


Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
Scotch Creek in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Klamathon Fire Report
The 2018 Klamathon Fire burned from the Klamath River at Hornbrook, California and into both the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument near Pilot Rock. The fire burned through the town of Hornbrook under high winds, burning homes, infrastructure, tragically taking one life and badly burning a firefighter; however, the fire slowed and the weather shifted as it burned into the Soda Mountain Wilderness. 

In response, the Medford District BLM and Oregon Department of Forestry bulldozed over 30 miles across the wilderness area and proceeded to drive throughout the wilderness area for over three months. Although the fire burned in a natural and ecologically beneficial mixed severity fire mosaic in the forests, woodlands and chaparral of the Soda Mountain Wilderness, significant ecological damage was done during suppression of the fire. 

Fire effects from the 2018 Klamathon Fire

Throughout 2019, KFA conducted field monitoring and scoured over BLM FOIA documents, reconstructing fire suppression activities and important fire events. In 2020 KFA will be publishing our Klamathon Fire Report, documenting the ecological impacts of inappropriate fire suppression activities and violations of the 1964 Wilderness Act in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area. 

The impact of discretionary fire suppression activities has become one of the biggest impacts to our wilderness landscape. Designated Wilderness Areas, Roadless Areas, Botanical Areas and the region's incredible biodiversity are being increasingly impacted each fire season by inappropriate and ecologically damaging suppression activities. KFA is the only conservation organization in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains actively working to reform fire suppression policy and encouraging managed wildfire for resource benefit in backcountry areas. 

Kalmiopsis Wildlands
The Illinois River flows through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area and into the Rogue River at Agness, Oregon.
                   
In 2019 KFA worked on two major projects in the greater Kalmiopsis Wildlands. These projects included the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale and the Upper Briggs Timber Sale, both on Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lands.

Shasta-Agness Timber Sale

The Shasta-Agness Timber Sale has been proposed in and around beautiful Agness, Oregon near the confluence of the rugged Illinois River and the mighty Rogue River. KFA conducted field monitoring and submitted detailed public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale.

The Forest Service claims the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale is a "restoration" project, yet the actual project proposals demonstrate otherwise. Although cloaked in restoration language, the project proposes aggressive commercial logging, new road construction, reductions in current habitat protections for the Northern spotted owl and its most important prey source, the red tree vole, as well as new off-road vehicle trails.
The Shasta-Agness Timber Sale proposes logging units in Shasta-Costa Creek.

Much of the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale is located in the Fishhook  Late Successional Reserve (LSR). LSRs were set aside to provide habitat for the threatened Northern spotted owl, but are targeted for logging in this project. In the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale, the agency has proposed "plan amendments" that would alter existing management plans for LSR forest, allowing the removal of trees over 20" in diameter and logging in stands over 80 years old. This sort of logging will negatively affect suitable Northern spotted owl habitat in the Shasta-Agness Planning Area and the Fishhook LSR. 

The project also proposes to strip important protections from tens of thousands of acres in the Fishhook LSR by eliminating many current protections for the Northern spotted owl's major prey species, the red tree vole.

In 2020 KFA will continue monitoring this project, advocating for conservation measures, and participating in the planning process for the Shasta-Agness Timber Sale. Our goal is to protect the old forests, large, fire resistant trees, wildlife habitat, water quality, and fisheries in the Shasta-Agness Planning Area.

Upper Briggs Timber Sale
Old-growth forests that burned at low severity in the 2018 Taylor Fire are now targeted for logging in the Upper Briggs Timber Sale.

Briggs Creek is an important tributary and fishery for the Illinois River. The watershed contains extensive coho salmon habitat, old-growth forests, rare plant species, beautiful mountain meadows, rocky canyons, popular recreational trails, campgrounds, and a designated Wildlife Area. Despite the many important biological and recreational values of the Briggs Creek Watershed, the Forest Service has approved a large timber sale in the upper watershed. Although the Upper Briggs Timber Sale is being promoted as a "restoration" project, the unique values of the Briggs Creek Watershed will only be degraded if the project is implemented.

In the spring of 2018, KFA conducted extensive field monitoring in proposed timber sale units and submitted detailed public comments on the project. That summer, the Briggs Creek Watershed burned at roughly 80% low severity in the Taylor Fire. 

Despite the natural landscape-scale restoration that took place during the Taylor Fire, and despite our requests to withdraw the project from consideration, the agency pushed forward. The timber sale proposed to log the recently burned watersheds to "reduce fuels" and "fire risks" by logging forests and trees that survived the 2018 Taylor Fire. 

In 2019, the agency approved the Upper Briggs Timber Sale and KFA immediately filed an administrative objection. Despite our advocacy, the project has moved forward and the first timber sale, called, the Wildhorse Timber Sale will be auctioned soon.

In 2020, KFA will continue advocating for conservation in the Briggs Creek area. We will also monitor and document the impacts of any timber sale activities associated with the Upper Briggs Timber Sale. Monitoring information will be used in future efforts and to demonstrate the impacts of old forest logging in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Regional Projects and Policy
Klamath Forest Alliance works to protect specific habitats in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We also work to promote conservation policy that will protect the unique values of the Siskiyou Mountains. In 2019, we worked on the following regional projects and policies: Oregon Fire/Forest Policy and the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Programmatic Environmental Assessment. We also commented on nation-wide NEPA revisions proposed by the Forest Service and on the now successful proposal to list the Pacific fisher as an endangered species.

Oregon Fire/Forest Policy
In 2019, the politics of wildfire took center stage. The timber industry, federal land managers, and politicians throughout Oregon and California have been promoting aggressive wildfire suppression and exclusion, and increased logging as a solution to the so-called "fire problem."

Due to political pressure following the 2018 fire season, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon created the Council on Wildfire Response.  KFA provided detailed policy recommendations and scientific analysis in a report to Governor Brown, state legislators and the Council on Wildfire Response regarding wildfire, smoke and forest management. The report titled, Information and Policy Recommendations Pertaining to Forest, Fire & Smoke Management in Southwestern Oregon can be viewed here.


Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Programmatic Environmental Assessment
The Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Programmatic Environmental Assessment (IVM) has been proposed by the Medford District BLM. Although it sounds benign, the project is heavily geared towards logging Late Successional Reserves, Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and other conservation-based land management allocations. 

The IVM would affect vast swaths of BLM land in SW Oregon.
The project would allow heavy commercial logging and new road construction to occur across over 800,000 acres of land in southwestern Oregon without public comment, public involvement, scientific review or the disclosure of environmental impacts. The current proposal would allow up to 25,000 acres of commercial logging and 90 miles of new road construction to be implemented every ten years, and would "have no sunset date," meaning it could theoretically be implemented for decades, allowing hundreds of miles of new road construction and many tens of thousands of acres to be commercially logged. 

KFA will be working hard in 2020 to keep the public in our public lands. We will fight to maintain the accountability, transparency, scientific rigor and levels of public involvement currently required in public land management planning and we will continue opposing the IVM!

Connectivity Conservation

The protection of the Siskiyou Crest Connectivity Corridor is a major objective of our work. Klamath Forest Alliance works to protect wildlands, biological values, wildlife and biodiversity throughout the region on both public and private lands. We recently worked to protect 240 acres of privately owned old-growth forest in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and have continued working in the Elliott Creek Watershed to promote the strategic acquisition of private industrial forestland containing old-growth forest habitat and/or located within the Siskiyou Crest Connectivity Corridor. 

Our goal is not to just protect the best remaining wildlands on the Siskiyou Crest, but also to restore connectivity and rewild damaged habitats. We are working toward protecting the world-class biodiversity and regionally important connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest with a comprehensive conservation approach.

Wild and Scenic River Nominations
The proposed Wild and Scenic Middle Fork Applegate River.
 

In 2019 Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) requested Wild & Scenic River nominations in Oregon. Klamath Forest Alliance has been working with Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) to identify and propose Wild and Scenic River designations in the Applegate River Watershed. We are currently working to promote four major proposals for the Upper Applegate River, Little Applegate River, Slate Creek and the Pipe Fork of Williams Creek. 

We will continue promoting these proposals in 2020 and will keep looking for opportunities to promote more permanent protections for wildlands throughout the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California. 


Klamath Forest Alliance is dedicated to the wildlands and wildlife of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Support grassroots environmental conservation work in the Siskiyou Mountains with a year-end donation!

The Siskiyou Crest as seen from Big Red Mountain.


 

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