Friday, December 29, 2017

Klamath Forest Alliance and the Siskiyou Crest Blog: 2017 Year in Review

This unit in the Pickett West Timber Sale above Selma, Oregon was canceled due to the advocacy of KFA, The Siskiyou Crest Blog and other conservation partners in southwestern Oregon.

Throughout the past year the Siskiyou Crest Blog and the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) have been working on numerous major campaigns to protect, restore, and rewild the Siskiyou Mountains. We are proud of our achievements in 2017 and look forward to doing even more in 2018. Please consider supporting our work.

Pickett West Timber Sale

The BLM's Grants Pass Resource Area proposed the Pickett West Timber Sale in late 2016. The project proposed extensive old-growth forest logging, with nearly half the timber sale involving units between 150 and 240 years old. The BLM also proposed new road construction, riparian logging and severe impacts to the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail.

The massive timber sale became a major focus of our work in 2017. The Pickett West Timber Sale extended across a 200,000-acre planning area, from the Wild and Scenic Rogue River near Galice and Hellgate Canyon, to the mountains surrounding Selma, Oregon, and large portions of the Applegate Valley near Wilderville, Murphy, and North Applegate Road.

We took a leading role by monitoring units in the Applegate Valley, Illinois Valley and the Rogue River. We worked with the Deer Creek Association to coordinate monitoring efforts across southern Oregon. We documented high priority red tree vole habitat on the Rogue River and outside Selma, Oregon in beautiful old growth forest.

Another canceled unit above Selma, Oregon.
We publicized our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog and advocated for withdrawal of problematic units. We also utilized our monitoring efforts to write detailed public comments and administrative protests. We provided reports to Fish and Wildlife with detailed monitoring results, documenting inaccurate Northern spotted owl habitat designations. In many units we also documented impacts to the Northern spotted owl's main food source, the red tree vole.

The BLM canceled numerous of the worst Pickett West units on the Rogue River, dropping a few hundred acres from the project. Unfortunately, the BLM then sold a reduced timber sale in the Rogue River area, called Pickett Hog. This sale is currently on hold until KFA's administrative protest and the 28 other administrative protests they received for the original Pickett West Timber Sale, are resolved. 

In the meantime, Fish and Wildlife ordered the BLM to review many of the Pickett West units we identified as problematic in the mountains around Selma, and the BLM ended up withdrawing the entire Selma portion of the Pickett West Timber Sale, including 1,584-acres of old-growth forest. Although a spectacular victory for local environmentalists, rural residents, and scientists who opposed this sale, BLM has, unfortunately, initiated a new timber sale in the Selma area called Clean Slate. Although reduced in size, the Clean Slate Timber Sale still has units containing old-growth forests.

A Savage Murph Timber Sale unit above North Applegate.
Finally, in the Applegate Valley, the BLM is proposing to move forward with the original Pickett West Timber Sale by implementing what they are calling the Savage Murph Timber Sale near Wilderville, Murphy, and North Applegate.

In 2018, we will continue working to stop old-growth logging and road building proposed in the Savage Murph Timber Sale and Clean Slate Timber Sale. 

Siskiyou Crest Post-Fire Logging
The forest above this high mountain meadow were proposed for clear-cut logging following the Gap Fire. Thanks to the advocacy of KFA, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and our conservation partners, all 18 units adjacent to the Siskiyou Crest were canceled.

Eighteen units and nearly 600 acres were canceled on the Siskiyou Crest from the Klamath National Forest's post-fire logging proposal after the 2016 Gap Fire. The units near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain were canceled due to the advocacy of KFA, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and other conservation allies.

The Gap Fire burned over 30,000 acres on the southern slopes of the Siskiyou Crest in the summer of 2016. The Gap Fire burned through the Klamath National Forest (KNF) to the spine of the Siskiyou Crest, near Condrey Mountain. In the high country around Condrey Mountain the fire burned in a natural, mixed-severity fire mosaic, leaving green forests, lush meadows, headwater springs, and burned snag forests interspersed in a diverse patchwork of habitats. 

On the south slope of Condrey Mountain, near the summit of the Siskiyou Crest, the KNF proposed to log fire-affected, old-growth forests at the headwaters of Buckhorn and Middle Creek. The proposed clear-cut, post-fire logging would have impacted the Siskiyou Crest and important habitat connectivity corridor that connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains and the Great Basin.

KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog were the only environmental organizations to conduct on-the-ground field monitoring of the eighteen, high-elevation logging units and new road construction proposed near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain.

Another canceled post-fire logging unit.
We publicized our findings on the Siskiyou Crest Blog and utilized our monitoring results to inform our extensive public comments on the project. Following public comment, four units near Dry Lake Mountain were immediately withdrawn.

The KNF approved the remaining fourteen units and new road construction around Condrey Mountain. KFA and others responded with detailed administrative protests, putting the project on hold. The KNF resolved our administrative protest by withdrawing the remaining fourteen units and 450 acres of high elevation forest on the Siskiyou Crest from the timber sale proposal. We are very proud of this victory for the Siskiyou Crest.

Unfortunately, the KNF is at it again. They have proposed a large post-fire logging project in the 2017 Abney Fire. The project proposes a nearly contiguous 3,000-acre clearcut on the south-face of the Siskiyou Crest near Cook and Green Pass, the Red Buttes Wilderness, the Kangaroo Roadless Area and the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. KFA will be working hard to oppose this project and will make protection of the Siskiyou Crest our highest priority in 2018!

Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW)

A view south from the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area and across the Upper Applegate Valley. KFA will be opposing new OHV trails proposed in this beautiful, unroaded portion of of the Applegate Foothills. 

Over the last two years KFA has worked on a large collaborative project in the Upper Applegate Watershed with both the BLM and Forest Service called the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW). The project is being implemented through the Applegate Adaptive Management Area and has included extensive public involvement. KFA has been at all of the many public meetings and field trips associated with UAW project planning. We have attended workshops, field trips, and planning meetings to ensure conservation issues are addressed in the planning process. We also provided detailed public comment during the scoping comment period.

The UAW collaborative project is working towards the development of an Environmental Assessment (EA) before a final project is approved. Currently, we support many of the proposals and have steered the agencies away from ecologically sensitive areas and towards responsible land management practices.

Proposals we support include: new non-motorized trail development, large-scale prescribed fire, fuel reduction maintenance around rural residential communities, pollinator habitat restoration, ecologically-based fuel commercial thinning in plantation stands and noxious weed removal.

We are opposing a handful of commercial logging units located within roadless areas, and we are strongly opposing numerous new OHV trails in the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area in the Upper Applegate Valley. 

KFA will continue working towards positive outcomes on the UAW Project in 2018. 

Middle Applegate Timber Sale 

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area in the Middle Applegate Valley should be withdrawn from the planning area in the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. KFA will oppose all new road construction and logging in the wildands surrounding Wellington Butte.
The forests, woodlands and flower-filled prairies of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area are no place for new roads or logging units. KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog will work to protect the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, old forests and intact habitats from the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. 

KFA has participated in the early stages of project planning with the BLM on their proposed Middle Applegate Timber Sale. The project area extends across the Middle Applegate Watershed including all BLM land from Ruch to North Applegate. 

We are advocating for protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, old forest habitats, intact habitats and the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail corridor. The Middle Applegate Timber Sale will be a major focus for KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog in 2018. We will be monitoring timber sale units and new road construction proposed in this project and advocating for conservation in the Middle Applegate Watershed. 

OHV Monitoring 

KFA has continued to monitor unauthorized and damaging OHV activities in the Applegate Valley and on the Siskiyou Crest. Over the course of the last year, KFA has successfully advocated for the obliteration of one major OHV trail on BLM land near Anderson Butte. We have also worked to include on unauthorized OHV trail obliteration project in the UAW Project in the Upper Applegate Valley. We will continue monitoring OHV trails throughout the Siskiyou Mountains in 2018. Our findings will support our effort to advocate for OHV trails closures on BLM and Forest Service lands.

OHV Categorical Exclusion

A view into Ruch, Oregon from the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, a unique low-elevation wildland threatened by OHV use on Medford District BLM lands.
Portions of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area above Ruch, Oregon are included in the OHV Categorical Exclusion providing defacto designation to unauthorized, illegally created OHV trails and cutting the public out of the process. Although approved by the BLM, the Categorical Exclusion is certainly not the end of this issue.

In April 2017, the Medford District BLM approved a Categorical Exclusion to avoid environmental analysis and public comment on the "maintenance" of 65 miles of unauthorized OHV trails in the Forest Creek, China Gulch and so-called Timber Mountain/John's Peak area. BLM's goal is to legitimize these illegally created, unauthorized OHV routes, mask the environmental impacts for the upcoming Environmental Analysis and cut the public, including residents of the Applegate Valley who are negatively impacted by the project, completely out of the process.

The Categorical Exclusion excludes the requirement that land managers conduct a thorough review of the cumulative environmental and social impacts. It also excludes the requirement that land managers provide a public comment period and address the concerns, science, and information identified in the public comment process.

Although the BLM approved the project with no public input, KFA promptly filed an administrative protest, demanding the project be withdrawn and the BLM conduct Travel Management Planning as required in the 2016 Resource Management Plan. Unfortunately, BLM denied our protest and intends to move forward with OHV trail maintenance in the area.

KFA will continue to watch the BLM, document the impacts of OHV use and advocate for closure of damaging OHV trails. For now, the BLM can maintain these user-created trails but they have not been officially authorized. We are gathering evidence and stand ready to oppose these illegal OHV trails as soon as BLM proposes them for approval in the future.

Applegate Grazing Complex

KFA, the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California, and the Siskiyou Crest Blog have been monitoring four grazing allotments on the Siskiyou Crest throughout the summer of 2017.

The Forest Service will be updating management plans for grazing allotments in the Applegate watershed in 2020, a task that has been neglected for many decades. Some of these grazing allotments have not had an updated management plan since 1956! Our goal is to document impacts to water quality, soils, wildlife habitat, pollinator habitat, botanical resources, and designated Botanical Areas to inform the planning process.

KFA will continue working with conservation allies to monitor grazing allotments on the Siskiyou Crest in preparation for the 2020 renewal of the Applegate Grazing Complex.

Fire Monitoring, Education, & Advocacy

A spectacular sunset above the Marble Mountains Wilderness and the Salmon-August Fire. KFA will be exploring the Salmon-August Fire, Eclipse Fire, & Miller Complex Fires with comprehensive fire reports. Stay tuned for their upcoming publication in 2018!

Wildfire defined the summer of 2017 in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. The fires burned in a largely natural, mixed-severity fire mosaic, and provided significant ecological benefit to the forests and wildlands of our region. 

While the fires were burning, KFA was tracking their progress and informing fire managers of the important ecological considerations within the fire area. We also advocated for responsible fire management, effective community protection and the protection of roadless habitats from fire suppression impacts.

KFA and the Siskiyou Crest Blog have been monitoring the fires and fire suppression activities on the Miller Complex in the Upper Applgate Watershed, the Salmon-August Fire on the North Fork of the Salmon River and the Eclipse Fire in the Mid-Klamath Watershed.

We are currently preparing three new fire reports in our Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports series. Our goal is to share our findings with local conservationists, residents, scientists, politicians and land managers. Our reports will explore the fire effects, fire suppression impacts and long-term implications of the 2017 fire season in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

KFA worked hard in 2017 to educate the public about the important role fire plays in the Klamath Siskiyou Mountains.We intend to continue advocating for managed wildfire, the reform of fire suppression tactics and strategies, as well as an end to post-fire logging in the Klamath-Siskiyou. We hope to continue making progress in 2018. 

Please consider supporting Klamath Forest Alliance with agenerous year-end donation. Your donation will support on-the-ground monitoring, heartfelt, well-informed advocacy, citizen science, and grassroots environmental activism in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Klamath National Forest Proposes Clearcut, Post-Fire Logging on the Siskiyou Crest

These large, old, fire-affected trees growing in roadless forest on the Siskiyou Crest would be clearcut if the ironically named, Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project were to be implemented. This stand is part of a roughly 2,000-acre clearcut proposed by the Klamath National Forest near Copper Butte and Cook and Green Pass.
This past summer the Abney Fire, part of the Miller Complex, burned throughout the Upper Applegate watershed, over the Siskiyou Crest and into the headwaters of Seiad Creek and Horse Creek, tributaries of the Klamath River. As the fire spread out of the Applegate watershed and up to the Siskiyou Crest, Klamath National Forest (KNF) fire crews lit backburns — under high winds and low humidity — that literally backfired and increased fire severity, sending the fire over firelines on the Pacific Crest Trail and into the Seiad Creek watershed. The fire then proceeded to burn through large plantations created during post-fire logging operations following fires that occurred in 1987. The densely packed tree plantations burned at high severity, torching-off large acreages south of Copper Butte and contributing to stand-replacing fire effects in adjacent old-growth forests.

Thirty years have passed since the KNF created these plantation stands and they are now proposing to make the same mistake all over again with a massive, post-fire, clearcut logging project in upper Seiad Creek and Horse Creek. The entire project is located within Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest designated to protect old-growth habitats and ensure the viability of the Northern spotted owl. Instead, the project will remove significant levels of foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl, while degrading late successional characteristics for generation to come. 
This unit on the East Fork of Seiad Creek would log extensive stands of fire-affected, old-growth Ponderosa and sugar pine, as well as stands of old-growth fir. It is on the western margin of the 2,000-acre clearcut planned by the Klamath National Forest, and would be converted into a massive tree plantation. The unit contains a mixture of living trees and massive, old snags, creating open, widely-spaced pine stands that will regenerate quite effectively on their own, creating complex, resilient, uneven-aged stands of pine and fir.

The project will also damage important wildland habitats and the Siskiyou Crest habitat connectivity corridor. The project includes units only an eighth of a mile below the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), near Copper Butte and Cook and Green Pass, and a quarter mile from the Siskiyou Crest. The project includes post-fire logging units in the small area between the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and Kangaroo Roadless Area. The proposed logging would sever habitat connectivity between these two wildlands by creating vast clearcuts and converting complex, early-seral habitats into biologically diminished plantation stands.

The proposal includes 1,700 acres of clearcut, post-fire commercial logging, and 1,200 acres of non-commercial "treatment" that will include either cutting or masticating the post-fire landscape (i.e. heavy machinery on sensitive burned soils). In total, 2,900 acres could be clearcut and replanted in highly flammable tree plantations. The project includes a large area on the south face of Copper Butte where commercial and non-commercial treatments would create a contiguous 2,000-acre clearcut. This large contiguous clearcut will extend from the East Fork of Seiad Creek, over the ridgeline and into the West Fork of Horse Creek. 
The entire ridge in the foreground will be clearcut in the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project. The massive clearcut will impact habitat connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest between the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and Kangaroo Roadless Area.

The proposal also includes 41 miles of roadside hazard tree logging where all standing snags are logged. Living trees can also be logged under this plan if they are "predicted" to die by Forest Service timber markers. Roadside hazard logging includes commercial timber harvest, tree yarding, riparian reserve logging and long linear clearcuts extending along every forest road within the fire area. 

Adding insult to injury, the KNF has also proposed to conduct post-fire roadside hazard logging on the Bee Camp Road, a poorly maintained road within the Kangaroo Roadless Area. The agency has proposed logging all dead-standing trees, and trees "predicted"  to die, along this wilderness route. The road technically extends into the Kangaroo Roadless Area and should be closed at Cook and Green Pass rather than logged.

Extensive scientific research conducted on the Klamath River demonstrates that post-fire logging, followed by plantation development, tends to negatively impact stand development, natural regeneration and habitat complexity, while increasing fuel loads and promoting high-severity reburns. Research conducted in the 1987 Silver Fire and 2002 Biscuit Fire in the Kalmiopsis region found similar results. The results of the Abney Fire validate these scientific conclusions. Large swaths of plantation forest developed in response to post-fire logging after the 1987 Fort Copper Fire reburned in the Abney Fire, and the vast majority of these areas burned at high severity, leading to almost total mortality in many plantation stands. 
Old-growth stands burned in the Abney Fire will be converted into simplified and highly flammable tree plantations. This stand is located roughly a quarter mile from the summit of Copper Butte on the Siskiyou Crest, and is directly adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area.

The densely packed trees, contiguous fuel profiles and homogeneous, even-aged stands created by post-fire logging and plantation development will impact forest habitats for hundreds of years, by creating unnatural fuel loads and starving vast areas of large diameter snag habitat, large woody debris and structural complexity. The removal of biological legacies (i.e. snags), has lasting impacts to fish bearing streams such as Seiad Creek and Horse Creek, by increasing peak flows, soil erosion and sedimentation, while reducing water quality and water quantity. This is especially true in areas affected by high-severity fire because deficiencies in large diameter trees, snags and downed wood will take hundreds of years to reproduce. It is also especially true on the highly erosive schist soils in the Seiad and Horse Creek watersheds.

Snags provide important wildlife habitat both standing and on the forest floor. Large downed wood also harbors mycorrhizal and fungal associates, creates natural erosion control, holds moisture late into the dry season, and as large logs decay, it builds rich forest soil for the benefit of surrounding vegetation. 
This is one of the only stands on the southeastern face of Copper Butte to survive the Abney Fire, however, it may not survive the KNF post-fire logging proposal. Currently the Klamath National Forest is proposing to create linear clearcuts through this stand to develop skyline yarding corridors. These corridors will be cleared through this stand to facilitate logging of fire-affected stands on the slopes below. Not only will many live, green trees need to be felled, badly fragmenting this stand, but many of the trees that survived the fire will be damaged during yarding operations as crews cable massive trees through this stand.

The KNF is also proposing to remove trees that survived the fire, but are "predicted" to die by Forest Service staff, in both post-fire logging units and in roadside hazard logging areas. Other living trees will be removed to accommodate yarding corridors and for safety concerns within post-fire logging units. The combined result will dramatically impact the natural fire mosaic and degrade islands of living trees that are surrounded by burned forests within the 10,800-acre planning area. The removal of large, living trees will impact late successional habitat characteristics, degrade wildland habitats, impact the scenic and recreational qualities of the Pacific Crest Trail, damage nationally significant habitat connectivity corridors and botanical resources, degrade fisheries and significantly impact Northern spotted owl habitat. 
A view east across the Abney Fire from the flank of Copper Butte. Although portions of the fire burned at high severity, the burn creates a beautiful and characteristic fire mosaic on the south-facing slope of the Siskiyou Crest.

The Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project should be canceled and a new project developed that will actually reduce fire risks for nearby Klamath River communities and sustain the world-class ecological values of the Siskiyou Crest. The Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project, as it is currently proposed, will fall short in both fire risk reduction and the retention of ecological values.

The project is currently in "scoping" and public comments can be submitted until January 3, 2018. Please ask the Klamath National Forest to consider the following recommendations
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units. Post-fire logging will impact natural regeneration, reduce habitat complexity and increase fire severity in future fires. 
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units within 2 miles of the Siskiyou Crest to protect habitat connectivity.
  • Cancel all post-fire logging units located in the Seiad and Johnny O'Neil LSR forests. Post-fire logging will significantly impact late successional characteristics and reduce forest complexity for hundreds of years within these important old-growth forest reserves.
  • Cancel roadside hazard logging on Bee Camp Road (Road 47N80) and close the road to motorized use to protect the Kangaroo Roadless Area.
  • Do not implement tree planting prescriptions, instead allow for natural post-fire regeneration. 
  • Analyze the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project with a full Environmental Impact Statement. This will enable the agency to fully analyze the ecological and social impacts of this large, 
Submit electronic comments at the Klamath National Forest's project webpage at this link. Select the "Comment on Project" link. Put the project name in the subject line. Use the following formats: plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rft), Word (.doc, .docx), or portable document form (.pdf). For more information contact

The mosaic of burned snags and surviving old-growth forest on the East Fork of Seaid Creek would be heavily logged in the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project.

Please consider supporting our work with a generous, year-end donation! Klamath Forest Alliance, Applegate Neighborhood Network and the Siskiyou Crest Blog will be joining forces once again to oppose the Seiad Horse Risk Reduction Project.

A short video taken within a proposed logging unit.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Middle Fork of the Applegate River & The Abney Fire

The Middle Fork of the Applegate River and Cook and Green Creek with the Siskiyou Crest rising above.
The Middle Fork of the Applegate River is a spectacular canyon of old, fire-adapted forest, tall peaks and steep, rocky ridges. It is the most iconic wilderness landscape remaining in the Applegate Watershed and one of the most spectacular landscapes on the Siskiyou Crest. The Middle Fork itself is a clear mountain stream, becoming a river, as it winds through its rocky canyon. 

Middle Fork of the Applegate River
The Middle Fork is the source of our beloved Applegate River and one of the wildest landscapes remaining in the watershed. Although portions of the Middle Fork are accessible by road, numerous of its tributary streams, including Whisky Creek, Cook and Green Creek, and the Butte Fork of the Applegate River run into wilderness quality landscapes, such as the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, the Stricklin Butte Roadless Area and the Whisky Peak Roadless Area. 

The forests of the Middle Fork are among the most beautiful in the region. They support diverse habitats ranging from lush Douglas fir forests and diverse mixed conifer habitats dominated by massive sugar pine, to Jeffery pine savanna and woodlands of ancient chinquapin, live oak and madrone. 

Understory fire effects in Cook and Green Creek following the Abney Fire.
The old-growth forests found in these drainages are the best examples of intact, fire-adapted forest in the eastern Siskiyou Mountains and much of the area burned this past summer in the Abney Fire.  

The ancient forests deep in the canyons and on north-facing slopes predominantly burned at low severity as the fire backed slowly down into the Middle Fork canyon, consuming understory growth, clearing back decades of fuel, and maintaining the complex ancient forest habitats of the Middle Fork watershed.

The Abney Fire mostly burned low and cool, beneath tall, old trees, but in some places the fire raged, leaving only standing snags where green forests once stood. It burned as it should, according to its own rules, in a mosaic too complex for humans to mimic or reproduce.

Mixed-severity fire with some high-severity runs on the south face of Stricklin Butte and Bear Wallow Ridge in the Middle Fork canyon.
A mixture of fire effects punctuate the wild Middle Fork canyon, with much of the moderate and high-severity fire occurring on the exposed, south-facing slopes of Whisky Ridge, Bear Wallow Ridge and around Windy Peak on steep, windswept slopes of chaparral, low statured hardwoods, and groves of young conifers.

The Middle Fork watershed has burned twice in the last four years, including the 2014 Lick and Hello Fires and the 2017 Abney Fire. The results have been highly beneficial and provide evidence that many intact habitats in the upper portions of the Applegate watershed do not need "restoration" or logging "treatments" to maintain their health, vigor and fire resilience. These forests simply need to be left alone and allowed to periodically burn in natural wildfire events. Ultimately, only wildfire and other natural processes can effectively maintain this landscape and its many important ecological values.

The Abney Fire burned at mixed severity in the Cook and Green Creek watershed.
Far from catastrophic, the Abney Fire was a characteristic natural event. The fire enhanced, maintained and rejuvenated the region's beautiful forests, streams and natural amenities.

The Abney Fire began with an incredible night of lightning and three smokey, smoldering fires, burning in steep, inaccessible terrain: The Abney Fire began in Lick Gulch; the Cook Fire began in the Cook & Green Creek canyon — both roadless tributaries of the Middle Fork — and the Seattle Fire began above Seattle Bar on the rugged flank of Stricklin Butte. 

The Abney Fire burned in a beautiful mixed-severity fire mosaic throughout the fire area. This stand of incense cedar at the headwaters of Echo Creek, and forests all along the Horse Camp Trail up to Echo Lake, burned in the understory beneath an old-growth  canopy.
From the beginning, these three initial fire starts were wilderness fires, burning because they could, they should, and they always have.  Although almost never raging, the Abney Fire resisted containment until the bitter, cold end. In its rugged mountain fortress, the Abney Fire burned until the Siskiyou Crest was white with snow and winter had arrived. The Abney Fire is a reminder, that despite all our attempts to tame the wild, uncontrolled nature still rules our earth. Forces more powerful than we can imagine still shape our environment.

Low-severity fire effects on the Horse Camp Trail
The Abney Fire and its billowing smoke will define the summer of 2017 in the Applegate Valley, it will also leave its mark on the landscape for generations to come. The soot and snags and diverse natural communities that the Abney Fire has created will out last all who inhaled its smoke and witnessed its dancing flames. It will remain on the landscape for hundreds of years and will influence plant communities for even longer. 

This summer we did not witness a single awe-inspiring natural event, we watched, and will continue to witness, a dynamic process of evolution and change, a regenerative process that remains long after the heat is extinguished and the air has cleared. From now and into eternity the Abney Fire will be scorched into the region's natural history.

I encourage folks to go out and enjoy the Miller Complex Fire, visit the places you know and love, and watch them respond to the effects of the Abney Fire. The experience will change your perception of fire as a process. Fire is one of the most powerful and mysterious elements of nature. Like the spectacular total solar eclipse many of us experienced this past summer, the Abney Fire was an awe-inspiring natural event. An event we should celebrate and embrace.

 The lush Douglas fir forests along the Middle Fork Trail burned at very low severity, clearing back understory fuel, while maintaining the impressive old-growth canopy.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bark Beetles, Timber & the BLM in the Applegate Valley

Bark beetle mortality in the Ferris Gulch watershed. This stand was thinned in the early 1990s in the Ferris Lane Timber Sale, supposedly to increase resistance to bark beetle mortality; however, the area became the center of the 2016 bark beetle outbreak.
Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) have just published a detailed report examining the ecology of flatheaded fir borers, the ecological effects of the 2016 bark beetle outbreak in the Applegate Valley, and the connection between BLM logging practices and concentrated bark beetle mortality in the Applegate Valley. 

In the spring and summer of 2016, a large-scale bark beetle outbreak swept through the Applegate Valley, triggered by extreme drought and warm winter temperatures. The low-elevation foothills of the Applegate Valley were particularly affected, causing mortality in Douglas fir trees throughout the watershed. In some areas mortality was very selective, in other locations significant overstory tree mortality was taking place.

While conducting timber sale monitoring on BLM land for Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) I began to notice a pattern. In many cases, the largest concentrations of bark beetle mortality were occurring in managed stands. Many of these stands had been commercially logged by the BLM between 1990 and 2014.  In watersheds like Thompson Creek, Ferris Gulch, Sterling Creek and Star Gulch, extensive commercial logging projects had been implemented by BLM, supposedly to increase individual tree vigor, therefore, increasing resilience to drought, fire and beetle infestations. Ironically, these same stands became the center of the 2016 bark beetle outbreak.

Flatheaded fir borer mortality on Thompson Creek. The entire ridgeline shown in this photograph was commercially helicopter logged in the Lower Thompson Timber Sale in the late 1990s. The area has since experienced the highest level of bark beetle mortality in the Applegate Valley. Take note: the reddish/bronze colored trees in this photo have succumbed to flatheaded fir borer beetles.

The Environmental Analysis and the Endangered Species Act Consultation conducted by Fish and Wildlife for BLM timber sales relies on assumptions that tree vigor will respond positively to  commercial logging operations; that canopy cover conditions will recover relatively quickly; that wildlife habitat will benefit, and stand conditions will become more healthy, more complex and more resistant to bark beetle induced mortality. In many situations, the actual on-the-ground results are quite different. In 2016, commercially logged stands experienced decreased resistance to bark beetle mortality and became the center of the outbreak.

This photo taken in 2016 shows bark beetle mortality in the 2014 Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale.

In our report we compare maps of bark beetle mortality in 2016 to previously implemented BLM timber sales. We conduct an extensive literature review of bark beetle ecology and science. We also document our extensive on-the-ground field monitoring of past timber sales and bark beetle outbreak areas in the Applegate Valley. We question many of the assumptions built into timber management, BLM environmental analysis, and Endangered Species Act Consultation in southwestern Oregon and the Siskiyou Mountains.

To read the full report:
Bark Beetles, Timber & the BLM in the Applegate Valley

To read the Executive Summary:
Executive Summary: Bark Beetles, Timber & the BLM in the Applegate Valley 

Bark beetle mortality on Ferris Gulch. This unit was logged in the Ferris Lane Timber Sale in the early 1990s to supposedly increase resilience to bark beetle mortality. Obviously, the logging treatments did not have the intended results and beetle mortality was especially high in these previously logged stands.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pickett West Units Withdrawn, New Timber Sale Proposed by BLM

Unit 35-11 in the Pickett West Timber Sale was withdrawn due to impacts to the red tree vole. The unit was identified by on-the-ground monitoring conducted by Klamath Forest Alliance, Applegate Neighborhood Network & the Deer Creek Association.
The Grants Pass BLM has withdrawn portions of the Pickett West Timber Sale!

A coalition of local environmental organizations, including Klamath Forest Alliance, Applegate Neighborhood Network and the Deer Creek Association joined forces this past year to conduct extensive on-the-ground field monitoring in units throughout the massive Pickett West Timber Sale. What we found in the Deer Creek watershed outside Selma, Oregon was troubling. We found many old-growth forests proposed for heavy industrial logging. Many of these forests provide important habitat for the Northern spotted owl and its prey source, the red tree vole. 

The red tree vole lives high in the canopy of old-growth Douglas-fir trees. The species is a habitat specialist, requiring old-growth Douglas-fir trees and complex forest habitat for nesting, foraging and every other aspect of its survival. These same old-growth forest conditions are important for the red tree vole's main predator, the Northern spotted owl. They also provide habitat for the Pacific fisher, thermal cover for local ungulates, and habitat for innumerable species of wildlife. 
Unit 27-14 was withdrawn due to impacts to the red tree vole, a species dependent on old-growth Douglas-fir trees.

Due to historic logging impacts, low-elevation ancient forests are rare. Low-elevation ancient forests are very important for habitat connectivity. The Pickett West Timber Sale was targeting many of the last old-growth habitats in the Deer Creek watershed for heavy industrial logging, and many people in the nearby community were outraged.

Our monitoring efforts identified many "high priority red tree vole sites" located within proposed logging units. We also found that in numerous units, Northern spotted owl habitat determinations were inappropriately designated. Our findings were turned over to U.S. Fish & Wildlife, who then requested that the BLM review these units to ensure accurate habitat determinations were made for Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation. 

Unit 26-2 was withdrawn and will not be logged in the Clean Slate Project.
Recently, the Grants Pass BLM has withdrawn portions of the Pickett West Timber Sale in the Deer Creek watershed due to impacts to "high priority red tree vole" sites.
Our monitoring efforts, combined with red tree vole survey results, appear to have significantly altered the sale, with many old-growth units being withdrawn due to impacts to the red tree vole. 

In the Pickett West Timber Sale, BLM originally identified 2,070 acres for treatment in the Selma area. They have now initiated scoping on a new timber sale in the Selma area called the Clean Slate Forest Management Project. They have identified 486 acres within the same planning area as Pickett West. This means 1,584 acres have been withdrawn due to citizen and community activism!
Unit 3-11 from the former Pickett West Timber Sale is old-growth forest proposed for logging in the Clean Slate Forest Management Project. The unit must be canceled.

Unfortunately, the BLM is still proposing heavy industrial logging in old, fire resistant stands, riparian reserve logging and in a few units of significant concern. In particular, five units we identified in our monitoring efforts have been included in the Clean Slate Forest Management Project. These units were identified in the Pickett West Forest Management Project as: 3-9, 3-10, 3-11, 21-12, and 22-5. These units contain old-growth characteristics and should not be logged. For more information on these particular units please follow these links:
Units 3-9, 3-10 & 3-11 
Units 21-12 & 22-5 

The Clean Slate Forest Management Project includes numerous units we have yet to monitor and document. We hope to monitor these units throughout the winter in preparation for an upcoming Environmental Assessment of the Clean Slate Forest Management Project. Our goal is to protect as much old forest habitat as we possibly can and advocate for science and conservation-based management on our public lands. If you would like to support our continued on-the-ground monitoring efforts, please consider making a donation to Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and make a note that funds will support the Clean Slate Monitoring Project. To make a donation follow this link. Donate to KFA.
Unit 21-12 of the former Pickett West Timber Sale is being proposed for logging in the Clean Slate Forest Management Project. The unit must be canceled.

Please consider commenting on the Clean Slate Timber Sale. The comment period ends December 8, 2017. All comments can be sent via email to

Clean Slate Forest Management Project Comment Guide
  • Cancel units 3-9, 3-10, 3-11, 21-12 and 22-5 from the former Pickett West Forest Management Project. These old forests do not need logging, fuel reduction or "forest restoration" treatments.
  • Drop all riparian reserve logging units.
  • Maintain all Northern spotted owl habitat designation and a minimum of 60% canopy cover. 
  • Build no new roads.
  • Do not log old forest stands over 120 years old.
  • Consider an Alternative for NEPA analysis developed by local Selma area residents and foresters. This Action Alternative would treat stands under 120 years old based on the Natural Selection Alternative developed by Orville Camp and the Deer Creek Association.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mixed Severity Fire in the Marble Mountains. Hot fire and Fire Refugia

A sunset from upper Dollar Meadows in the Wallow Fire on the Little North Fork of the Salmon River.
I recently hiked into the western portion of the Wallow Fire to monitor the fire effects and document the post-fire mosaic. I hiked the Garden Gulch Trail to Chimney Rock and then out to English Peak and Hancock Lake at the northwest fire perimeter. The Wallow Fire started on August 11, 2017 with a flash of lightning near Bear Wallow Peak, deep in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. After burning for weeks in the North Fork of the Salmon River, the fire jumped the ridge and burned into the Little North Fork drainage on August 29, 2017. Over the course of one week, 46,668 acres burned in a large, wind-driven run up the Little North Fork and into the headwaters of adjacent drainages, including Steinacher Creek, Crapo Creek, and tributaries of Wooley Creek. This week-long period accounts for 70% of the acres burned in the Wallow Fire.

Little North Fork of the Salmon River after the Wallow Fire.

The Wallow Fire's big western run was associated with significant wind/weather driven fire event. From August 29 to September 5, weather and terrain overwhelmed the adjacent 2006 and 2008 fire footprints, which would have otherwise slowed the fires spread. The steep slopes and deep canyons funneled the wind, throwing embers across the landscape. The Wallow Fire spotted up to two miles ahead, creating roughly 40 spot fires in upper Little North Fork, Steinacher Creek, Crapo Creek and numerous others drainages. The spot fires merged into a large concentration of weather-driven, high-severity fire at the western fire perimeter. 

As abruptly as the big, hot run began, it died down when the weather shifted. With a little rain and a significant increase in relative humidity, the raging fire smoldered itself out. Now that the smoke has cleared and the effects can be seen, it is clear that the Wallow Fire will leave a lasting impact on the Little North Fork and surrounding watersheds.
The Wallow Fire burned hot in upper Crapo Creek. When the weather changed and the wind became still the fire abruptly died, creating a dramatic transition between high-severity burn patches and unburned areas.

I hiked into Upper Crapo Creek at the southwest margin of the fire. The forest and chaparral on upper Crapo burned hot, yet the fire stubbornly refused to enter the adjacent fire footprint. Even the raging, wind-driven inferno could not penetrate the recently burned slopes.

The ridgeline above was sparse, black and fire swept, dividing the Little North Fork from Crapo Creek. Chimney Rock, a sharp, white summit stands at the terminus of the long granitic ridgeline, rising above the dark snags, soot and ash of the Wallow Fire. Deep canyons fall at both sides of the ridge, transitioning from snag fields to mixed conifer forest.
A view down the Little North Fork of the Salmon River after the Wallow Fire.

A small island of unburned hemlock, Brewer's spruce, western white pine, huckleberry and high mountain heather cling to the east-facing cliffs of Chimney Rock. The landscape is sparse, rocky and dramatic. Below, the Dollar Meadow Basin was heavily burned. Scattered western white pine, hemlock and incense cedar punctuate the bare granite slabs — mostly, the fire burned the forest bare. The small meadows were cleared by the fire, reducing conifer encroachment and connecting the long isolated meadow habitats. Much of the forest surrounding Dollar Meadows lost its struggle with the Wallow Fire and it appears the meadows may have won.

To the north, hot fire burned above Hamilton Camp, torching the true fir forest at the edge of the wet meadows. The fire cooled at the saddle and left a mosaic of burned forest and green, living trees. Heading northeast along the long granitic ridgeline between Hamilton Camp and English Peak you enter slopes that had heavily burned in 2006 Uncles Fire and re-burned in the Wallow Fire. The Wallow Fire rushed through this section with a vengeance, turning the snags black with charcoal, consuming the understory fuels and leaving a powdery layer of ash across the surface of the soil.
The ridge between Hamilton Camp and English Peak has transitioned to complex, early-seral vegetation.

Before the Wallow Fire the area supported extensive snag forests, chaparral, young conifer regeneration and dry bunchgrass and buckwheat clearings. The Wallow Fire uniformly scorched the majority of the ridge, leaving only occasional islands of young conifer regeneration, a few stands of more mature trees, and unburned bunchgrass clearings. The south-facing slopes are now blackened and will transform into yet another unique ecosystem. 

In some places snowbrush, huckleberry oak and other shrubs are  already regenerating, in other places fields of bracken fern, fireweed and dry grassy clearings are already returning. Large sections of regenerating forest were burned clean by the Wallow Fire, resetting the ecological clock.

An early-seral bunchgrass opening regenerating from the 2006 Uncles Fire.
The views are spectacular, stark, and humbling. They are also intriguing. How will the ecosystem respond? What will regenerate in this large, blackened area? How will the reburn affect stand development and species composition.

 In time, the biodiversity of the burn will become more apparent and the rejuvenation will surprise us with its abundance and beauty. From ashes, this habitat will rise, changed, but connected to its past and thriving in its own way. 

I can now envision the buckwheat fields, rock gardens, fireweed patches, dry bunchgrass clearings, vibrant green conifer regeneration, and yes, the brushfields that will grow from the blackened snags and downed wood, creating habitat and life. Pollinators, songbirds, butterflies, woodpeckers, elk, bear and wildlife of all sorts will visit these clearings for sustenance. What some might see as disaster is a new opportunity for many species in the complex, diversified conifer forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou. 

The large, high-severity burn patch extends from near Hamilton Camp to Snowslide Gulch and up to the flank of English Peak where meadow and forest alike are unburned. Rustic Tom Taylor Cabin burned to the ground in the firestorm, but English Peak Lookout, perched high in the rocks, remained safe from the flames.

On the other side of the ridge, the fire behaved very differently.  Despite the large run up Little North Fork, the North Fork of the Salmon River burned at low to moderate intensity. The Wallow Fire burned streaks in the forest and brush at the North Fork's headwaters, often dying out in the rocky cliffs, ledges and steep granite ramps above. Much of the area was either unburned or underburned, leaving the canopy intact and the mosaic only gently touched by visible fire effects.
A view from the ridge near English Peak into the beautiful English Lake Basin. The fire burned at low to moderate intensity in the North Fork of the Salmon River. The steep, granitic headwall acted as fire refugia, providing the southern-most Pacific silver fir an unburned island high in the rock.

Out the ridge, towards Diamond Lake, and the out towards Hancock Lake, lies the southern-most stand of Pacific silver fir. Pacific silver fir grows in cool, moist and often very snowy habitats. They are found in only two locations in the Klamath Mountains, one here, near Hancock Lake and another near Copper Butte and Black Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest.

Pacific silver fir near Diamond Lake.
Although the species is very sensitive to fire, it also grows in highly effective fire refugia. The southern-most population exists within a cool, moist island of forest surrounded by rocky cliffs and ledges. The hemlock, red fir and Pacific silver fir grow in dense, mature groves embedded within rock outcrops and wet meadows. Numerous recent fires have burned to the edge of this stand, but have yet to penetrate the rocky kingdom in which this population exists. The Wallow Fire burned all the way around the population, demonstrating the effectiveness of the fire refugia in which the Pacific silver fir live.

Pacific silver fir and many of our other fire sensitive species such as Alaska yellow cedar, subalpine fir and Brewer's spruce have developed an avoidance strategy, clinging to the very habitats fire cannot penetrate. They do not develop thick, insulating bark or high, fire resilient canopies; they do not thrive in the face of fire like knobcone pine, lodgepole pine or chaparral, instead they avoid fire by exploiting cool, moist and rocky, high mountain habitats. I often judge the effects of a fire on how well the fire sensitive species persist in the post-fire environment. In the case of the Wallow Fire, I have seen significant viable populations of subalpine fir, Brewer's spruce and Pacific silver fir avoiding the flames in their rugged mountain haunts. Clinging to the rocky, north-facing slopes where fire struggles to burn, our ancient relict conifer species seem to be doing just fine. 
Hancock Lake