Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Black Salamander — Aneides flavipunctatus

Photo by Luke Ruediger
The Black Salamander is relatively rare in the Siskiyou Mountains. Unlike the restrictive range of the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander (Plethodon stormi), which is centered mainly around the mountains of the Applegate Valley, the Black Salamander (Aneides flavipuntatus) has a range that extends from Sonoma County, CA in the south, up to Jackson and Josephine Counties, OR at the northern end of its range. There is also a disjunct subspecies (Aneides flavipunctatus niger) in the Santa Cruz area. Experts are currently debating a further separation of the species into four subspecies, with the northwest lineage—including the Siskiyou Mountain population—given its own subspecies. Currently there are only 17 documented sites in Oregon, 14 of which are found on federal lands, including the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Medford District BLM. 93% (or 13) of the known sites are found within the Applegate River watershed.

The Black Salamander occupies low-elevation, mixed conifer forests, woodlands, grasslands, meadows, and forested riparian sites. The species seems most abundant in mature or old-growth forests; although, especially in interior locations, the species is often associated with intermittent streams, springs, or seeps. The Black Salamander often lives in mossy talus habitat beneath a forest canopy. This is especially important because, like our endemic Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, the Black Salamander is lungless and breaths through its skin, making it very susceptible to changes in micro-climate and canopy conditions.

Threats to the Black Salamander in Oregon appear to be mostly associated with timber harvest due to changes in micro-climate, ground disturbance, and canopy cover. To the south, the species appears to be impacted by habitat conversion from grassland, woodland, mixed hardwood, and mixed conifer forests to vineyards or other forms of agriculture. Other impacts include habitat fragmentation, rock quarry development, climate change, uncharacteristic fire, and exposure to chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and fire retardants.

Although relatively little know and little understood, the Black Salamander, at the northern edge of its range in the Siskiyou Mountains, is an important portion of the region's biodiversity. The Siskiyou Mountains represent a unique habitat for salamander species, where species often reach either the northern or southern extension of their range. The diversity of habitats and the distinctive blending of habitats allow for many species of both plants and animals to exist within the Siskiyou Mountains at the margin of their range. For millennia the Siskiyou Mountains have been a climate refuge; with the instability of future climatic conditions these mountains may once again shelter a wide variety of species. The protection of wildland habitats and the maintenance of biodiversity in the region will allow the Siskiyou Mountains to continue providing such habitat.

The photos on this post where taken in early December on my property in the Siskiyou Mountains.


Photo by Luke Ruediger
Photo by Luke Ruediger


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Winter Photos of the Siskiyou Crest

Many creeks froze over in the recent cold snap

Little Greyback Roadless Area

View of the Red Buttes Wilderness

"The Octopus Tree," a large canyon live oak in the Applegate foothills

Icicles on moss in the Upper Applegate

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Historic Osborne Photos

Bolan Lake from the Bolan Peak Lookout-1934
The historic Osborne photos highlighted on this post are just a few of the many lookout photos taken in the 1930s from Forest Service lookouts all across the Northwest. William Bushnell Osborne, a Forest Service employee and inventor, developed the Osborne Firefinder in 1911 for use at fire lookouts, and in 1932 developed the Osborne Swing Lens Camera. With his Swing Lens Camera he traveled the Northwest photographing the landscape from fire lookouts on National Forest and Park Service lands. 

The photos are an excellent representation of historic forest conditions and patterns in the early part of the 20th century. The photos can be used to not only document and analyze historic conditions, but can also be used to contrast historic conditions from those that exist today. The photos document the influence of fire on the landscape in an era when fire suppression in the Siskiyou Mountains was still fairly ineffective, and landscape change associated with fire suppression was not nearly as evident as it is today. The photos also document the impact of industrial forest management, road building and clear-cut logging, that although mostly non-existant in the 1930s, is very evident today. The photos represent historic conditions across the Siskiyou Crest region in the 1930s.

Applegate foothills from the old Stein Butte Lookout-1934

Looking southeast into the Siskiyou Wilderness from the old Sanger Peak Lookout-1934

View from the old Whisky Peak Lookout-1933

The Red Buttes Wilderness from the old Windy Peak Lookout-1934

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Salmon Salvage Project: post fire logging on the Salmon River

The Salmon River at the mouth of Wooley Creek, a cold water tributary flowing from the Marble Mountains Wilderness.

The Salmon River is one of the most remote and magical portions of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion. The region's wild beauty is unparalleled. Located between the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Russian Wilderness Areas, the watershed is the axis of connectivity and diversity in the central Klamath Mountains. The region's wild watersheds, spectacular high country and intact forests create one of the most important wilderness habitats in the west, including over 1 million acres of wilderness and roadless terrain spilling into the Salmon River from all sides.

The Salmon River has been designated a "key" watershed for the endangered salmon in the Klamath River. The Salmon River, a major tributary of the Klamath River, provides a number of intact cold water tributaries that are very important to the region's salmon and steelhead runs. It is also one of California's premier Wild and Scenic rivers, cherished for its water quality, wild beauty, recreational qualities, fisheries, roadless and wilderness habitats, and fire adapted forests.

The Salmon River Complex burned this past summer on both the main stem of the river and on the North Fork of the Salmon River near Sawyers Bar. The fires affected 37,246 acres of fire adapted mixed conifer forest and montane chaparral. The complex actually consisted of two separate fires, both of human ignition along Salmon River Road. The Butler Fire, to the west, burned 22,467 acres while the Salmon River Fire burned 14,779 acres.

Over the course of the last 36 years the Salmon River Fire Area, located above Sawyers Bar, has been affected by three fires: the Hog Fire of 1977, the Yellow Fire of 1987, and this season's Salmon River Complex. Combined, these fires have created a natural fire mosaic of mixed severity fire effects. For instance, the Salmon River Fire burned a total of 14,779 acres, 10,658 acres (or 72%) burned at low severity, 22% at moderate severity, and 5% at high severity. The impact of this fire, although not a natural ignition, was well within the "range of natural variability," not only in regards to fire severity and mosaic, but also fire return interval, which is currently about 12 years. Tree ring research in the Salmon River watershed has estimated an 11-17 year fire return interval in the historic environment.

The Salmon River Fire above Sawyers Bar, CA (Photo Courtesy of Klamath Forest Alliance)

The Salmon River Fire is currently being targeted by the Klamath National Forest (KNF) for salvage logging and extensive "hazard tree removal" within roadless areas, Late Sucessional Reserve (LSR) forest, critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl, and adjacent to both the Marble Mountain Wilderness and the Wild and Scenic Salmon River. The proposal calls for salvage logging 334 acres in forests effected by both moderate and high severity fire.

These 16 units, spread out across the fire area, include stands that consist of 50% tree mortality. The project also calls for the removal of living trees that the agency has deemed as having a "70% probability of mortality." This will provide agency timber managers large levels of leeway in identifying both stands that were impacted by "uncharactertistic fire effects" as well as identifying individual trees for removal that survived the 2013 fires. The problem with these timber sale marking guidelines and stand identification techniques is that according to the fire severity mapping on this fire, only 8% of the fire area was affected by high severity fire; such impacts are well within the natural range of variability for this forest type and thus no areas can be described as sustaining "uncharacteristic fire effects." The burn mosaic was natural and productive, creating diversity, complexity and fire adapted forest patterns; small areas of high severity fire are not "uncharacteristic." Salvage logging the fire's few high severity patches will only limit the forest's ability to regenerate naturally and impact biodiversity. Likewise, the logging of live trees that survived the Salmon River Fire will only skew the fire mosaic towards higher levels of mortality than would otherwise be evident. The fire was, in effect, a large landscape-scale restoration treatment that encouraged healthy fuel conditions and is in no need of restoration through silivicultural means.

A view of salvage logging units near Kelly Gulch. The agency has identified stands affected by moderate severity fire and suffering only 50% mortality as timber sale units. (Photo Courtesy of Klamath Forest Alliance)

The agency is also proposing extensive "hazard tree removal" along 33 miles of roads in the Salmon River watershed, including currently low standard roads that receive very little use. Commercially viable trees felled in hazard tree treatments will be yarded and logged for timber. Hazard Tree logging will effect 1,538 acres of habitat, 978 acres of which is critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl.
The proposal also includes the reopening of two currently overgrown and impassable road segments, one of which appears to include "new" road construction. The agency will also create five new landings, scraped into the steep, unstable hillside throughout the project area.
Salmon Salvage Project unit and road "reconstruction" site. (Photo Courtesy of Klamath Forest Alliance)
Rehabilitation work could occur within the firelines created during the Salmon River Fire, including 8 miles of handline and 5 miles of dozerline. These areas could be water-barred, the slash burned, and access by OHVs adequately blocked. Likewise, the agency should consider a strategy of prescribed fire, prescribed natural fire, and appropriate fire suppression techniques that will encourage fire adapted landscapes, natural fuel conditions, and fire safety for the residents of the Salmon River. The agency could work with local residents and non-profits such as the Orleans Fire Safe Council, the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, the Salmon River Restoration Council, and the Klamath Forest Alliance to conduct prescribed fires to reduce fuels on both federal lands directly adjacent to rural residences and communities, as well as on private lands where human values and homes are likely to be threatened in future wildfires. Back country salvage logging (the plan currently does not require slash clean up or removal) and plantation-like tree planting will not address community protection concerns, fuel risks, or facilitate a natural recovery within the fire area. In fact, the units proposed are not strategically located to provide community protection, but identified based on economic feasibility.

Please contact the Klamath National Forest and ask them to:

1) Cancel the Salmon Salvage Project and start a new planning process that focuses on prescribed fire, prescribed natural fire, and community protection concerns.
2) Cancel all proposed salvage logging units in riparian reserves, LSR forest, sensitive soil types such as decomposed granite, and within critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl.
3) Cancel "hazard tree removal" on secondary roads.
4) Cancel the proposed "temporary road" reconstruction and any new road construction needed.
5) Eliminate the need for the creation of 5 new landing pads on steep, sensitive soil types throughout the project area.
6) Address and mitigate the impacts of fireline construction and fire suppression activities within the fire area utilizing both active and passive forms of restoration.
7) Create a fire management plan for the Salmon River Watershed that will outline and define acceptable fire suppression activities throughout the Salmon River area. The agency could identify community protection concerns, ingress and egress for fire evacuation, minimal impact suppression tactics and options, appropriate fire suppression techniques for LSR forests, inventoried roadless areas, wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, botanical areas, etc. The agency could also analyze past suppression activities, back burning, and fireline locations to identify concerns, successful actions, inappropriate actions, and ways of improving firefighting effectiveness and community safety while minimizing fire suppression impacts to sensitive areas and resources.

Written comments are due by December 26, 2013 and can be submitted through the following avenues:

(530) 468-1290

District Ranger Dave Hays
ATTN: Travis Coughlin
Salmon/Scott River Ranger District Office
11263 N. Hwy 3
Fort Jones, CA


For more project information contact interdisciplinary team leader Travis Coughlin at (530) 468-1261 or

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Klamath-Siskiyou Trailfinder

Butte Fork of the Applegate Trail USGS topo map

The Klamath-Siskiyou Trailfinder is a fantastic resource for maps within the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, including most trails featured in my book, The Siskiyou Crest: Hikes, History & Ecology.

The website has links to maps in both the Oregon and California portions of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, a trail blog, trail updates, and other trail resources for the area.

Check it out at:

Read the exciting news about the Coast to Crest Trail on the Klamath-Siskiyou Trailfinder website:

"A new National Recreation Tail called the Coast to Crest Trail (CCT) is being cleared from Crescent City over the Little Bald Hills Trail to the South Fork Smith River, then upriver along newly constructed trail segments to the upper South Kelsey Trailhead. From here the scenic trail climbs up to Baldy Peak in the Siskiyou Wilderness, and then heads down the West Fork Clear Creek to the Clear Creek Trail, in the direction of Young's Valley. The trail then crosses the Siskiyou Wilderness to reach Poker Flat, where a new proposed trail will soon connect the Siskiyou and Red Buttes Wilderness areas, crossing over the old Happy Camp Trail near Little Greyback Mountain (CA). The trail then heads south through the Red Buttes to connect with the Pacific Crest Trail using existing trail."

The following maps are examples of the many types of maps you can view, print and save through the Klamath-Siskiyou Trailfinder. To save maps to your computer you can take a screenshot. 

Young's Valley Trail hybrid map
Young's Valley Trail high topo map
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Mt. Ashland USGS topo map
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Mt. Ashland hybrid map
Mule Mountain topo USA ESRI map
Mule Mountain USGS topo map
Grayback Mountain USGS topo map

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Program: Red Buttes Wilderness Natural & Cultural History

Red Buttes

Siskiyou Chapter, Native Plant Society of Oregon

Program: Red Buttes Wilderness Natural & Cultural History
Thursday, November 21, 7 pm
Science Building, Southern Oregon University
Luke Ruediger, author of the recently released  The Siskiyou Crest: Hikes, History & Ecology, will discuss the natural and cultural history of the exquisite Red Buttes Wilderness, a small but special Wilderness south of Applegate Lake in Northern California.  Southern Oregon University, Science Building, RM 171.  Refreshments at 6:45 pm, meeting and program at 7:00 pm.  Free.  Contact Kristi: 541.941.3744. 
Getting to SOU: From Siskiyou Blvd, travel south (uphill) on Mountain Ave. to Ashland Street.  Turn left on Ashland St. and the Science Building will be on your right after Elkader.  Walk up the steps or to avoid the steps, drive around the Science Bldg. and park in the back.  RM 171 is on the first floor.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hinkle Lake Revisited: The Beginning of Recovery

The Hinkle Lake Basin with Whisky Peak in the background
This past weekend I visited a favorite place of mine. I drove up the Middle Fork of the Applegate River to the Fir Glade Trailhead and hiked closed road #850 (aka "The Hinkle Lake Trail) into the Hinkle Lake Basin. For over a decade now I have worked to protect the Hinkle Lake Basin and the Hinkle Lake Botanical  Area from OHV abuse. The last few years have seen an increased effort by many other individuals and organizations, and now, finally, things have begun to change for the better. The turning point toward recovery has been the Forest Service's serious commitment, over the past year, to enforcing an effective motor vehicle closure for this now over 30 year-old Forest Order Closure. This has included adequate signage and notice of the road closure, gating, tank traps, and increased enforcement and monitoring.

October, 2006 OHV tracks in lake
                    October, 2013 After fall rain, no OHV tracks


 For years, the meadows and lake basin were abused by unmanaged and illegal OHV use. The wetlands around Hinkle Lake and Kendall Cabin had become mud bogs, and vehicle tracks could be found throughout the broad subalpine meadows and flower fields. I am happy to report that some of these areas have begun to heal and re-vegetate. Although the impacts to hydrology and riparian function may be more long term, this year they were not made worse with each trespassing vehicle. The last time OHVs were seen in the Hinkle Lake Basin was in June, 2013. It does not appear as if any further trespass has occurred. When I arrived there this past weekend I was heartened to see the gate locked and other hikers on the trail!

                                         Summer 2012                                        Fall 2013

As these before and after photos show, there are visible signs of recovery within the meadows and lake margins. We have begun to make a difference, yet the struggle is not over. We still need to advocate for official designation of road #850 as the "Hinkle Lake Trail," and for inclusion of the Hinkle Lake Basin in the Red Buttes Wilderness in order to keep it protected in perpetuity. The Hinkle Lake Basin is  a wilderness caliber landscape and should be treated as such.

Locked gate on road #850, aka "The Hinkle Lake Trail"

Please contact the following Forest Service officials and tell them you support the measures they have taken to protect the Hinkle Lake Botanical Area and encourage them continue these actions into the future.

Adequate signage is helping inform the public of the closure

Donna Mickley, District Ranger, Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District:

Rob MacWhorter, Forest Supervisor, RR-SNF:


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Grazing issues on the Siskiyou Crest

Alex Hole, in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, is being heavily impacted by unmanaged cattle.

I recently went to the eastern Siskiyou Crest with Felice Pace from the Campaign to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California. Felice has been monitoring grazing allotments in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area for numerous years and is working to reform grazing practices that are violating the Clean Water Act and degrading some of the region's most pristine high mountain springs, wetlands, and meadows.

In early September we set out across the Siskiyou Crest monitoring grazing allotments on both the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and the Klamath National Forest. What we found was appalling, yet all too routine in the mountains of the west. Cattle have been overgrazing the high mountain meadows of the Siskiyou Crest for decades. Beginning over 150 years ago sheep, then cattle began overgrazing green fescue and other upland grasses in dry clearings, meadows, and grasslands. These historic impacts have reduced many dry upland meadows and grasslands to sparse and dusty clearings nearly devoid of vegetation. The productivity of these sites have been so thoroughly trampled,compacted, and overgrazed that to this day little remains of the original plant community.  This is especially evident in the schist soils near Condrey Mountain.

The sparse schist clearing in the foreground once supported a more rich and diverse herbaceous plant community but has been degraded due to historic and contemporary livestock grazing.

Current management, stocking levels and continuous summer grazing is clearly not allowing these areas to recover. The lack of available forage in upland sites is also forcing cattle to graze more extensively in wet meadow areas as very little forage currently exists outside this habitat. The trampling of springs and wetlands, the fragmentation of willow stands, and the deposition of fecal matter directly into high mountain streams has taken a heavy toll and the impacts continue to this day.

We found the most extensive damage in Alex Hole, a broad glacial bowel at the headwaters of Elliott Creek, at the eastern margin of the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. The area is within the Elliott Grazing Allotment and was proposed in the 1990s as a designated Botanical Area by the Rogue River National Forest. It was excluded from this designation based on the following statement from the 1995 Draft Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP): "The wet meadows are in a particularly disturbed condition. Exclusion of cattle may be a prerequisite for returning the plant communities to their former condition and the establishment of a botanical area."

Indeed, damage to wet meadows, seeps, springs, high mountains streams, and willow wetlands in the area is significant and troubling. The area is currently overgrazed and over-utilized, meaning essentially all available forage has been consumed by grazing cattle and native ungulates. The lack of forage throughout the allotment is forcing cattle to congregate in wetlands and springs. Nearly all water sources and springs have been trampled, including deep hoof prints that extend over 6" into the soft wetland soil. Stream banks are heavily disturbed, willow wetlands badly fragmented and browsed, and fecal matter litters the streams and springs. The area is being severely damaged by unmanaged cattle and inadequate herding. Cattle dispersal techniques are not being utilized and no attempt to protect these otherwise pristine water sources is being made by either the permittee or the Forest Service.

Heavily trampled springs in the Alex Hole area.

Other areas of extensive damage include Mud Spring, a particularly wet and sensitive meadow near Condrey Mountain and Silver Fork Basin in the Beaver/Silver Grazing Allotment beneath Dutchman's Peak and Observation Peak. The Silver Fork Basin has long been one of the most overgrazed meadow systems on the Siskiyou Crest. Extensive damage was done at the turn of the century and massive "range improvement projects" were conducted in the 1950s, trying desperately to grow some grass. The ridge at the head of the meadow system was so badly overgrazed and subject to such heavy erosion that the Forest Service terraced the slopes to stabilize the gullies which were forming. Watering systems were put in place and non-native grasses were seeded. Yet rather than provide the region with a much needed rest, cattle remained in the basin, eating forage as fast as it could grow. Today conditions are somewhat better but stocking levels are compounding the impacts of the past and disrupting recovery in this dramatic meadow basin.

Extensive moist meadow damage and loss of vegetative cover in Silver Fork Basin

The impacts at Mud Spring are inflicted by a combination of grazing and inappropriate OHV use. The wetland is badly trampled and riddled with OHV tracks. A small spur road leading to the springs should be closed to vehicle use to reduce impacts to hydrology, vegetation, and water quality.

Heavy trampling and OHV use at Mud Spring.

On the Klamath National Forest side of the ridge we also found extensive damage to wetlands, seeps, and springs in upper Jaynes Canyon, Cow Creek Glade, Buckhorn Springs and Reeves Ranch Spring. Reeves Ranch Spring has had protective fencing and water developments projects completed in the past, seeking to reduce or eliminate grazing impacts to springs, however, these have been neglected and made entirely dysfunctional through a lack of maintenance. Public funds utilized to build this protective fencing and develop water sources away from sensitive springs have been wasted and the infrastructure is in disrepair.

In response to our monitoring reports the Forest Service sent the RR-SNF grazing specialist, Mark Hocken, out to inspect the allotments. His conclusion was that production of forage across the Siskiyou Crest was 1/4 to 1/3 of the normal seasonal growth due to abnormally dry weather conditions. He asked the permittee on the Beaver/Silver Allotment to move their cattle from the Silver Fork Basin to allow recovery and facilitate a more even distribution of cattle across the sprawling allotment. He also recommended a meeting with the grazing permittee to discuss the distribution of cattle, the use of salting, water developments, and trespass issues, where cattle from the adjoining allotments stray into other allotments, creating problems of overgrazing, over-utilization, and over-stocking.

Due to significant overgrazing, over-utilization, impacts to water quality, and low production across the range this season, we have asked that the cattle be removed immediately. This will allow some recovery and re-growth in native meadow communities while also allowing the streams to heal some before next grazing season. Long-term some of these areas may need an extended period of rest to allow for adequate riparian function and the maintenance of  native plant communities. Please contact the responsible Forest Service officials and ask that they consider providing some of the most damaged areas this extended period of rest. In other areas a reduction in stocking levels, increased herding and management as well as efforts to protect waterways, springs, and wetlands are needed.     

Please contact the following agency officials

Donna Mickley, District Ranger, Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District:

Rob MacWhorter, Forest Supervisor, RR-SNF:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Maps for The Siskiyou Crest: Hikes, History & Ecology

Applegate Foothills North
 This map includes the Buncom, Dakubetede, and Wellington Butte Roadless Areas.

Applegate Foothills South

This map includes the Boaz Mountain, Collings/Kinney, Little Grayback, Elliott Ridge, Stricklin Butte, and Whisky Peak Roadless Areas.

Red Buttes Region
This map includes the Condrey Mountain, Indian Creek, Kangaroo, and Grayback Range Roadless Areas.

Siskiyou Crest Roadless Areas
This map includes the Big Red Mountain, Glade Creek, Observation Peak, and Mudusa Flat Roadless Areas.

Siskiyou Wilderness Area
This map includes the Siskiyou Wilderness Area and the adjacent roadless areas.