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