Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Snail Gulch Unit of the Pickett West Timber Sale

The forested slope in the foreground is the Snail Gulch unit of the Pickett West Timber Sale.
The Pickett-West Timber Sale is a sprawling proposal by the Grants Pass BLM. The planning area extends across southwestern Oregon, from Merlin and Galice on the Rogue River, to Selma and Deer Creek in the Illinois River area. The sale also extends into the Applegate Valley near Wilderville, Murphy and North Applegate Road. The project would log thousands of acres, build miles of new road, and increase fuel hazards by removing large, fire-resistant trees, dramatically reducing canopy cover and encouraging dense shrubby understory fuel.

Although the Grants Pass BLM claims to be implementing this project under the Applegate Adaptive Management Area — a land-use designation intended to facilitate community collaboration, innovative land management, and a more transparent planning process — the BLM has refused to collaborate with Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN), other local organizations and private residents in the development of the Pickett West Timber Sale. The agency has held only one community meeting, no field trips, and no opportunities for further dialog. They have also refused to provide basic information on the proposed timber sale to the public, such as basic unit maps and prescription information for various alternatives. The approach has been far from collaborative or transparent and does not reflect the spirit of the AMA. 

The Snail Gulch unit is open, spacious and dominated by large old trees. The forest is naturally fire resistant.

Despite the BLM's lack of transparency, folks at Applegate Neighborhood Network, Klamath Forest Alliance and Siskiyou Crest blog have been working on this timber sale. We have proposed an ecologically based and community-driven alternative that will be analyzed as Alternative 3 in the Environmental Assessment. Alternative 3, is being developed by the BLM based on principals from the Community Alternative and the public comment provided by Applegate Neighborhood Network. We applaud the BLM for this decision, but we are concerned that BLM has not allowed the public to provide input during the process regarding unit selection, unit prescription, road renovations and timber sale layout.

Our coalition has been exploring the Pickett West Timber Sale. We have ground-truthed proposed units and proposed new roads throughout the Applegate watershed above North Applegate Road, Murphy and Wilderville. 

I recently visited the "Snail Gulch" unit of the Pickett West Timber Sale. The unit is currently inaccessible by road, and unfortunately, the BLM is proposing to build roughly 3/4 of a mile of new road to access and log this relatively small patch of intact conifer forest. The forest is an isolated, late-seral habitat surrounded in a sea of manzanita, live oak, buckbrush, and early-seral vegetation.
Snail Gulch unit of the Pickett West Timber Sale.

The proposed new road is being characterized by the BLM as "temporary," but will require a large roadcut due to the steepness of terrain, and the ecological impact will, in fact, be permanent. The road will begin by traversing the steep mountainous slopes, then cross the headwaters of Oscar Gulch and drop down a rugged ridgeline. The proposed new road will impact the currently un-roaded terrain, and encourage the spread of OHV use, irresponsible shooting and garbage dumping, problems that are already rampant in the surrounding area.

A Google Earth image of the Snail Gulch unit. The blue line is the proposed ART heading west from the saddle at upper Savage Creek Road. The red line is the proposed new road and the yellow polygon is the location of the Snail Gulch unit of the Pickett West Timber Sale.

The Applegate Trails Association has proposed a long-distance, non-motorized trail extending from Jacksonville to Grants Pass, Oregon, known as the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART). The western portion of the ART crosses the planning area for the Pickett West Timber Sale. The ART proposal has been submitted to the BLM for consideration and the Applegate Trails Association is working hard to develop a trail that connects wild places and communities in southwestern Oregon. 

The ART is heavily supported by surrounding communities that will be connected by the trail and benefit from its construction. It is estimated that the first quarter mile of new road proposed to access the Snail Gulch unit is being proposed to be built directly on top of the ART. If this new road is developed, the ART would be negatively impacted. The BLM has proposed a similar new road to the east on the divide between Rocky and Miller Gulch.  This new road would also impact the ART and the cumulative impact would be significant.
This photo shows the currently unroaded ridgeline proposed for new road development in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The Snail Gulch unit is the forested summit in the background.

Down the ridge, the proposed road leads to a low saddle where the brush and oak give way to an isolated stand of towering, old, conifer forest. Despite this being the only conifer stand for some distance, it is proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The forest floor is open — in places it is grassy, and in other places it has a carpet of spring flowers. Massive, old Douglas fir, sugar pine, ponderosa pine and madrone create complex, late-seral habitat and highly fire resilient conditions. The stand is an oasis in the rock and brush that surrounds it, and a remnant forest that survived a series of fast-moving wildfires that burned in the 1930s from North Applegate to Ruch. 

This forested stand extends from the low ridgeline, west into Snail Gulch, a small stream lined in wide-branching maple, a drapery of tangled wild grape vines, and open groves of Douglas fir. Trees from 20"-56" in diameter are common throughout the stand, growing in clusters, groupings, or distinct groves. Massive, old snags are scattered throughout the forest, creating opportunities for cavity nesting species and providing abundant insects for foraging song birds and woodpeckers. They also provide commanding perches for raptors, vultures, and ravens, and soft, hollow trunks suitable for Pacific fisher denning habitat, and deep cat-faces for slumbering bears. 

The lower end of the Snail Gulch unit in the Pickett West Timber Sale.

The forest canopy provides thermal cover for local ungulates and a multitude of other species in the winter months, as well as a cool place to bed down in the heat of summer. Small oak openings punctuate the canopy of ancient, old trees, creating heterogeneity, biodiversity and habitat for a variety of wildlife species. The stand is a functional island of late-seral habitat within a broad mosaic of brush, white oak woodland and groves of scrubby live oak. It should not be logged!

Commercial logging in this stand will negatively impact the forest's high habitat value, increase fire hazards and degrade its majestic beauty. Forest health, fire resilience and habitat diversity will not benefit from the removal of large, old trees. Opening of the forest canopy will encourage the dense, shrubby growth surrounding the stand to invade the forest floor, contributing to increased fire hazards. If canopies are reduced heavily, this stand will also be subjected to increased ambient temperatures, drying winds, increased fuel loading, increased fuel ladders, decreased fuel moisture and extended fire seasons.

The Snail Gulch unit is an open, fire-resistant old forest. Commercial logging will only harm this beautiful stand of trees.

In a small percentage of the stand, poles and small doghair thickets have developed in the absence of fire. These younger trees could be thinned with prescribed fire or by implementing non-commercial thinning treatments to reduce understory density. The result would be a generally open, yet diverse forest, dominated by large, fire resistant trees with sufficient canopy cover to suppress understory fuel loads. 

The Snail Gulch unit should be withdrawn from consideration for commercial timber harvest in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The stand is valuable for the habitat it provides. It needs only minimal, if any action to maintain its current trajectory towards continued fire resilience. The Grants Pass BLM should cancel the Snail Gulch unit.
Maple, madrone and fir line Snail Gulch at the bottom of the unit.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Post-Fire Logging on the Siskiyou Crest

The Gap Fire burned at particularly low severity on the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain. The upper reaches of Buckhorn and Middle Creek burned in a natural mixed-severity fire mosaic and should be allowed to recover naturally, maintaining habitat values and connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest.
Last summer the Gap Fire burned over 30,000 acres of forest in the Klamath River watershed near the community of Horse Creek. The fire burned at mixed severity from the Klamath River to the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain. Fire severity was particularly moderate in the high country near the Siskiyou Crest, where the fire burned in a characteristic and healthy mosaic. The fire itself maintained habitat values, restored fire as a natural process, and encouraged natural forest resilience. The Klamath National Forest has responded with a large, post-fire logging project that would log old-growth forest on the Siskiyou Crest and fire effected forests throughout the burn area, including the Johnny O'Neil Late Successional Reserve.

The project will log old-growth forests adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, Pacific Crest Trail and Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area. The last remaining old-growth forest in Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek watersheds would be roaded and logged. The project would impact habitat connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest, fisheries habitat in the Klamath River, and recreational qualities on the Pacific Crest Trail. In all 2,257 acres are proposed for logging under the Forest Service Alternative #2.
Low-severity fire in the high elevation forests near Condrey Mountain, a vital link in the Siskiyou Crest connectivity corridor.

Post-fire logging will increase fire hazards, decrease habitat complexity, impact important wildlife habitat and the natural fire mosaic. The cumulative impact of post-fire logging on federal land and private land has become enormous on the Klamath River and its salmon streams. Following the Happy Camp Fire in 2014, the Forest Service recently implemented the massive Westside Project which clearcut 13,000 acres of fire-effected forest south of the Klamath River. The Fruit Growers Supply Company has also been busy clearcut logging thousands of acres in the Beaver Fire of 2014 and the 2016 Gap Fire. Vast tracks of land have been clearcut, impacting wildlife, streams, soils, forest recovery and slope stability in the Middle Klamath River Watershed. 

We are witnessing the loss of one of our region's last truly wild landscapes. The Middle Klamath River is being carved into pieces by recent salvage logging projects, fragmenting the habitat, reducing forest complexity, increasing fuel loads, and clearcut logging steep, erosive slopes above the Klamath River's last high quality salmon streams. Salmon River, Elk Creek, Grider Creek, Scott River and many others have been impacted by large, post-fire logging projects. The logging has extended to the edge of the Marble Mountains Wilderness and Trinity Alps Wilderness. We cannot allow post-fire logging and road building to impact the Siskiyou Crest. 

The large denuded area in this photograph was logged by a private timber company following the Beaver Fire of 2014. The green forests in the background are proposed for logging in the Forest Service's Gap Fire salvage logging proposal.

The Siskiyou Crest is a regionally important connectivity corridor. Running east to west, the Siskiyou Crest connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains with a single high elevation ridgeline. This important connectivity corridor is the center for biodiversity on the West Coast of North America and allows species migration across broad swaths of the Pacific Coast. For millennia, the Siskiyou Crest has provided a refuge for migrating species as their habitat and range shifted across the region and in response to changing climates. The region will continue to play this role in the face of human caused climate change, providing a migration corridor and repository of biodiversity.

The unique connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest, along with the region's unusual geology and diverse topography has provided small niches for remnant populations stranded in isolated Siskiyou Mountain habitats as they moved across the landscape. Ancient paleo-endemic species surviving only in the Siskiyou Mountains and disjunct plant populations at the far edge of their range, have clung to specific microclimates or unique soil types in the Siskiyou Mountains. The Condrey Mountain/Dry Lake area represents a vital link in this chain of connectivity, providing access between the eastern and western Siskiyou Mountains. 

The Condrey Mountain Roadless Area extends down the northern face of the Siskiyou Crest, into the headwaters of Elliott Creek. The southern face of the Siskiyou Crest burned in the Gap Fire. These southern faces drop from Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain through intact, high-elevation forests on Forest Service land, and into a sea of clearcut, private industrial forest land above the Klamath River. 

The area represents a significant bottleneck in connectivity and the last significant concentration of private land as the Siskiyou Crest heads west towards the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Range. The high-elevation forests in Buckhorn and Middle Creek contain complex forest habitat near the spine of the Siskiyou Crest and directly adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area. 
The meadows and forests of the Siskiyou Crest provide important habitat connectivity and should be allowed to naturally regenerate from the Gap Fire.

Logging these forests as proposed by the Klamath National Forest would significantly impact the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest. The complex habitat that they provide will become increasingly important in a changing climate. Resilience to climate change for many natural communities depends on maintaining habitat connectivity on the broadest scale possible. Protecting the Siskiyou Crest is absolutely necessary for the resilience of the West Coast.

The Karuk Tribe has proposed an alternative to the Klamath National Forests post-fire logging frenzy. They have offered a plan that would encourage the reintroduction of fire and the development of fire adapted human communities on the Klamath River. The Karuk Alternative would help to facilitate fire resilient communities by conducting non-commercial fuel reduction along strategic ridgelines and around private land boundaries in the Gap Fire Area. 

The Klamath National Forest has released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and is currently accepting public comment. Please consider commenting on the project, support the Karuk Alternative and advocate for conservation on the Siskiyou Crest.

Click here to sign a letter in support of the Karuk Alternative.