Mysterious Baker Cypress: A Fire Dependent Endemic of Southwestern Oregon and Northern California

The Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are renowned for their biodiversity. A whopping 35 species of conifer grow throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and 22 species of conifers can be found right here in the Applegate River watershed alone. Yet of all the conifer species in our region, Baker cypress (Hesperocyparis bakeri) is the most obscure, unknown, underappreciated and mysterious.

Worldwide, Baker cypress is found in only eleven widely dispersed and relatively small populations located in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, the southern Cascade Mountains and the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. Of these populations, six grow on serpentine or granitic soils in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and five grow on volcanic soils in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains. These populations range from an estimated 7,000 acres at Timbered Crater on the Lassen National Forest, to less than 3 acres on Flounce Rock above the Rogue River (Merriam.2010).

Baker cypress is a Pleistocene relic from a more moist climatic period when it was broadly distributed across a more contiguous range. Now restricted to highly infertile soils and particularly marginal sites, the species has evolved through speciation and long periods of time to fill a very narrow habitat niche. It is now the northernmost naturally occurring cypress tree in the world (Kaufmann. 2012). Overtime, its range has contracted, leaving only isolated populations scattered across the region in small pockets of habitat, with a very specific fire regime.

Across its limited range, Baker cypress seems to have three general habitat requirements, including poor, low nutrient soils, limited competition, and a history of periodic, high severity fire.

Baker cypress growing on a rocky bluff in the Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area and the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area near Miller Lake in the Applegate watershed.

Baker cypress is a sun-loving tree that simply does not compete well with other, more vigorous conifer species. It appears that its adaptation to poor soils and high severity fire are related to its need for limited competition from other conifers or even hardwood trees.

The harsh growing conditions that Baker cypress exploits often include poor, shallow, low nutrient soils. These soil conditions allow Baker cypress to colonize isolated openings, rock outcrops and relatively open habitats nestled within the larger matrix of mixed conifer forest. In most locations Baker cypress favors open, rocky sites, where conifer competition is geologically limited.

It also occupies a distinctive niche on the landscape where poor growing conditions overlap with a history of periodic high severity fire effects. Baker cypress is not just fire adapted, but is entirely dependent on periodic high severity or stand replacing fire. Without fire, and in fact, without periodic, high severity fire, Baker cypress cannot reproduce or persist on the landscape.

Dense, fire generated stands of even-aged Baker cypress in the West Fork Seiad Creek canyon and the Seiad Baker Cypress Botanical Area.

Baker cypress often grows in even-aged stands, suggesting that previous stand replacing fires are responsible for maintaining the scattered populations of Baker cypress currently found in our region (Ne’eman etal. 1999.). The effects associated with high severity fire appear important for Baker cypress regeneration (Vogl etal. 1977), with more severe soil heating, crown scorch and char height encouraging higher seedling densities (Merriam. 2010). Furthermore, high severity fire can consume the dormant seed load of other conifer species during high severity fire events. Sterilization of the soil can limit the regeneration of competing conifer species in both the short and long term, allowing the establishment of persistent Baker cypress populations (Keeley and Zedler. 1988).

The young, grayish green trees in this photograph are Baker cypress regenerating after the 1987 Fort Complex Fire in the Seiad Creek Watershed. The photo shows 30 years of growth in 2017.

The presence of high severity fire is not enough to maintain or increase Baker cypress populations on the landscape or stand level. Instead, fires must also be relatively infrequent. In fact, repeat high frequency fire in Baker cypress habitat can lead to population declines and immaturity risk.

Baker cypress has serotinous, resin-sealed cones that require fire to open and disperse the mature seed. Until the heat from a hot fire opens those cones and disperses Baker cypress seed, the entire stand’s seed load is stored in the canopy of existing trees. (Merriam. 2010). Once dispersed en mass following a wildfire, the viability of Baker cypress seed is relatively short lived. This means that they must germinate vigorous populations in the freshly burned soils or risk significant population declines or localized extirpation (Vogl etal. 1977, Merriam. 2010).

Evidence also suggests that young Baker cypress trees require 16 years to produce their first crop of mature seed (Armstrong. 1966). Thus, if successive high severity fires burn more frequently than 16 years in an existing Baker cypress stand, seed production may not be sufficient to maintain population viability. Researchers estimate that a minimum fire return interval of 30-50 years is necessary to build the seed load, grow sufficient seed cones and support stand recruitment (Merriem. 2010).

Young Baker cypress seedlings germinating after the 2017 Abney Fire in the Seiad Creek drainage.

Baker cypress represents all that is still wild and unknown in the Siskiyou Mountains. It hides in isolated canyons and on specific mountaintops throughout the region, waiting for a high severity fire to rip through its habitat and trigger renewal. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Baker cypress is a symbol of strength, hope and resilience.

Like the mythical Bigfoot, many have heard of its existence, some have hunted it in its habitat, but few can claim to have had the pleasure of finding a grove of Baker cypress. Few have smelled the foliage of Baker cypress wafting through the breeze on a hot summer day, few have watched the first morning light illuminate its canopy, and few have swam in clear mountain streams surrounded by thickets of cypress trees. Here in the Siskiyou Mountains we can, and we encourage you to do so.

Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area

Old-growth Baker cypress in the Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area.

In the Applegate River watershed Baker cypress can be found in only one widely scattered population in upper Carberry Creek. Located in numerous small groves across Steve Peak Ridge, the population extends up the Sturgis Fork watershed from a saddle west of Iron Mountain to Steve Peak. Other populations can be found near Miller Lake and below Little Craggy Peak.

In total, it is estimated that the Sturgis Fork population covers less than 50 acres (Merriam. 2010) and is located entirely within the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. In some places, individual trees can be found growing in isolation and in other locations, small groves of Baker cypress can be found.

The largest grove is located east of Miller Lake in “Cypress Basin.” This stand is centered around a prominent rock outcrop at the headwaters of Miller Creek. Here, thickets of Baker cypress grow among patches of Brewer’s spruce, incense-cedar and true fir. Most of the Baker cypress grows from shallow soil in the little gullies that cut into this broad rocky outcrop.

The second largest Baker cypress in the world at “Cypress Basin” in the Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area near Miller Lake in the Applegate watershed.

Below the rock outcrop Baker cypress also grow among stands of relatively moist mixed conifer forest consisting of white fir, red fir and incense cedar. Large tree-form Baker cypress grow into impressive specimens in these stands, including the second largest Baker cypress in the world — a massive, open grown tree over 46″ in diameter.

The Cypress Basin stand was first “discovered” by the first Forest Service Ranger in the Applegate Watershed, Bill Fruit. Later, in the 1930s, Oliver Matthews, a self described “botanical tramp” and noted dendrologist began exploring the Miller Lake area and advocating for its protection. In particular, he was intrigued by the Baker cypress and the surrounding old-growth forests. This exceptional grove of Baker cypress is now protected in his honor, along with Miller Lake in the Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area.

Seiad Baker Cypress Botanical Area

West Fork Seiad Creek in the Seiad Baker Cypress Botanical Area and Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area.

Seiad Creek is a tributary of the Klamath River draining the rugged redrock canyons south of Red Butte and the Siskiyou Crest in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area. The area is just over the ridge from the Applegate watershed and can be accessed via Cook and Green Pass Road (Forest Service Road 1055) in the Upper Applegate. At 800 acres, the Seiad Baker Cypress Botanical Area contains the largest populations of Baker cypress in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and the third largest population in the world (Merriam. 2010).

The Seiad Creek population contains numerous even-aged stands regenerated from multiple regional wildfires, including the 1951 Devil Fire, 1987 Fort Complex Fire, 2013 Fort Goff Fire, and the 2017 Abney Fire. Each fire burned through portions of the population creating a mosaic of burned and unburned habitat. This mosaic of periodic high severity fire has established large, dense populations of Baker cypress and increased the abundance of Baker cypress on the landscape.

In fact, in the 1930s, when Oliver Matthews visited this stand he described a “few hundred” trees growing in the Seiad Creek canyon. Today, literally hundreds of thousands of trees can be found on the site and the population has dramatically expanded in response to the four major fires that have burned through this stand in recent years.

Dense, even-aged stands of Baker cypress dominate large portions of the West Fork Seiad Creek canyon.

After these historic burns and the subsequent regrowth, the Seiad Creek population is thriving like few others. Baker cypress thickets dominate large portions of the West Fork Seiad Creek canyon, and dense populations of skinny little cypress trees have colonized both the 1951 Devil Fire and 1987 Fort Complex fire areas. Thousands and thousands of little seedlings have also sprung up following the 2013 and 2017 fires, creating new stands of vigorous young trees.

In recent years the mixed severity fire regime on Seiad Creek has sustained the health and vigor of Baker cypress habitat in the area. It has regenerated numerous even-aged cohorts and maintained the pattern of burning necessary for the species to thrive. Fire has also renewed three nearby populations on the Klamath River in or adjacent to the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area, at Timbered Crater on the Lassen National Forest, and in the two populations located in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mud Lake and on Wheeler Peak.

The cumulative effect of these wildfires has been highly restorative for existing Baker cypress populations, regenerating new stands, and creating new habitats.

References:

Armstrong, W. P. (1966). Ecological and taxonomic relationships of Cupressus in southern California. Los Angeles, California, California State College: 129 p.

Kauffman, Michael E. “Conifer Country: A Natural History and hiking guide to 35 conifers of the Klamath Mountain Region” Backcountry Press. 2012.

Keeley, J. and P. H. Zedler (1988). Evolution of life histories in Pinus. Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. D. M. Richardson. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press: 219-249.

Ne’eman, G., C. Fotheringham, et al. (1999). “Patch to landscape patterns in post fire recruitment of a serotinous conifer.” Plant Ecology 145: 235-242.

Merriam, Kyle. and Rentz, Erin. (2010)”Restoring fire to endemic cypress populations in northern California” Joint Fire Science Program project ID number: 06-2-1-17

Vogl, R., K. Armstrong, et al. (1977). The closed-cone pines and cypresses. Terrestrial vegetation of California. M. G. Barbour and J. Major. New York, New York, USA, Wiley- Interscience.

Coming Soon! The ANN Summer Fundraiser with the Holly Gleason Trio!

June 19, 5:00 PM at 3996 Little Applegate Road

Do you love the wildlands of the Applegate Watershed? Do you support ANN as we work to defend those wildlands?

One of the easiest ways to support ANN is to make a generous donation of $25 or more and attend our upcoming summer fundraiser in the beautiful Little Applegate Valley. This event will feature the music of the Holly Gleason Trio, food by Nomad Kitchen PNW, local mead from the Siskiyou Mead and Spirits, and locally brewed beer from Walkabout Brewery.

Donation are being accepted via our online donation page and will also be accepted at the door. We sincerely hope to see you there! Come out and enjoy an afternoon with neighbors, friends and ANN supporters. Donate to ANN, have a good time, and help keep the Applegate wild!

To attend either pay at the door or make a donation of $25 or more to ANN. If you donate online, please also leave us an email address so we can confirm your donation.

The Holly Gleason Trio will be providing music for our summer fundraiser. Come out and enjoy the afternoon with us!

Confronting the Climate and Extinction Crisis in the Applegate Watershed

(This article was originally printed in the Spring 2021 edition of the Applegater Community Newsmagazine)

Happy Earth Day!

Carbon rich old-growth Douglas fir forest on Dutch Creek in the unprotected Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area.

For those of us who care for our environment, love the land, and work for wildlife, water, or wildlands, the last four years have been dark and uncertain times. From the national monuments stripped of protection and regulations gutted for the benefit of industry, to the xenophobic, environmentally destructive border wall, widespread anti-science policy and climate denial, we have had little, to nothing to applaud about the Trump Administration and its frenzy of shortsighted, profit-driven resource extraction.

Now with a new administration calling the shots, and in a flurry of Executive Orders, the Biden Administration has begun dismantling the destructive legacy of Trump era anti-environment policies. These Executive Orders have set forth a new policy agenda focused on environmental justice, climate change, and land and water protection. They commit federal land managers and regulatory agencies to science-based management, climate smart policy, and the protection of 30% of the American oceans and land base by 2030.

The lofty goals and words of these executive orders sound hopeful, but will only become meaningful when they are fully enacted and backed up with permanent wildland protections, long needed endangered species protections, and transformative changes to our economy, our food production system, our transportation system and our way of life. These changes will require innovative thinking and consistent political pressure. No matter how lofty and progressive their words might be, our elected officials must be encouraged by citizens like you and me to turn those words into meaningful action.

A view from the Siskiyou Crest across the carbon rich forests on the Middle Fork Applegate River. The ancient forests in the foreground surrounding Phantom Meadows are protected in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, while the ancient forests in the background on Arnold Mountain in the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and on Whisky Ridge in the Whisky Ridge Roadless Area remain unprotected.

All too often people view the climate and extinction crisis as something affecting far off lands, with solutions in the carbon rich forests of the Amazon in South America and the  Tongass National Forest in Alaska; however, both the impacts and the solutions can also be found right here in the Applegate watershed. We have seen the impact of highly variable and erratic weather patterns, warming temperatures, reduced snow loads, extended droughts, and low stream flows. What we don’t often appreciate is how the public lands of the Applegate watershed can also be part of the solution.

The Siskiyou Mountains are known for their world-class biodiversity, incredible habitat connectivity, towering ancient forests, and wild, clear-flowing streams. Protecting the Siskiyou Mountains is an important part of fighting climate change on the local level, but with global implications. The forests of the Siskiyou Mountains and in particular the ancient, fire-adapted, old-growth forests, sequester significant amounts of carbon. In fact, recent research shows that forests and other vegetation can absorb up to 40% of the emissions generated in the lower 48 states. Ironically, the timber industry is instead the largest single source of emissions in Oregon, but if managed properly for carbon sequestration and biodiversity, rather than industrial timber production, our forests could be a significant part of the climate solution.

Old-growth sugar pine in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area store large quantities of carbon and pull abundant CO2 from the atmosphere. The protection of more ancient forests like these represent a natural climate solution with significant additional social, ecological and scenic benefits.

Protecting the Siskiyou Crest and the surrounding wildlands in the Applegate watershed as part of Biden’s initiative to protect 30% of America’s ecosystem by 2030 would not just protect these carbon rich forests, it would also protect some of the most botanically diverse wildland habitats in the West. The Siskiyou Crest contains widely varying plant communities, endemic plant species found nowhere else in the world, and strongholds for endangered wildlife like the Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher.

A broad, protected area straddling the Siskiyou Crest, expanding the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, designating new wilderness areas and encompassing the many wildlands of the Applegate would protect the region’s important biodiversity, maintain connectivity in a changing climate, facilitate species dispersal, promote carbon storage in old forest habitats, and protect important regional climate refugia.

Local Applegate residents are also strongly supportive of new Wild and Scenic River designation in our watershed. Recently Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced the River Democracy Act proposing 4,700 miles of new Wild and Scenic River in the state of Oregon and over 150 miles in the Applegate River watershed. This includes numerous important tributary streams to the Applegate River, vital cold water refugia, carbon rich forests, and significant wildland habitats. We hope to see this legislation passed and enacted into law, protecting the wild rivers and streams we depend on in a warming climate.

Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley have recently introduced the River Democracy Act, which proposes to designate 4,700 miles of new Wild and Scenic River in the state of Oregon. Currently over 150 miles of the Applegate River watershed have been formally proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation in the River Democracy Act including the clear waters of Elliott Creek.

If we are to weather the coming storms, high dry winds, atmospheric rivers and the extended droughts of climate change, while maintaining the planet’s spectacular biodiversity and sustaining a livable future, we must alter many aspects of our daily lives and economy. We must also preserve what remains of our wild, old forests and woodlands, our rivers and high mountain peaks. Finally, we must build movements that ensure the lofty words of the Biden Administration translate into real action on climate change and biodiversity.

-Luke Ruediger, ANN Executive Director

SAVE PIPE FORK!

Lush and beautiful Pipe Fork.

Beginning at beautiful Larkspur Spring high in the spectacular Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, and running through the Pipe Fork Research Natural Area (RNA), the Pipe Fork is one of the last truly wild streams in the Williams Creek Watershed. The Pipe Fork tumbles down the northeastern flank of Grayback Mountain through spectacularly lush old-growth forests supporting the easternmost stands of Port Orford-cedar in Oregon. The Pipe Fork flows cold and clear out of the wildlands and into the East Fork Williams Creek where it contributes important cold water refugia for threatened coho salmon.

The old-growth forests along the Pipe Fork contain spectacular groves of Port Orford-cedar, incense cedar, Douglas fir, sugar pine, live oak, madrone, chinquapin and tanoak. These forests also provide important connectivity habitat between the high country of the Siskiyou Crest near Grayback Mountain and the foothills of the Applegate Valley around Williams, Oregon.

ANN recently nominated the Pipe Fork for protection as a Wild and Scenic River, and just this month, Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced the River Democracy Act, which proposes Wild and Scenic River designation for streams across the state and across the Applegate River watershed, including the federally owned portions of Pipe Fork.

Old-growth forest in the Pipe Fork drainage.

Yet, while support for the permanent protection of the Pipe Fork has been growing, a 320 acre parcel of “timberland,” owned by Josephine County and directly adjacent to the roadless wildlands and the Pipe Fork RNA, has been proposed for clearcut logging. The Josephine County Forestry Department has proposed to clearcut 114 acres of mature conifer forest, and under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, would likely not only log off this important forested habitat, but would also likely “treat” stump sprouting hardwoods like madrone, live oak, tanoak and chinquapin with herbicides after the logging is completed.

Clearcut logging, road reconstruction, landing construction and yarding activities will increase surface erosion rates in the watershed’s highly erosive decomposed granite soils. This will increase sedimentation rates, fill in small pools, create turbidity, compromise coho salmon and steelhead spawning gravels with siltation, and increase stream temperatures in the East Fork Williams Creek’s most important cold water tributary. The removal of forest cover will also impact the area’s important habitat connectivity and reduce habitat for forest dwelling species like the Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher.

Thankfully the Williams Community Forest Project (WCFP) has been working to acquire the 320 acre Josephine County parcel for conservation purposes. WCFP is attempting to attract conservation buyers that can acquire and hold the parcel until federal funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be used to incorporate the property into federal ownership and add the acreage to the existing RNA. At first Josephine County appeared interested in selling the parcel rather than logging off its forests; however, recently the county commissioners proposed selling the property at public auction to the timber industry. Again folks at the WCFP sprang into action and have secured a temporary reprieve.

Pipe Fork tumbles down moss covered bedrock cascades.

Currently, WCFP is working to secure funding or backing from large land trusts to acquire the property, but they also need to convince Josephine County to act on behalf of its citizens, not the timber industry. Please support their efforts by signing their petition and sending comments to the Josephine County Commissioners. Also please watch the new film sponsored by WCFP, “Pristine Waters.” This seven minute film will give you a glimpse of Pipe Fork’s beauty and will explain why it must be protected. ANN strongly supports the work of WCFP and the protection of Pipe Fork.

Sign the Pipe Fork Petition

Send a comment to the Josephine County Commissioners at: BCC@josephinecounty.gov

WATCH PRISTINE WATERS

LET’S KEEP PIPE FORK WILD!

Old-growth Port Orford-cedar in the Pipe Fork Research Natural Area.

For a Wild & Scenic Applegate River: Support the River Democracy Act of 2020

The Middle Fork Applegate River and its tributary streams are among the most intact and impressive waterways in our region and have been proposed by ANN for Wild & Scenic River designation.

Today, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the River Democracy Act of 2020 which will designated new Wild & Scenic River segments across the state of Oregon. The legislation is a direct result of a public nomination process initiated by Senators Wyden and Merkley to identify potential Wild & Scenic Rivers across the state. Oregon residents responded with enthusiasm, submitting over 15,000 nominations for thousands of miles of wild rivers and streams.

The Elliott Creek canyon and other spectacular Applegate River watersheds are proposed for Wild & Scenic River designation in the 2020 River Democracy Act.

Currently only 2% (2,137 miles) of the state’s 110,000 miles of streams benefit from Wild & Scenic River protections and not a single stream mile in the Applegate River watershed has received Wild & Scenic River status. Yet, during the public nomination process Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and our partners at Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) identified 200 miles of stream eligible for Wild & Scenic River protections in the Applegate River Watershed.

Our proposal includes 3 separate river segments spread throughout the Applegate River Watershed including the proposed Headwaters of the Applegate Wild & Scenic River, the Applegate Wild & Scenic River, and the Slate Creek Wild & Scenic River. Currently these spectacular streams are proposed for designation in the 2020 River Democracy Act.

The Headwaters of the Applegate Wild & Scenic River Proposal

The proposed Headwaters of the Applegate Wild and Scenic River includes the over 85 miles of the wildest streams in the Applegate River watershed including the Middle Fork Applegate River, Butte Fork Applegate River and Elliott Creek. These streams and their spectacular tributaries contain extremely rugged terrain, vast old-growth forests, high levels of biodiversity, undisturbed wildlife habitats, deep clear pools, rushing waterfalls and bedrock gorges.

Each stream drains the northern slope of the Siskiyou Crest and runs largely undisturbed through the vast wildlands and old-growth forests extending across the headwaters of the Applegate River in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, as well as the unprotected Kangaroo and Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Areas.

Middle Fork

Middle Fork Applegate River

The Middle Fork is the the largest tributary in the Applegate River. Known for its deep swimming holes, thundering waterfalls, beautiful bedrock gorges, spectacular dispersed camping, old-growth forests and numerous wilderness hiking trails, the watershed contains portions of the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and smaller wildlands like the Whisky Peak and Stricklin Butte Roadless Areas. The proposal includes the Middle Fork and all its major tributary streams.

Butte Fork

The Butte Fork is the largest and wildest major tributary pouring into the Middle Fork. The stream originates at Azalea Lake in some of the most rugged and diverse high country in the Siskiyou Mountains. The majority of the watershed is protected in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, but this proposal would include the lower reaches of the Butte Fork below the Wilderness boundary. Located within the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area, this portion of the Butte Fork contains beautiful old-growth forests, crystal clear pools and numerous spectacular wilderness trails. The proposal would include lower Butte Fork and its tributary streams.

Elliott Creek

Little known and relatively obscure, Elliott Creek contains some of the steepest, loneliest canyons in the Applegate River watershed. The stream drains a broad swath of the Siskiyou Crest’s northern slope from Dutchman’s Peak to Copper Butte including the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, the adjacent Elliott Ridge Roadless Area and numerous Forest Service Botanical Areas. The area is also a stronghold for old-growth forest and large portions of the watershed are designated as a Late Successional Reserve. The stream provides important, largely undisturbed wildlife habitat for species like the Pacific fisher, Northern spotted owls, great gray owls, black bear, cougar and elk. The proposal would include Elliott Creek and many of its tributary streams.

Applegate Wild & Scenic River Proposal

The proposed Applegate Wild & Scenic River would include numerous tributary streams spread across the Applegate River watershed. The proposal includes over 105 miles of stream representing nearly all the major ecosystems found in the Applegate Watershed from the Siskiyou Crest to the Applegate Foothills. The proposal includes streams in Carberry Creek, the Upper Applegate River, Little Applegate River and Middle Applegate River Watersheds.

Forks of Carberry Creek

Draining both the spectacular high mountain meadows, rocky summits and old growth forests of the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and the low elevation forest and woodlands of the Collings-Kinney Inventoried Roadless Area, Carberry Creek contains a wide variety of intact forest habitats. It also contains numerous Forest Service Botanical Areas and the Oliver Matthews Research Natural Area designated to protect the rare Baker’s cypress. The proposed Forks of Carberry Creek Wild & Scenic River includes Steve’s Fork, Sturgis Fork, O’Brien Creek and Brush Creek.

Upper Applegate River

Looking down Star Gulch from the Burton-Ninemile LWC.

Our proposal includes 4 small tributaries of the Upper Applegate River including Kinney Creek, Palmer Creek, Mule Creek and Star Gulch. These streams contain unique low elevation habitats including dry conifer forests, mixed hardwood forests, oak woodlands, chaparral and sweeping grasslands. Portions of Kinney Creek and Palmer Creek drain the Collings-Kinney Inventoried Roadless Area, Mule Creek drains the Little Grayback Inventoried Roadless Area and is traversed by the popular Mule Creek Trail, while Star Gulch contains large portions of the BLM’s Burton-Ninemile Lands with Wilderness Charateristics (LWC).

Little Applegate River

Our proposal in the Little Applegate River watershed includes the beautiful Little Applegate River canyon and numerous tributary streams including Bear Gulch, Muddy Gulch, Birch Creek, Blacksmith Gulch, Owl Gulch, portions of Glade Creek, and Skunk Gulch. The area is arid and unique for western Oregon with a diverse mixture of grassland, chaparral, oak woodland, hardwood groves and dry mixed conifer forest. Wild, accessible and extremely popular for recreation, the Sterling Ditch Trail traverses the area and numerous trailheads provide river access.

Pipe Fork

The Pipe Fork is the last wild tributary of Williams Creek, an important cold water refugia and the only stream proposed for Wild & Scenic designation in the Middle Applegate River watershed. The stream also contains the Pipe Fork Research Natural Area which currently protects stands of Port Orford cedar, uninfected by the fatal Port Orford Cedar Root Rot (Phytopthera lateralis). Usually a coastal species, this disjunct population of Port Orford cedar is the eastern most population in Oregon.

The Pipe Fork flows through the northern Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area on both Forest Service and BLM lands. The area supports spectacular old growth cedar groves, along with sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, and Douglas fir.

Slate Creek Proposal:

Slate Creek is the first major tributary to the Applegate River. Located near Wilderville and Wonder, Oregon the headwaters of Slate Creek flows through Forest Service land in a deep red rock canyon. The areas unusual serpentine soils create rather open, rocky forests of twisted chaparral and windswept Jeffrey pine savannah. Healthy stands of Port Orford cedar also line the stream. Portions of the area are protected in the Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area which supports the only carnivorous cobra lily fens in the Applegate River watershed and numerous rare plant species.

Although relatively obscure and unknown, Slate Creek flows cold and clear through the beautiful Slate Creek Roadless Area. The proposal includes the upper portions of Slate Creek, Cedar Log Creek, and Buckeye Creek.

Support the 2020 River Democracy Act

old-growth sugar pine on the Butte Fork.

We strongly support the 2020 River Democracy Act and look forward to new Wild & Scenic River designations throughout Oregon and in the Applegate River Watershed. These new designations will support healthy rivers, streams and fisheries. They will also protect old-growth forests, roadless wildlands, rare plant species, intact wildlife habitats and unique pieces of Oregon’s natural heritage. Please take a moment to thank Senators Wyden and Merkley for their leadership and urge Congress to move this bill forward.

Take Action Now!

2020 ANN’s Year in Review

The Red Buttes Wilderness at the headwaters of the Applegate River.

2020 has been a difficult year for people across the world. Here in the US we have struggled through the pandemic, economic hardship, social isolation, mass misinformation campaigns, ongoing displays of systematic racism, social unrest and an all out assault on public institutions, including those who manage our public lands.

It has been a year of turmoil and anger, fear, anxiety, outrage, and also empowerment. Yet, despite the pandemic and all the uncertainty and instability it brings, millions of people across the country and across the world have raised their collective voice for equality and justice. So within the darkness of the pandemic there is hope for a better tomorrow.

ANN rally against the Bear Grub Timber Sale in Ruch, Oregon June 27, 2020.

Here at ANN we work hard to protect the landscape that surrounds us, support our community and help empower local, rural people to engage directly in the management, conservation and protection of public lands. Below are projects and issues we worked on in 2020 and that we will continue addressing in 2021.

Bear Grub Timber Sale

ANN timber sale monitors reviewing Bear Grub Timber Sale units along the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

We poured our hearts into stopping the Bear Grub Timber Sale in 2020. Located in the mountains between Talent in the Rogue Valley and Ruch in the Applegate Valley, the project proposes nearly 1,100 acres of commercial logging, including 293 acres in the Wellington Wildlands and additional acreage along the popular East Applegate Ridge Trail.

The timber sale calls for group selection logging, a form of staggered clearcut logging that will increase fire risks, degrade forest habitats, and impact the scenic and recreational values of the Applegate Valley, the beloved Wellington Wildlands and the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

We worked with neighbors throughout the region to fight this timber sale, which was, unfortunately, approved by the BLM and sold at timber auction in October. In 2021 ANN will continue working to STOP BEAR GRUB and SAVE WELLINGTON WILDLANDS.

For more information: Stop Bear Grub Website


Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Project (IVM)

Forests near Williams, Oregon targeted for logging in the Late Mungers Timber Sale and under the proposed provisions of the IVM Project.

The IVM Project could perhaps be the single most damaging BLM proposal in southwest Oregon in many, many years. The project proposes 684,185 acres of proposed “treatment areas” spread out across nearly the entire Medford District BLM. Under the provisions proposed for the IVM Project up to 20,000 acres could be commercially logged, and up to 90 miles of new road built per decade without site specific environmental review or public comment. These “treatments” would include heavy industrial logging in Late Successional Reserves (LSR) set aside to protect the Northern spotted owl and its old forest habitat.

ANN is working with conservation allies across the region to oppose this damaging project that will increase commercial logging in sensitive landscapes, while gutting public accountability and reducing public input and oversight. ANN’s work on the IVM Project will continue and intensify in 2021.

For more information: IVM Blog Post


Late Mungers

A unit in the Late Mungers Timber Sale above Murphy, Oregon.

The Late Mungers Timber Sale is proposed in a large Late Successional Reserve on the ridges between the Williams Valley and Murphy in the Applegate Watershed, and Selma in the Illinois River watershed. The project has proposed logging in old forest habitats including small roadless areas near Mungers Butte. ANN is actively working with conservation partners in Williams, Murphy and Selma to oppose this sale and PROTECT MUNGER WILDLANDS!

For more information: Protect Munger Wildlands Website


Wild & Scenic Applegate River

The Wild & Scenic Little Applegate River is part of ANN’s Wild & Scenic Applegate River proposal.

In response to a public nomination process initiated by Senator Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Merkley (D-OR), ANN and our partners at Klamath Forest Alliance have proposed new Wild & Scenic River designations on tributary streams throughout the Applegate River Watershed. In total, we have documented, identified and promoted almost 200 miles of new Wild & Scenic River designations for the Applegate River Watershed that encompass some of the most intact wildlands in our area.

ANN will continue working towards the protection of these ecologically important rivers and streams in 2021. If secured, these would be the first permanent protections of federal lands in the Applegate River watershed in 33 years!


Applegate River Native Plant & Pollinator Restoration

ANN native plant and pollinator restoration planting day in November 2020.

For the past three years ANN has been working with the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District to restore native plants and pollinator habitat along the Upper Applegate River. This past fall, with much-appreciated funding provided by the Ashland Food Co-op, we worked with Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds to grow out 14 native species of plants and provide a seed mix comprised of 16 different native species of wildflowers and grasses. In November, under COVID protocols, a small group of five community volunteers planted 250 plants and sowed the seed mix at the small site along the Upper Applegate River. We will continue working to restore native plants and pollinator habitat along the Upper Applegate River in 2021.

For more information: Native Pollinator Planting Along the Applegate River Blog Post


Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project (UAW)

UAW community field trip with the Forest Service in the Upper Applegate.

ANN has worked collaboratively with the Forest Service for many years on the UAW Project. We have attended an exhaustive amount of public meetings and field trips about the project, and have done extensive on-the-ground monitoring of the project proposals.

We have worked hard over the years of project planning to help focus the project on thinning in plantation stands and fire protection measures directly around homes and communities, including manual thinning and prescribed fire. We also worked to keep logging and manual thinning away from important wildlands and intact habitats scattered across the Upper Applegate Valley.

In the end, the Forest Service approved a project we can mostly support. The logging, manual thinning and prescribed fire proposals are located primarily in tree plantations or adjacent to rural communities at risk to wildfire impacts. Although we are following the project, the impacts of this portion of the project have been greatly minimized by ANN’s years of collaborative efforts.

Unfortunately, two new OHV trails we strongly opposed were approved in the Final Decision for the UAW Project; however, three additional OHV trails proposed by the Forest Service, including routes in the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area, were withdrawn due to pressure from ANN and long-time rural Applegate residents.

In 2021, we intend to monitor UAW project design and implementation. We have developed a UAW Community Implementation Review Team to continue ensuring the project meets the habitat restoration goals promoted by ANN and local community members during the long UAW collaborative process. Once projects are approved, we can’t just walk away and forget about it. ANN has a commitment to seeing collaborative projects through to the end, to ensure the ecological commitments made by the agencies are met.


OHV Closures

An illegal OHV route that ANN has targeted for closure on the Siskiyou Crest.

ANN has been working for many years to monitor OHV impacts and advocate for the closure of unauthorized OHV routes in the Applegate Watershed. Progress has been slow but steady as we document impacts and advocate for solutions. BLM in particular has been slow to act, but is directed to address the issue in 2021. We hope to hold their feet to the fire.

We are also working on illegal OHV route closures on the Siskiyou Crest and in designated Botanical Areas on Forest Service land. Recently some progress has been made and numerous routes have been either approved for closure, or initial steps have been made to physically close them to illegal OHV use. We hope to continue closing damaging OHV routes and documenting impacts across the Applegate Watershed in 2021.


Moving Forward in 2021

A pre-COVID ANN hike in 2019. We hope when the pandemic ends to lead public hikes once again.

Although 2020 was a long and difficult year on many levels. ANN has continued to build our grassroots movement advocating for the public lands of the Applegate Valley. We have made progress on many levels, but have also faced challenges and disappointments. With the closing of 2020 comes hope for 2021. Please help us defend the Applegate River watershed, advocate for responsible environmental policies, and build a grassroots movement to permanently protect the wildlands of the Applegate.

Your support in 2021 will help us achieve our goals and keep the Applegate, wild, spectacularly beautiful and uniquely diverse. In the Applegate Valley we have so much to appreciate and so much to defend. Join us in 2021 and make a generous tax deductible donation today!

Donate to ANN!

Experiencing fire ecology firsthand in the Devil Fire

The Devil Fire burning below Kangaroo Mountain in the Red Buttes Wilderness. Photo: USFS, Brett Brown

This summer while wind-driven wildfires raged throughout the region, tragically burning homes and communities, the Devil Fire quietly burned through the headwaters of the Applegate River watershed in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area. Threatening no homes or communities, the ironically named Devil Fire burned through intact conifer forests, chaparral, and mixed evergreen forests, restoring fire as a natural process and creating highly beneficial wildfire effects.

The Devil Fire began as a human ignition of unknown origin, high on the Siskiyou Crest near Upper Devil’s Peak on the Klamath River side of the ridge, at about the same time as the nearby Almeda and Slater Fires. Pushed by strong winds and hidden under a thick blanket of smoke from fires across the region, the Devil Fire was not even detected until September 9 when it had reached roughly 500 acres and was well established in the remote backcountry of the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area.

This photograph depicts conditions around Upper Devils Peak (left) and upper Portuguese Creek before the Devil Fire began. The area is steep, inaccessible and dominated by montane chaparral that burned in the 2012 Fort Goff Complex.

Burning through montane chaparral on exposed south-facing slopes, the fire initially took hold during incredibly dry and exceptionally windy conditions. The extremely rocky terrain and light fuels regenerated after the 2012 Fort Goff Fire moderated fire behavior, however, the strong winds fueled fire growth to both the north and south. Once the wind died down, both fire intensity and spread significantly diminished and portions of the fire self-extinguished on the recently burned south-facing slopes above the Klamath River.

By September 11, the Devil Fire had burned north over the Siskiyou Crest near the rocky, rugged summit of Rattlesnake Mountain and into the Butte Fork of the Applegate River. The Butte Fork is the main drainage in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area and contains some of the most intact old-growth forest remaining in the Applegate River watershed. Although large portions of the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, the Kangaroo Inventoried Roadless Area and the Butte Fork drainage have burned in recent years, the Devil Fire backed downhill into areas with no recorded fire history.

Low severity, understory fire effects on the lower Butte Fork maintained a green canopy of old-growth trees, while much of the understory vegetation burned.

Finding sufficient fuels and dry early fall weather, the Devil Fire continued to burn in the Butte Fork watershed below the towering summits of Red Butte, Kangaroo Mountain, Desolation Peak and Rattlesnake Mountain until mid-October. The few fire personnel assigned to the fire essentially allowed the fire to burn down the rugged and inaccessible northern slopes of the Siskiyou Crest to the Butte Fork drainage, where for the most part the fire was extinguished both naturally and with a little help from fire crews. In only one location did the fire cross the lower Butte Fork drainage, burning both sides of the stream down to its confluence with the Middle Fork Applegate River.

Low severity fire along the Butte Fork Trail.

The mosaic created by the Devil Fire consists of largely low to moderate severity fire effects. In total, the Devil Fire burned at 71% low to very low severity, 11% moderate severity and 18% high severity. By and large, the low to moderate severity fire occurred in forested habitats, while the high severity fire burned in stands of montane chaparral.

Burning under moderated weather conditions and a heavy smoke inversion, the mosaic in the Butte Fork canyon and in the Red Buttes Wilderness Area includes 86% low severity, 6% moderate and 8% high severity fire effects. For about a month and half, the forests of the Butte Fork canyon burned as a vast, low intensity, understory fire, cleaning up fuels and burning back understory vegetation, while maintaining the old-growth forest canopy that dominates the watershed.

A Soil Burn Severity map produce by Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams for the Devil Fire shows a diverse mosaic of fire effects. The green is very low severity, the bluish-green is low severity, yellow is moderate severity and red represents high severity fire.
Fire intensity was moderated by heavy smoke inversions and favorable weather conditions, creating a vast understory fire in the Butte Fork canyon.

The heavy smoke inversion blanketing the region and covering the sun throughout southern Oregon and northern California trapped humidity, reduced ambient air temperatures and limited air movement across the Devil Fire area, essentially suffocating the fire as it slowly burned down the steep slopes of the Siskiyou Crest and into the dark forested canyon of the Butte Fork.

With the Devil Fire area now open to the public, you can hike the Shoofly and Butte Fork Trails through the fire area. The hike winds along the Butte Fork Applegate River among massive old trees blackened but not killed by the fire. As you walk through the charcoal and soot of the Devil Fire, enjoy the lush green canopy and the rushing stream.

Minimal torching and tree mortality characterize the fire effects in the lower Butte Fork canyon.

This coming spring and summer, the understory will sprout back in renewal, triggering fresh new woody growth for browsing deer and elk, abundant berry crops, and a profusion of wildflowers creating pollen and nectar for local bees, butterflies and other pollinating species. Cavities or hollows have been burned into both standing snags and live trees, creating nesting and denning habitat for Northern spotted owls, Pacific fisher, black bear, goshawks, woodpeckers, song birds and a multitude of wildlife species. New snags have been created, old snags have been deposited onto the forest floor and into the wild stream, creating habitat complexity.

Like all things in nature, the Devil Fire is part of the cycle of life, death and rejuvenation. These systems have adapted to wildfire as one of the many processes that shape vegetation and habitat conditions across the landscape. The Devil Fire burned its legacy into the forests of the Applegate and has the potential to leave an impression on all those who experience it firsthand. For many, the diversity of its mosaic, the beauty of its renewal, and the abundance fire creates is both surprising and inspirational.

Please go out and experience the Devil Fire and the Butte Fork canyon for yourself. The area can be explored along the Shoofly and Butte Fork Trails. Go check out your local fire adapted forests and experience their fiery renewal!

The beautiful Butte Fork Applegate River following the 2020 Devil Fire.

Butte Fork Trailhead Directions:

Horse Camp Trail Access: Follow Upper Applegate Road past the Applegate Dam and around Applegate Reservoir to the intersection of Carberry Creek Road and Elliott Creek Road. Turn left on Elliott Creek Road and continue driving past Seattle Bar to the California/Oregon border. Immediately after the pavement ends, at a wide intersection, turn sharply to the right on Middle Fork Road (FS Road 1040). Continue 3.7 miles up the Middle Fork Road and look for the Horse Camp Trailhead on the left. Park at the trailhead and hike the trail to the first trail junction, heading right on the Butte Fork Trail.

Shoofly Trail Access: Follow the directions above, but pass up the Horse Camp Trail and follow Middle Fork Road another 1.3 miles upstream, turning left on a large bridge and staying on road 1040. Continue uphill for roughly 2 miles to the Shoofly Trailhead on the left. The Shoofly Trail drops quickly to the Butte Fork Trail. Once on the Butte Fork Trail you can head downstream (left) into the fire area or upstream (right) along the Butte Fork Trail into the 2012 Hello Fire area with the Devil Fire just across the canyon.

Hiking the Butte Fork Trail.

ANN Native Pollinator Planting Project on the Upper Applegate River

Working within COVID-19 restrictions, ANN organized a small crew for our recent volunteer planting, and practiced social distancing while planting native pollinator plants along the Upper Applegate River.

Pollinators are fundamental for a healthy ecosystem and helping improve habitat for imperiled pollinators in the Applegate is important to us. For the past three years ANN has been working to facilitate a native plant and pollinator restoration project on a unique valley bottom parcel of Forest Service land, located directly adjacent to the Upper Applegate River. ANN identified this small parcel for pollinator and native plant restoration in 2016 during Forest Service project planning in the Upper Applegate. Our goal for this project is to increase native plant abundance and species diversity that will benefit native pollinator populations. We are also working to reduce non-native and noxious weeds at the site.

Heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)

We chose this site due to its spectacular potential for restoration, its already important habitat features and its accessibility for local residents and volunteer crews. Located next to the river, the site contains highly valuable pollinator habitat, abundant water, a wide variety of microclimates, existing native plant populations, oak/pine woodland, riparian forest, and a large, relatively weedy open meadow where we will focus our efforts to restore native plant habitat.

The site also contains some unique native plants such as large populations of Douglas’ grasswidow (Olsynium douglasii), Nuttall’s larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), and a small but robust population of the locally uncommon heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). Heartleaf milkweed is loved by many native pollinators and is a larval host plant for monarch butterflies. The West Coast population of monarch butterflies has crashed in the last two years and they are now being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Shortly after we identified the site for pollinator restoration plantings we worked with the Forest Service to create a rock barrier, eliminating vehicle access to the majority of the site. This barrier was meant to protect future restoration efforts from damage by inappropriate vehicle use. We then began working with former Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest wildlife biologist, Bonnie Allison, to do the initial wave of restoration plantings. Bonnie had secured funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for native plant and pollinator restoration plantings along the Upper Applegate River, and we worked with her to include this little parcel of public land.

Year 1

Hot rock penstemon (Penstemon deustus).

That first year we planted hundreds of plants grown by the Forest Service at their Dorena Nursery, grown from seed collected locally by Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds. This initial planting included hot rock penstemon (Penstemon deustus), tall woolly buckwheat (Eriogonum elatum var. villosum), Lemmon’s beardtongue (Keckiella lemmonii), and showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). The hot rock penstemon took particularly well in the rocky tufts of bedrock that punctuate the grassy flat, and three years later, many robust, flowering plants provide pollen and nectar for native bees that are highly attracted to this species’ small cream to yellow flowers.

We were excited to plant the tall woolly buckwheat, a native valley bottom species with very limited distribution across the Applegate Valley. We assume this species may have been historically abundant, but populations were likely impacted by early mining operations, settlement and agriculture in the valley bottom. Currently, we know of two small populations of tall woolly buckwheat that grow on the shoulder of Upper Applegate Road, one population on the shoulder of Little Applegate Road, a few plants west of Ruch in rocky soil along the Applegate River, and a small population at Fish Hatchery Park. Extremely late blooming, these plants colonize and thrive on dry, harsh sites, often in sandy, cobbly or otherwise well drained soils at the valley bottom or along the floodplain of the Applegate River. Outside the Applegate Valley the only other place these plants grow in Oregon is around Klamath Lakes and reportedly at one site in Douglas county that was observed in 1899 by famed botanist John Leiberg.

The tall woolly buckwheat we planted were were grown from seeds collected just across the road from our restoration site, at one of only two known populations in the Upper Applegate. Unfortunately, this existing population grows on the shoulder of the county road and could be easily impacted by noxious weed spread, disturbance from road maintenance or roadside herbicide spraying. Our goal is establish a more stable and protected population in the small valley bottom, public land parcel across the road at our native pollinator plant restoration site. Numerous of the plantings from that first season are now established and have started flowering and producing seed.

Tall woolly wild buckwheat (Eriogonum elatum var. villosum) blooming near Upper Applegate Road. These mature plants were the seed source for our nursery stock. Photo credit: Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds

Year 2

Last year, the Forest Service donated plants they had grown at their Dorena Nursery, that were leftover from their other planting projects around the district, including yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and willow dock (Rumex salicifolius). The yarrow took well and is now established in dry, well-drained locations around the site.

Additionally we planted more tall woolly buckwheat plants, western verbena (Verbena lasciostachys), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia), and balsamroot (Baslmamorhiza deltodiea), grown by Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, from seed collected near the project site. We also seeded numerous native wildflowers in small plots around the site. Despite last year’s dry winter and spring, some seed establishment was successful and will hopefully persist creating stable, naturally reproducing populations.

Year 3

This year, we were fortunate to receive funding from the Ashland Food Co-op Gives Grant Program. This generous funding allowed us to contract Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds to grow out 14 species of native nursery plants from locally collected native seeds. Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds also donated 4o silver lupine plants (Lupinus albifrons), over 20 Lemmon’s needle grass (Achnatherum lemmonii) plants and a native wildflower seed mix, including 16 native species of wildflowers native to low elevations in the Applegate Valley.

An ANN volunteer planting native pollinator plants at our restoration site along the Upper Applegate River.

Working under COVID-19 regulations, we organized a small group of volunteers for a socially distanced volunteer planting day. Our small crew of five people spread out across the site to meet COVID protocols, and we planted over 250 native plants throughout a portion of the project area. We planted perennial wildflowers, native grasses, and more tall woolly buckwheat. We also sowed the wildflower seed mix with numerous perennial and annual species within the planting area. We hope to have abundant rain this year that will benefit plant establishment, bring beautiful spring flowers and provide enhanced habitat for native pollinator species.

This project is just one example of how ANN gives back to the landscape of the Applegate. Our goals are not only to defend wildlands, oppose damaging public land projects, and protect biodiversity, but also to provide stewardship opportunities for local residents. This hands-on public land stewardship encourages a deep connection to place, benefiting the communities of the Applegate Valley and the local wildlife. ANN will continue working on our native plant and pollinator restoration site in the Upper Applegate Valley and other stewardship projects on the beautiful public lands of the Applegate Watershed.

Thanks to the Ashland Food Co-op Gives Grant Program for supporting our work in the Applegate Valley!

BLM sells Bear Grub Timber Sale, along with timber sales above Wilderville and North Applegate

A group selection logging unit in the Wellington Wildlands at the headwaters of China Gulch. The large, fire resistant trees in open groves and marked with white paint are marked for logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

Two years ago ANN began working to defend the Wellington Wildlands and the forests around Ruch from BLM timber sales. First came the Middle Applegate Timber Sale, which proposed to log the heart of the Wellington Wildlands and numerous important watersheds between Humbug Creek and Ruch. ANN successfully campaigned against this sale, forcing the BLM to cancel the project in the face of significant public opposition. Although encouraged by the cancellation of this sale, ANN knew this was not the end of BLM’s logging plans in our region.

Within days of canceling the Middle Applegate Timber Sale, the Medford District BLM proposed the Bear Grub Timber Sale, which simply shifted the planning area to the east, to include portions of the Wellington Wildlands on China Gulch, the forests around the East Applegate Ridge Trail, Sterling Creek, and in the mountains between the Little Applegate River canyon and Talent, Oregon.

A Stop Bear Grub rally in Ruch at the heart of the Applegate Valley.

For the last year ANN and a committed group of local residents have led the opposition to the Bear Grub Timber Sale. We have organized our neighbors, connected with hikers and people recreating on the East Applegate Ridge Trail, written Letters to the Editor, Guest Opinion pieces in local newspapers, held public meetings and rallies, spoke on local radio programs, developed the Stop Bear Grub webpage and yard signs, and raised awareness of this threat to anyone who would listen. We also wrote extensive public comments on the BLM’s Environmental Analysis, and have officially filed Administrative Protests opposing the sale.

On October 29, 2020 the Medford District BLM auctioned off the Bear Grub Timber Sale, along with two additional timber sales in the Applegate Valley, and one near Butte Falls. Unfortunately, all three Applegate Valley timber sales sold to single bidders for their appraised price.

Watch a collection of photos and interviews in this video of the Bear Grub Timber Sale auction rally on October 29, 2020 in Medford, Oregon.

Read more details about each of the timber sales below:

The Bear Grub Timber Sale

The BLM estimates that the Bear Grub Timber Sale could produce over 12 million board feet of timber in 72 units and on 702 acres. As noted earlier this includes multiple commercial logging units in the Wellington Wildlands and along the East Applegate Ridge Trail. It also includes beautiful old forest on the northeastern face of Bald Mountain and at the headwaters of Wagner Creek.

A group selection logging unit proposed in the Bear Grub Timber Sale along the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

The project proposes extensive “group selection logging” units where staggered clearcuts up to 4 acres in size and across up to 30% of a unit could be logged. Whole groves of large, dominant, fire resistant tree will be cleared from mature, closed canopy forest. This will dry out forest stands, accelerate wind speeds, increase ambient air temperatures, replace mature fire resistant forest with highly flammable young trees and shrubs, and significantly increase fire risks in both the long and short term.

Many of these treatments are located directly adjacent to homes and communities, including residential portions of the Applegate. The project also includes the watersheds directly above Talent and Phoenix, Oregon. Currently recovering from the Almeda Fire, the communities of southern Oregon are working to become more fire resilient, while BLM undermines those efforts with timber sales creating conditions that are highly conducive to fast moving, high severity fires.

The Bear Grub Timber Sale sold to Timber Products Company, based in Springfield, Oregon, for $1,085,651 at the October 29, 2020 BLM timber auction, but it cannot be implemented until the many Administrative Protests filed by conservation organizations, local residents and concerned citizens have been processed by the BLM. In the meantime, ANN is looking for opportunities to continue opposing this sale and are encouraging conservation interests throughout the state to consider focusing efforts on litigating this sale. We will keep you posted!

Savage Murph Timber Sale

The forested ridge in the foreground will be logged in the Savage Murph Timber Sale.

The Savage Murph Timber Sale was originally proposed as the Applegate portion of the massive Pickett West Timber Sale proposed by Medford District BLM’s Grants Pass Field Office in 2016. The project originally included commercial logging units spread across the region, from the Rogue River downstream of Grants Pass, to the mountains above Selma in the Illinois Valley, and into the North Applegate area above Missouri Flat Road.

ANN took a leading role in exposing this old-growth logging project for what it was, a massive timber grab disguised as “fuel reduction.” Half of the units proposed for logging were between 150 and 240 years old and contained significant old-growth characteristics. The project proposed heavy industrial logging, utilizing the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy promoted by the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and local federal land management agencies. This would have allowed logging late successional forests down to 16-25 trees per acre and 30% canopy cover, removing potentially tens of thousands of old-growth trees.

Due to the efforts of ANN, many local southern Oregon residents, and our conservation allies, much of this timber sale, including the vast majority of the old-growth or late successional units, were canceled due to public opposition and impacts to the red tree vole, a prey source for the Northern spotted owl.

The Savage Murph Timber Sale originally included proposals to log old-growth stands and diverse intact habitats, but many of those units have been withdrawn over the years as the BLM offered, but could not sell the Savage Murph Timber Sale. Unfortunately, a significantly scaled-back version of the Savage Murph Timber Sale, including 4 units and 115 acres, sold to Estramado Logging LLC for $51,077 at the timber auction on October 29th and logging could begin at anytime.

Wild Bill Timber Sale

The Wild Bill Timber Sale is located near Wilderville on BLM lands and was originally a part of the proposed Pickett West Timber Sale. The entire Wild Bill Timber Sale consists of one, 54-acre commercial logging unit. The project was purchased by Macs LLC for $90,977 and logging could begin at anytime.

Managing for “Resilience” with Alternative Facts

Old forest proposed for logging under the proposed provisions of the IVM Project in the Late Mungers Timber Sale near Mungers Butte.

In the era of “alternative facts” and politically motivated misinformation, federal land managers, like those at the Medford District BLM, have created a misleading and Orwellian narrative promoting heavy industrial logging as “restoration” and “fuel reduction,” while ignoring or masking the environmental impacts. According to this narrative, the solution to every environmental problem is more logging, more roads, and more resource extraction.

This campaign of misinformation has reached a crescendo with the innocuous sounding Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM) Project. Although called “Integrated Vegetation Management” this project would be largely implemented as commercial timber sales. Approval of the IVM Project would authorize up to 20,000 acres of commercial logging and 90 miles of new road construction per decade on Medford District BLM lands. According to the BLM these authorizations would have “no sunset date” and could be utilized to log many tens of thousands of acres and build many hundreds of miles of new road.

The light purple area on this map depicts “potential commercial treatments,” or in other words, areas that will be approved for potential logging. As you can see, it is most of the BLM landscape in southwestern Oregon.

The IVM proposes to allow the BLM to implement these activities virtually anywhere within the 800,000-acre planning area, without disclosing or identifying specific units or locations. This would include up to 684,185 acres of potential “treatment areas” extending across almost the entire Medford District BLM, from the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, south and east to the western slope of the Southern Cascade Mountains, and across the arid foothills of the Applegate and Rogue Valleys.

Old dominant trees proposed for logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

The IVM Project, combined with logging that is currently proposed in the BLM’s “Harvest Land Base,” like the Bear Grub Timber Sale, would change the face of Southwestern Oregon, fragmenting some of our last intact BLM forest lands and altering the scenic character of our region. Unfortunately, the IVM Project is specifically designed to promote logging in Late Successional Reserve forest designated to protect habitat for the Northern spotted owl. It also proposes logging activities in designated Recreation Areas, adjacent to communities, in suitable Northern spotted owl habitats, Riparian Reserves designated to protect stream corridors and in wildland habitats like the Mungers Wildlands, west of the Williams Valley.

Some action alternatives proposed by the BLM allow the logging of large, fire resistant trees up to 36” in diameter, in stands over 120 years of age, and to as low 30% canopy retention. This will require the retention of some large trees, but certainly not a forest. Recent examples of logging to 30% canopy cover include the O’Lickety Timber Sale in the Little Applegate River Watershed, which triggered “accelerated overstory mortality,” a condition in which residual overstory trees left after a disturbance such as logging can sustain dramatic mortality outbreaks. These outbreaks can be associated with significant microclimate alterations, canopy loss, stand desiccation, bark beetle mortality, and windthrow from high winds and/or heavy snow loads.

Forests logged to roughly 30% canopy cover in the O’Lickety Timber Sale are hardly the model for forest resilience. This photo was taken two years after logging, with two winters worth of windthrow that further degraded and exacerbated the decline in forest canopy conditions.

Action alternatives proposed in the IVM Project would also allow the clearing of up to 4-acre group selection “openings” in mature, fire resistant forest and across up to 20% of a given stand. In these areas, whole groves will be targeted for logging, with all or virtually all vegetation removed. For all practical purposes this logging will create a series of staggered clearcuts fragmenting formerly mature, closed canopy forests. These so-called group selection “openings” will look, act and respond like small clearcuts. They will fragment forest habitats, damage or remove Northern spotted owl habitat, reduce fire resilience, increase fuel loading, and degrade scenic values throughout our region.

Percent Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Sector in Oregon 2011-2015

The impact of logging large, old trees and significantly reducing canopy cover also translates into a net loss in carbon sequestration, especially because the logging is proposed in LSR forests which are intended to maintain and promote late successional forest values. In both the long and short term, logging significantly reduces our local forest’s potential to sequester carbon and mitigate or slow the effects of climate change. In fact, recent research from Oregon State University and the University of Idaho demonstrates that the timber industry represents the largest source of carbon emissions in the state of Oregon, accounting for 35% of total emission levels.

A “group selection” clearcut in the Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale on BLM lands in the Little Applegate River Watershed.

Despite the many damaging activities proposed in the IVM Project, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the project is its attempt to avoid current requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to conduct detailed environmental review, analyze and disclose potential impacts, and conduct meaningful public engagement. If the IVM is approved, large timber sales could be authorized without project specific Environmental Analysis, site specific scientific review, adequate public comment or meaningful public involvement. Instead large timber sales could be approved by the BLM through an internal and non-transparent Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) process. The public would no longer be consulted as partners in the NEPA process, but would instead be informed when decisions have been made.

Under this scenario, protest periods (which BLM is also proposing to eliminate through a different process) and litigation would become the public’s only form of meaningful involvement, leading to increased controversy, gridlock and legal action. Under the Trump administration, proposed BLM rulemaking changes and projects like the IVM are working to limit public involvement, reduce NEPA requirements and discourage site specific scientific review. We are fearful that this approach will degrade our forest environments, make our communities less fire resilient and bring the timber wars back to southwest Oregon.

Old, fire resistant forests proposed for logging under the proposed provisions of the IVM Project in the Murphy Creek Watershed.

Please comment on the IVM Project between now and October 19, 2020. Ask the BLM to:

  • Extend the current public comment period for the IVM project by an additional 30 to 60 days. Commenting on this project and its over 600,000 acre “treatment area” is complex, difficult and time consuming. The public needs more time to read the over 300 page Programmatic Environmental Assessment, consider the impacts, make meaningful suggestions and provide substantive public comment.
  • Withdraw the current IVM Project and work towards more meaningful public involvement, transparency, and collaboration with diverse stakeholders to create ecological and socially responsible public land management projects.  
  • Implement site specific NEPA Analysis and full public comment periods on all commercial logging and road building projects like the agency has in the past. NEPA analysis and the public involvement process it requires substantially improves land management outcomes and reduces controversy by encouraging collaboration, transparency and science-based land management planning.
  • Do not utilize a Programmatic NEPA approach to undermine public involvement, eliminate public comment and reduce scientific oversight of BLM logging projects.
  • Complete a full scientific analysis of the impacts of the IVM Project to climate change and carbon sequestration.
  • Do not remove, modify or downgrade Northern spotted owl habitat in LSR forest
  • Do not log large, fire resistant trees over 20″ diameter, implement group selection logging or remove canopy cover to as low as 30%. These activities impact habitat values and increase fire hazards.
  • Due to the massive scope and scale of the proposed project a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be required to address substantive concerns, environmental effects, and social concerns surrounding the over 800,000 acre planning.

Please submit EA comments or questions to Kristi Mastrofini, Medford District Planning and Environmental Coordinator by mailing the BLM, Attn: IVM EA Comments, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, Oregon 97504; or through email at BLM_OR_MD_IVM@blm.gov.

You may also submit comments and view agency documents via BLM’s ePlanning register on the project’s website by selecting “Comment on Document” in the Documents section of the webpage. https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/123406/510