Monday, June 17, 2019

The Upper Briggs Restoration Project: The Wrong Treatments, in the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time!

A view across the Briggs Creek watershed in the spring of 2019 following the 2018 Taylor/Klondike Fire.
Recently the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest approved over 4,000 acres of commercial logging in the Upper Briggs Restoration Project. The Upper Briggs Restoration Project is located in the Briggs Creek watershed west of Grants Pass, Oregon on the Wild Rivers Ranger District. The project is yet another damaging federal timber sale disingenuously cloaked in restoration language. 

Briggs Creek is a major tributary of the Illinois River with significant anadromous fisheries and a botanical hotspot with high recreational values including hiking trails, mountain biking trails, Botanical Areas, Designated Wildlife Areas and popular campgrounds. 

The area also burned in the 2018 Taylor/Klondike Fire and according to the Decision Notice for the Upper Briggs Project, "the fire effects were generally very low intensity mostly burning ground fuels with occasional torching of individual trees." Despite these restorative mixed severity fire effects, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has approved commercial logging within fire resilient stands throughout the upper Briggs Creek Watershed. 
Unit 21 in the Briggs Creek Timber Sale is located along the popular Secret Way Trail and contains important fire-adapted late successional habitat. The unit burned at low severity in the Taylor/Klondike Fire and supports a particularly large population of the rare Clustered lady slipper orchid (Cyprepidium fasculatum). It is also proposed for commercial logging in the Upper Briggs Project.

Klamath Forest Alliance has filed an Administrative Objection and will continue working to fight for the Briggs Creek watershed, its spectacular forests, rare plant species, and wild habitats. 

Below is an article being published on June 19, 2019 in the Illinois Valley News by the Siskiyou Mountain Conservation Director for the Klamath Forest Alliance and the author of the Siskiyou Crest Blog, Luke Ruediger. 

The Upper Briggs Project: The Wrong Treatments, in the Wrong Place, at the Wrong Time
Low severity fire reduced fuel, thinned understory growth and increased fire resistance in this beautiful old-growth stand below the Secret Way Trail. Despite these beneficial effects, this forest is identified in the Upper Briggs Project as commercial logging unit 23. 

Briggs Creek is a major tributary of the Illinois River, a hotspot for recreation and a beautifully diverse watershed with important late successional forests, roadless areas and rare plant populations. Most who have visited the area know Briggs Valley, Sam Brown Campground, Big Pine Campground, Horse Meadows and the vast Briggs Creek Trail system. The area has long been a destination for local residents to enjoy for its solitude and beauty. 

In recent years, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has been working on the Upper Briggs Restoration Project, a timber sale on Briggs Creek; cloaked in restoration and fuel reduction language. The premise of the project is that without logging and fuel reduction treatments, rare plant populations would diminish, the Briggs Creek watershed would burn at uncharacteristic levels of fire severity and habitat conditions would suffer from fire exclusion. 

Ironically, the area has burned four times in the last 10 years, creating a diverse and productive mosaic of mixed severity fire. These fires were restorative in nature and have reduced fuel loading throughout the vast watershed. For example, the Briggs Creek watershed burned at 82% low severity this past summer in the Taylor/Klondike Fire, achieving the stated objectives of the Upper Briggs Project. The 2018 fires reduced understory fuels, maintained Northern spotted owl habitats, and restored the process of fire to fire-dependent ecosystems. In fact, the fire achieved these objectives to such a high degree and across such a broad landscape, that restoration and fuel reduction is no longer needed in the Briggs Creek watershed. 
Western sophora (Sophora leachiana) is endemic to the Rogue and Illinois River watersheds, is highly adapted to fire, and is more abundant in Briggs and adjacent Taylor Creek than anywhere else in the world. The Forest Service proposed numerous timber sale units to open canopies and restore fire, to fire dependent populations of Western sophora. The 2018 Taylor/Klondike Fire restored fire as a process and has invigorated populations throughout the fire area. These invigorated populations will be impacted by timber harvest in the Upper Briggs Restoration Project.

Recent fire footprints like the 2018 Taylor/Klondike Fire contain extremely fire resistant conditions, more effective at reducing fire severity and limiting fire spread than any manual logging or fuel reduction treatment. For the next few years, this watershed will be largely fireproof, resisting ignition and limiting fire spread until vegetation burned in the Taylor/Klondike Fire regenerates and builds enough fuel to once again support wildland fire spread. 

Unfortunately, the project specifically calls for logging stands that burned at low to moderate severity and removing trees that survived the 2018 fires. It is uniquely ironic and hypocritical to see forests recently burned at low severity, logged in the name of "fuel reduction" and "restoration." The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is now using low severity fire as an unprecedented excuse  for logging the post-fire environment. Yet, forests recently burned at low severity are not a priority for treatment and by removing living trees from sensitive fire effected sites, fuel loading and fire risks will increase, as logging slash is deposited throughout the currently fuel-limited landscape. 
Low severity fire burned through the old forests in unit 63 of the Upper Briggs Project, maintaining important late successional habitats. The 2018 Taylor Fire created beneficial, characteristic fire effects and "restored" fire adapted stand conditions. The logging proposed in unit 63 will degrade rather than restore healthy, fire adapted stands conditions.

Stands logged in the Upper Briggs Project will also experience stand desiccation and increased fire risks associated with increasing wind speeds, ambient air temperatures, and plummeting fuel moisture contents throughout our fire season. Understory fuels will also increase in direct proportionality to canopy removal. In fact, the loss of overstory canopy will trigger an extensive "understory response" with young trees, shubbery, and increased herbaceous growth filling in the canopy gaps. The result will be an increase in fire/fuel risks and a significant loss of fire resilience. 

The Upper Briggs Project is far from homes and human communities and provides little to no fire protection for the residents of southern Oregon. Implementation of the Upper Briggs Project is an unjustified waste of limited fuel reduction funding and will reduce, rather than increase fire safety in the Briggs Creek watershed. 

The exceptional fire resilience of this post-fire landscape will only be impacted by proposed project activities. The project will also impact the natural vegetative recovery, increase sedimentation in streams and erosion on sensitive fire effected soils, spread noxious weeds, impact Special Wildlife Management Areas and degrade Northern spotted owl habitat. 
Horse Meadows Wildlife Area following the 2018 Taylor/Klondike Fire. The Rogue River- Siskiyou National Forest has approved virtually clearcutting the forest at the margin of Horse Creek Meadows to "restore" the meadow to what is supposedly its former extent.

There is simply no ecological or fire/fuel related benefit to implementation of commercial logging and fuel reduction treatments in the Briggs Creek watershed, at this time. Furthermore, the conditions created by those logging and fuel reduction treatments will not restore characteristic  habitat conditions. The Upper Briggs Project is an example of the wrong treatments, at the wrong place, and at the wrong time. The project should be canceled and attention placed on reducing fuel around homes and communities where it is most needed, not in the backcountry, where it will impact habitat values and provide little to no fire protection for communities at risk. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Klamath National Forest is Clearcutting the Siskiyou Crest near Cook and Green Pass

A view southeast from near Copper Butte on the Siskiyou Crest. The Copper Timber Sale proposes to clearcut almost the entire burnt ridgeline in the foreground. The sale extends nearly to the Siskiyou Crest and down the east facing slopes into the headwaters of Horse Creek.
As soon as the smoke cleared from the 2017 Abney Fire, the Klamath National Forest began working to clearcut the region's fire affected forests. As usual, the Klamath National Forest took a very unscientific and opportunistic approach, proposing clearcut, post-fire logging throughout important conservation areas. Klamath National Forest land managers decided to locate much of the proposed timber sale near the spine of the Siskiyou Crest, in and around the Condrey Mountain and Kangaroo Roadless Areas, near the Cook and Green Pass Botanical Area, the Pacific Crest Trail and in a large Late Successional Reserve designated to protect complex, old forest habitat.

The region around Cook and Green Pass has long been cherished for its wilderness quality habitats and incredible biodiversity. In fact, Cook and Green Pass has been identified as one of the most botanically diverse locations in the state of California. It is also at the center of the Siskiyou Crest, one of the most important connectivity corridors in the West Coast. Unfortunately the Klamath National Forest has pushed forward with the Seiad Horse Project, proposing over 1,000 acres of clearcut, post-fire logging in the area. 
Post-fire regeneration and vegetative recovery has begun in timber sale units throughout the project area. Post-fire logging will damage forest regeneration, vegetative recovery, sensitive post-fire soils, and introduce noxious weeds into currently vibrant post-fire plant communities. This photo was taken in the summer of 2018, just one year after the Abney Fire burned through upper Seiad Creek. The native plant response has been both abundant and beautiful.

With the Abney Fire literally still smoldering, the Klamath Forest Alliance and our conservation allies began working to stop this atrocious timber sale. Although we are challenging the timber sale with litigation, the Klamath National Forest is rushing forward to log off the Seiad Horse Project before our day in court. 

Post-fire logging units clearcut by the Klamath National Forest after the 2014 Happy Camp Fire in the Westside Project. This photo was taken in the summer of 2018, four years after the Happy Camp Fire.
Although this situation sounds unfair (and it is), the Klamath National Forest often rushes forward with post-fire logging projects before legal challenges can be fully resolved in court. This has been done on numerous recent post-fire logging projects including the massive Westside Project, following the 2014 Happy Camp Fire. 

For the past few decades the Klamath National Forest has largely used post-fire logging as their defacto timber program. By doing so, they have focused their attention on logging conservation areas that would otherwise be off limits to such blatant, clearcut logging proposals. Instead of thinning dense, fuel-chocked plantations or reducing fuel around communities within or adjacent to the Klamath National Forest, the agency has spent much of the last few decades devastating conservation areas and backcountry habitats with industrial, post-fire logging projects. Unfortunately, Cook and Green Pass may be their next victim.
A forest proposed for logging in the Seiad Horse Project.

To make matters worse, the plantation stands established after post-fire logging have been proven to increase fire severity in future wildfires. They have also been shown to impact late successional habitats, forest complexity, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat. The sediment produced from clearcut logging, yarding, building new roads and constructing large log landings will also impact both water quality and fisheries habitat in Horse Creek and Seiad Creek. 

The Seiad Horse Project consists of three timber sales. The Low Gap Timber Sale on Horse Creek has already been logged, logging  has also begun in the Copper Timber Sale and on the flank of the Siskiyou Crest, while the Pitchfork Timber Sale on Seiad Creek has not yet been subjected to industrial, post-fire logged. Unfortunately, the devastation could begin at any time and shamefully the Klamath National Forest is currently working to log off our wildlands as soon as possible. 

For those of us who love this area, the decision is heartbreaking and for the wildlands of the Siskiyou Crest, it is an absolute tragedy.  Klamath Forest Alliance and our allies will continue our fight for the Siskiyou Crest. We still have hope that legal action can save some of these spectacular fire-adapted forest habitats. We believe the Siskiyou Crest is worth the fight. Please consider making a donation to support our work.

Much of the old forest near Cook and Green Pass area burned at low to moderate severity in the Abney Fire. Yet, the Klamath National Forest is now targeting Bee Camp Road within the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area for "hazard tree" logging. These large old trees will be logged to within 50' of the Pacific Crest Trail and will damage the natural mixed severity fire mosaic.