In the spring of 2017 the BLM proposed the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. The planning area for the timber sale included the entire Wellington Wildlands, a beautiful roadless area between Ruch and Humbug Creek.
The Applegate community rallied around the Wellington Wildlands, and asked the BLM to withdraw the area from the timber sale. ANN organized the production of a spectacular film about the area called Saving Wellington. This film highlights the Wellington Wildlands and the threat to the area posed by the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. We organized public film showings and a petition to Save Wellington Wildlands! We spoke with our state senators, met with the BLM and organized with supporters across southwestern Oregon.
In response to significant public opposition, the BLM has canceled the Middle Applegate Timber Sale and withdrawn large portions of the Wellington Wildlands from their new planning area. Unfortunately, the BLM’s new planning area is now being proposed as the Bear Grub Timber Sale. The project’s planning area extends from the mountains above Talent, Oregon in the Bear Creek Valley, to the foothills west of Ruch in the Applegate Valley. The initial Scoping Map published by BLM shows units in the China Gulch portions of the Wellington Wildlands; on the East ART, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail and the Jack-Ash Trail; on Woodrat Mountain; up Sterling Creek from Buncom to the headwaters on Griffin Lane; around Anderson Butte, and into the headwaters of Coleman Creek, Anderson Creek, Yank Gulch and Wagner Creek.
Currently the BLM has identified potential “treatment” areas which could be implemented as commercial timber sale units and/or fuel reduction units. The Scoping Notice also identifies the potential for road renovation and new road construction.
The BLM is currently accepting public Scoping Comments on their initial proposal. Please consider providing comments. Speak up for the Wellington Wildlands and the natural and recreational values of the Applegate River Watershed!
Please ask the BLM to:
-Withdraw all units in the 7,527-acre Wellington Wildlands and the 5,811-acre area inventoried by the BLM as the Wellington Butte LWC (Lands with Wilderness Characteristics) in their 2016 Draft Resource Management Plan.
-Provide a half-mile buffer around the East ART Trail, Sterling Mine Ditch Trail and Jack-Ash Trail, where all commercial harvest is deferred in order to protect habitat, recreational and scenic values.
-Protect and maintain all Northern spotted owl habitat in the planning area.
-Do not propose treatments that will increase fuel hazards and fire risks. Retain canopy cover and implement a 21″ diameter limit to retain all large, fire resistant trees.
-Conduct thorough botanical surveys prior to project implementation to document Gentner’s fritillary (Fritillaria gentneri) populations, and provide these rare plants with protection from logging and road construction.
-Build no new roads, temporary or permanent.
-Implement no treatments or road construction in habitat infested with invasive Shiny geranium (Geranium lucidum). This highly invasive plant has been found in the Forest Creek watershed and populations should not be spread or expanded through soil disturbance associated with logging, road building or fuel reduction treatments.
-Conduct full Travel Management Planning in the planning area. Travel Management Planning is an inventory of roads and unauthorized, user created OHV routes. The impact of motorized use in the planning area should be analyzed, damaging routes must be closed, and route designations undertaken as part of the NEPA process.
-Finally, share with the BLM why these forests are special to you.
Submit comments via email at: BLM_OR_AFO_VMP@blm.gov
Are you looking for a deeper sense of place here in the Applegate? Have you ever wondered about some of the more obscure portions of the region? Would you like to experience the spectacular biodiversity of the Applegate firsthand? ANN’s spring and summer hike series might be just what you’re looking for! In 2019 ANN led seven separate hikes spread across the Applegate Siskiyous, its wildlands and its diverse habitats. Enjoy this recap of our 2019 hike series, and join us next year for more Applegate adventures.
After a reasonably wet winter this year the spring wildflowers came out in force, filling the forests, woodlands and chaparral of the Applegate watershed with a kaleidoscope of color. Our spring hikes explored the beautiful Applegate foothills, low elevation old-growth forests, and unusual serpentine habitats. We designed these hikes to highlight obscure places in our region and the Applegate’s incredible biodiversity.
On March 23, ANN Executive Director, Luke Ruediger, and local ecologist Dennis Odion, led a fire ecology hike on the Whisky Creek Trail. Whisky Creek is a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Applegate River and is located in the Stricklin Butte Roadless Area. Until recently the Whisky Creek Trail was obscure and badly overgrown. Few even knew the old trail existed until the Siskiyou Mountain Club began clearing out the trail in the winter of 2017-2018.
The newly restored trail winds through the incredible Whisky Creek Canyon and its numerous bedrock gorges and cascades. Hike participants forded the cold waters of Whisky Creek, then hiked upstream into an area burned at low severity in the 2017 Abney Fire. The Abney Fire burned low and cool beneath old growth forest of pine, fir, cedar and massive, wide-branching live oak, maintaining the ancient canopy, enhancing understory communities, burning back underbrush, young trees and sprouting hardwoods. Thanks to Dennis Odion for coming along and sharing what he has learned studying wildfire effects in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
May 11, 2019 Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area, Slate Creek Watershed
On May 11, we visited the serpentine flats, swift flowing streams and Jeffrey pine woodlands of the Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area in the Slate Creek watershed, a tributary of the lower Applegate River. The area contains numerous rare plant species like Waldo buckwheat (Eriogonum pendulum), California lady slipper (Cypripedium californicum) and the only population of the carnivorous cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica) in the Applegate River watershed.
We would like to thank local botanist Chelsea Reha, local ecologist Dominic DiPaolo, serpentine expert and professor of plant ecology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Nishi Rajakaruna, and UC-Davis Professor and serpentine plant ecologist, Dr. Susan Harrison. Together they provided abundant background information on serpentine ecology and helped identify plant species at Cedar Log Flat. We were thankful to have all these local experts along for a fun day exploring Applegate serpentine habitat.
May 25, 2019 Sundown Trail, Wellington Wildlands, Humbug Creek Watershed
In late May we explored the Wellington Wildlands with ANN Board Member, Marion Hadden, for a beautiful bird walk on the Sundown Trail. The flowers were out in abundance and the song birds serenaded us in the chaparral, forest, woodland and grassland habitat at the headwaters of Humbug Creek’s wild Balls Branch. Thanks to Marion for sharing her knowledge of local bird populations and helping to identify the diversity of bird species in the Wellington Wildlands.
June 1, 2019 Tallowbox Mountain, Burton-Ninemile LWC, Star Gulch Watershed
On June 1, ANN Executive Director, Luke Ruediger, led a hike up to Tallowbox Mountain for spectacular views across the Burton-Ninemile Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC), the Middle Applegate/Ruch and the Upper Applegate Valley. We hiked an obscure route across the face of Tallowbox Mountain’s southern face to Lady Bug Saddle, and also took a side trip to the summit of Tallowbox Mountain. We enjoyed vibrant displays of California poppy, lupine and many other wildflowers. We specifically planned the hike to highlight the only population of giant death camas in Oregon (Toxicoscordian exaltatum) while it was in bloom on Tallowbox Mountain. Giant death camas is only found in the eastern portion of the Applegate watershed in Oregon, including the Middle Applegate, Little Applegate and Upper Applegate Watersheds.
With the snow melting in the high country ANN led numerous hikes on the Siskiyou Crest, exploring subalpine forests, high elevation meadows, beautiful mountain summits, and windswept rock gardens packed with rare plants. These hikes were designed to be educational and to highlight the region’s biodiversity, scenic beauty, history and wildland habitats.
July 13, 2019 Mt. Elijah, Oregon Caves National Monument
Our first high country hike was led by Diana Coogle, co-author of the local hiking guidebook, Favorite Hikes of the Applegate. Diana led the hike from Sturgis Fork Trailhead, at the headwaters of Carberry Creek, to the Grayback Range, which divides the Applegate River watershed from the Illinois River watershed. The hike explored lush subalpine forests, high mountain meadows and rocky ridgelines as the trail climbs into the Oregon Caves National Monument and to the summit of Mt. Elijah. The group explored spectacular floral displays, and from Mt. Elijah, enjoyed one of the most cherished views in the Siskiyou Mountains. Thanks to Diana Coogle for leading the hike and sharing one of her favorite hikes with ANN supporters.
July 17, 2019 Butterflies and Wildflowers on the Siskiyou Crest
This hike was designed to highlight both the botanical diversity of the Siskiyou Mountains and the corresponding diversity in butterfly species. We had local naturalist, Applegate resident and butterfly expert, Linda Kappen, along to identify butterflies. We also had naturalist, Applegate resident, and native plant enthusiast, Suzie Savoie, along to identify wildflowers and other botanical highlights.
The hike explored Silver Fork Basin on the Siskiyou Crest at the headwaters of Elliott Creek. Silver Fork Basin is nestled between two scenic peaks: Dutchman Peak and Observation Peak. We hiked into the vast meadow system safely netting butterflies for identification and discussed the connection between local wildflowers and the lifecycle of local butterflies. We also hiked to the Dutchman Peak Lookout to enjoy rock gardens and expansive views across the region. We found large populations of rare and endemic plant species blooming on Dutchman Peak, including splithair paintbrush (Castilleja schizotricha) and Henderson’s horkelia (Horkelia hendersonii). We learned to identify butterfly species along the way, including the many brightly colored elegant sheep moths that flew around us as we hiked.
August 3, 2019 Tin Cup Trail, Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, Joe Creek Watershed
Our final hike of the season was led by Janeen Sathre, fourth-generation Applegate resident, historian, and co-author of the local hiking guidebook, Favorite Hikes of the Applegate. We drove up to the Blue Ledge Mine and discussed the interesting human history of the Elliott Creek and Joe Creek Watersheds, including the Blue Ledge Mine and the now forgotten ghost towns of Blue Ledge Camp, Eileen, and Joe Bar City. We then hiked the Tin Cup Trail in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area to the Siskiyou Crest and the Pacific Crest Trail. ANN Executive Director, Luke Ruediger, provided information on fire ecology as we walked up Nabob Ridge through the 2017 Abney Fire to Slaughterhouse Flat and Lowden Meadows. Wildflowers bloomed in abundance in the fire area and at Lowden Meadows where we ate lunch and enjoyed views of distant Mt. Shasta amid fields of sulphur flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum).
To all who led ANN hikes this season: THANK YOU! To all who attended, we hope to see you next year! ANN knows where the wild things are, and we will continue sharing our love for this region with our supporters. We hope that participants have learned more about this region, its biodiversity and wild habitats. We also hope you will use that knowledge and connection to advocate for its protection. Please join ANN as we work to protect the wildlands and natural habitats in the Applegate Watershed. We can’t do it without your support! Thank you!
Imagine a large, old-growth logging project planned next to your land and there is no way for you to voice your concerns about it. Imagine a large mining proposal next to your favorite hiking trail and you don’t have the ability to provide public comment. Imagine a road construction project planned to go through an area teeming with wildlife and wildflowers you love. Imagine the places you are connected to, that you went to as a child or took you children to, being destroyed or degraded and you have no opportunity to share your perspective or express your concern with public land managers. All these imagined scenarios may soon become reality if we don’t act now!
Recently the Forest Service, under pressure from the Trump Administration and its industry allies, proposed sweeping changes to the public involvement and scientific review process. These changes would affect the vast majority of public land management projects throughout the nation, including the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The proposal would undermine public involvement and responsible, science-based management on National Forest lands. It would also fast track large logging, mining, off-road vehicle developments, road construction projects and other potentially damaging activities.
The proposed changes would allow federal land managers to circumvent the currently more democratic, scientifically rigorous, and inclusive public comment and environmental review process, and replace it with an internal Forest Service process where decisions are made behind closed doors and the public is only notified of projects after they have been approved. Public comment and public collaboration would be a thing of the past, and communities like the Applegate Valley would no longer have the opportunity to actively participate in land management planning.
If approved the Forest Service would essentially shut the public out of the process and eliminate the requirements to analyze, disclose, and fully consider the social and environmental impacts of proposed management activities. To achieve this goal, the agency is proposing significant changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
NEPA is the foundation of almost all public involvement on federal lands, providing the public with an opportunity to comment on federal land management projects and provide input on agency proposals. It is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation ever passed, and it protects the public interest in public lands.
NEPA also requires federal land managers to subject proposed projects to a rigorous scientific review process, analyzing the impacts of proposed actions and identifying the natural values of the lands in question. NEPA requires the agencies to disclose these impacts to the public and to solicit the public’s input before approving a federal action with potentially significant impacts to the human or natural environment.
The Current Process
Currently the Forest Service must identify a “planning area” and general descriptions of land management activities proposed within that area. This initial proposal is called Scoping, which has a 30-day public comment period. The process allows land managers to get public and scientific feedback before fully developing a proposal. Scoping is also used to inform the environmental review process by identifying relevant issues for analysis and to develop a range of alternatives designed to address both social and environmental concerns. Scoping would be largely eliminated under the Forest Service’s proposed NEPA changes.
Following the scoping comment period, the vast majority of public land management projects require the publication of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). These documents are used to analyze the resources at risk, the impacts of various land management alternatives to those resources, and to provide the public with detailed information about the activities proposed on public lands. Publication of an EA or EIS is followed by another 30-day comment period, and only after considering these comments can an agency issue a Decision Notice.
Once a decision is reached, the public can object to the project or portions of the project through a formal Objection process. This allows objectors t0 inform the agency of their concerns and advocate for changes to the approved action. If an adequate resolution is not reached, as a final option the public can litigate the project in court. NEPA provides checks and balances that promote transparency, collaboration and the resolution of relevant scientific or social concerns. These provisions would also be largely eliminated under the Forest Service’s proposed NEPA changes.
The Proposed Process
The Forest Service is proposing to virtually eliminate the public NEPA process (described above) for the vast majority of federal land management projects. These changes would only require the agency to notify the public after decisions have been made — no public comment or environmental review would be conducted and project approval would be followed by a mere 15-day Objection period.
Barring an objection or litigation, our backyards and backcountry in the Applegate Watershed could be auctioned off to the highest bidder and logged off, designated for off-road vehicle use, or otherwise affected by federal land management activities without public input and without analyzing for environmental impacts.
The proposed changes to NEPA would allow land managers to approve large and environmentally damaging projects without public comment or environmental review. More specifically the proposals include:
-The ability to authorize up to 4,200 acres (or 6.6 square miles of commercial logging and 7,300 acres of manual thinning in a single project without environmental review or public comment.
-The ability to authorized up to 5 miles of new road construction and 10 miles of road reconstruction without environmental review or public comment.
-The ability to convert currently illegal and damaging off-road vehicle trails into official trails or roads without environmental review or public comment.
-The ability to authorize these projects in Inventoried Roadless Areas, Late Successional Reserves, Riparian Reserves, and other important conservation areas without environmental review or public comment.
-The proposed rule changes do not limit the number of projects that could be approved in this manner.
Without public outcry, the Forest Service and the Trump Administration will continue to undermine the public engagement process, eliminate transparency and limit environmental review. Yet these are public lands and decision making should be accomplished in an open and transparent manner. Applegate Neighborhood Network is working to provide both the land and the people of the Applegate Watershed a voice in the federal land management process. We believe these beautiful public lands define our region and make us who we are as Applegaters. We also believe they should be managed for public benefit, which requires an open public process. Let’s keep the public in public lands.
Please comment on this project — your watershed, your public lands and our wildest landscapes need your support. Comments will be accepted until August 26, 2019.
To comment, please follow this link and click on “Comment Now.”
What looks like a road, acts like a road, was built as a road, and has similar ecological impacts as a road, but is supposedly not a road? A so-called “temporary” road!
We often hear federal land management agencies (BLM & Forest Service) speak of “temporary roads,” but what does that mean? Temporary roads are often proposed and constructed during logging projects on public land as a way to provide access into logging units. After the logging is completed the so-called temporary road is supposed to be decommissioned and the area restored. The agencies tout temporary roads as a less ecologically damaging alternative to permanent roads; however, temporary roads have long-lasting ecological impacts that are far from temporary.
Temporary roads are often utilized by full-sized logging trucks or other large machinery to access commercial logging units or other land management activities. Although these roads were built and designed as roads, our federal land managers do not account for temporary roads when quantifying road density or considering road related impacts to nearby watersheds. This allows them to build more roads, while masking the cumulative impacts associated with the construction of temporary roads.
Although so-called temporary roads are not administratively considered roads, they have very similar impacts to soils, hydrology, native plant communities, water quality and noxious weed spread. In reality, the only thing temporary about these roads is the agency’s use of them. Temporary roads are not roads where the impact or footprint has disappeared from the landscape. Instead, the agency defines these roads as “temporary” simply because they do not intend to maintain them as open roads following the proposed land management activities.
Despite the lasting impacts to nearby watersheds and the supposedly temporary nature of these roads, they will be treated as roads and reopened in the next timber sale and/or fire suppression effort. Temporary roads are also often driven by off-road vehicle enthusiasts and become sources of noxious weed spread, creating a legacy of lasting impacts.
Temporary roads can also create long-term impacts to soils, ranging from compaction to increased soil erosion, and even catastrophic slope failure. When located near streams they can be a significant source of sedimentation and become chronic impacts to water quality and fisheries.
Recently ANN went up to Bear Wallow Ridge to inspect a so-called temporary road built across our publicly owned Forest Service land to access timber and property owned by The Murphy Timber Company.
In the summer of 2017, during the Abney Fire, a small piece of private timber land in the Whisky Creek watershed burned at largely low severity. Following the Abney Fire, the Murphy Timber Company applied for a timber harvest plan to log off the fire-affected forests of Whisky Creek. The Oregon Department of Forestry promptly approved their harvest plan to clearcut a large portion of the property, despite the fact that many of trees were alive and green. The timber company then requested approval with the Forest Service to build a new “temporary” road and log landing.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service granted the Murphy Timber Company a right-of-way to build new road and a large log landing near the summit of Bear Wallow Ridge and at the margin of the Stricklin Butte Roadless Area. The area contained rock gardens filled with uncommon native wildflowers, montane chaparral and regenerating knobcone pine stands on the southern face of Bear Wallow Ridge.
The agency also approved the removal of numerous large, fire resistant trees on Forest Service land, as well as a larger number of fire-killed snags. These trees were located within the skyline yarding corridors. These corridors were cleared of both live and dead trees to facilitate the yarding of commercial timber from the private Murphy Timber land below.
At the log landing, thousands of logs were processed, leaving behind a thick mound of woody debris. When large slash piles were burned, this material caught on fire and smoldered into the earth, causing portions of the landing to collapse. The soils within the massive burn piles were burned at incredibly high intensity. The massive slash piles burned and badly damaged the soil profile, consuming the soil’s organic matter and creating vast ash and soot beds. These large piles have created hydrophobic conditions and the heat from these fires has turned the topsoil into dust — all on our public land for the profit of a private timber company.
Almost one year after building the road, and despite Forest Service “restoration” activities and decommissioning efforts, the effects of the so-called temporary road are very evident. Although the agency successfully seeded some native grasses and forbs within the decommissioned roadbed, the temporary road still consists of largely barren, churned earth. The open, disturbed soil is particularly susceptible to opportunistic noxious weed spread, which are all ready present on an existing long landing to the west. Currently large portions of the roadbed have not revegetated and it is hard to say what species will recolonize the unvegetated areas.
The photographs in this post demonstrate the impact of just one temporary road in the Applegate. There are literally hundreds of miles of temporary roadbeds scattered across the Applegate River Watershed and throughout southern Oregon — and more are proposed in projects each year. The land management agencies tell us that these roads and their impacts are temporary, but evidence on the landscape tells a different story. Next time they try to tell you that a proposed road is temporary, tell them that there is no such thing as a “temporary” road.
The late Chris Bratt was an environmentalist, carpenter,
musician and community advocate. He was not only a champion of the environment
and of the Applegate River watershed, but also a loving and compassionate friend
to many in the area. For over 40 years, Chris was an advocate for our
community, but he was best known as an advocate for the water, the trees and
the wildlife of our region. Chris was actively engaged in the community and in
defense of our wild landscapes until the very end. Through his example and
inspiration, many Applegate Valley residents have become engaged in social and
environmental issues, and for his efforts the Applegate Valley is forever
Chris was born in San Francisco, California in December of 1930. He was raised in a working class family involved in social justice and labor organizing in the Bay Area. According to Chris his “younger days were raised in a pretty dynamic household; a lot of meetings, a lot of music, a lot of art..It was a wonderful background, but we were as poor as church mice.”
Chris remembered going to large labor marches in San Francisco and perhaps his first volunteer activism consisted of delivering left-wing newspapers as a boy, but continued working on social justice and labor issues throughout his life. Only after moving to the Applegate Valley did he became an active environmentalist.
His father George Bratt, was an actor and writer who sometimes wrote for “The People’s World,” a socialist newspaper based out of San Francisco. The paper, founded in 1938, was funded by its 20,000 subscribers throughout the West Coast and cost 3 cents per copy. His father also ran the Unemployed Union, advocating for unemployed workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
His mother, Wiltrud or “Beb,” was also very progressive for her time. According to Chris, she refused to declare “blind allegiance” during the Red Scare of the 1950s and sign a “loyalty oath” to the government. She subsequently lost her long-held job as senior draftsperson for the City of San Francisco.
Chris worked in the boat yards of San Francisco during World War II and later joined the carpenters union, where he worked building homes in suburbs of southern San Francisco. He also played guitar and sang music at picket lines, protests, potlucks and on stage.
Chris moved to Marin County with his first wife, Nancy and their children in the early 1950s and ran Little Gem Construction (“A jewel of a job”) with two friends and business partners.
In the early 1960s, Chris sang in a semi-professional folk group called Albion Trio, who performed around the Bay Area. He also went to Mississippi in the early 1960s with the American Friends Service Committee to help rebuild African American churches burned by the KKK.
In the late 1960s Chris and Little Gem Construction built a medical clinic in Delano, California for the United Farm Workers. Little Gem Construction continued working around the Bay Area doing remodels for fancy homes and the founders including Chris, became unsatisfied and dissolved their partnership to pursue other interests.
In the early 1970s, Chris taught Industrial Arts at Tomales High School for 4 years, leaving somewhat disturbed because the school “was a place for kids, but the adults were running it on their program.” Chris left teaching and went back into construction.
In 1976, Chris moved to the Applegate Valley with his second wife, Joan Peterson and their five children. Inspired by the back-to-the land movement, they moved onto a 160-acre property on Thompson Creek and began working to restore the old homestead, making repairs and building additions to house the family and Chris’s elderly parents.
Shortly after moving to the valley, Chris began working on issues involving aerial herbicide spraying on public land. At the time, federal land managers were clearcutting our old-growth forests and spraying herbicides from helicopters to kill shrubs and hardwoods competing with planted trees. The practice had very real ecological impacts and was contaminating residential water supplies leading to birth defects and other health problems for local residents.
According to Chris, after hearing about the BLM’s spraying plans his mother looked at him and said sternly “Christopher, I think you’d better do something about this.” Along with other residents from the Applegate Valley, Chris started Applegate Citizens Opposed to Toxic Sprays (ACOTS). Chris also joined the Board of Directors for the more regional organization called Citizens Against Toxic Sprays (CATS) who worked across the west on herbicide spraying issues. Together a rag-tag coalition of regional organizations ultimately succeeded in banning aerial herbicide spraying on federal land, changing timber management across the West.
Chris then joined other residents to start Thompson Residents for Ecological Education (TREE) in the early 1980s. TREE began fighting federal timber sales in the Applegate Valley through legal and administrative action and stopped numerous BLM and Forest Service timber sales. Chris also joined the regional environmental organization Headwaters and became a force for conservation across the region. He worked on policy issues, lawsuits, timber sales, off-road vehicle issues and the utilization of small diameter trees for timber. Over the years, Chris also served on the Board of Directors for the Applegate Partnership, the Rogue Institute, the Geos Institute, the Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and the Applegater Newsmagazine.
For over 40 years, Chris was often at the heart of our community and at the center of many local controversies. Chris was the Board President for ANN, one of our most active advocates and an elder with significant experience organizing for the environment. Chris played a vital role in developing and maintaining our organization. He was also active in our campaigns, using every available opportunity to advance conservation goals in the Applegate Valley. ANN is forever grateful for the role he played in promoting and supporting conservation in our beautiful watershed. Chris was adamant that the Applegate Valley needed its own, localized environmental organization, representing the people and the land that make the Applegate Watershed so special. ANN will work to fulfill Chris’ vision and build on his lifetime of work.
Chris will be remembered for his contribution to the environment,
but he will also be remembered for his laugh, his smile, his music, his undying
dedication to the community and his loving friendship. Chris was a beacon of
hope for his community and ANN will work hard to keep his legacy alive. Our
goal is to protect, defend, and restore our public lands and the integrity of
our environment. We hope to do so in the spirit of Chris Bratt, with the same
courage, tenacity and perseverance that he embodied. We thank Chris for the
path he traveled, the life he lived and the many years of inspiration he
provided for us all. We love you Chris, we now act on your behalf, in your memory, and on behalf of the wild.
Next time you look across the mountains of the Applegate River, its forested watersheds, its sunlit oak woodlands, and its scrubby slopes of chaparral, think of Chris. For many years he was a voice for this landscape and if you listen closely you will hear him in the wind as it blows through the trees, encouraging you to get out and defend the wildlands that surround you.
The information and history in this memorial comes from Chris’ wife, Joan Peterson, his good friend Larry Francis, and from an oral history interview conducted with Chris Bratt in March of 2019 by ANN Program Director, Luke Ruediger. The old photographs were provided by Larry Francis.
Chaparral is abundant in the Mediterranean habitats of California, where it grows from the Coast Range to the foothills of the southern Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is a shrub dominated plant community characterized by drought tolerant species, with sclerophyllous leaves. Sclerophyllous leaves are hard, thick, leathery and generally evergreen. They provide adaptations to extreme heat and drought by shielding the leaf from intense sunlight and reducing water loss from evaporation. Although ubiquitous in California, chaparral is rather rare in Oregon, with its northern range extending into interior southwestern Oregon.
Located in the rain shadow of the Siskiyou Crest, the Applegate River watershed is the driest watershed west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. The region’s Mediterranean climate, fire history and extended summer drought also make it a significant center of chaparral habitat. Although found throughout the entire watershed, chaparral is most abundant in the Middle Applegate between Murphy, Applegate, and Ruch, on dry south and west facing slopes and at relatively low elevations. It is also abundant in the arid foothills of the Little Applegate Valley.
Often underappreciated, chaparral plays a unique and important role in the ecology of southwestern Oregon by providing cover for wildlife and song birds, important winter browse for deer and elk, habitat for native pollinators, as well as hosting numerous rare plant species. Chaparral also contributes significantly to our regional biodiversity, stabilizes soils, reduces erosion, and adds to the beauty of our landscape.
Southwestern Oregon interior valley chaparral often consists of whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida), buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus), deer brush (Ceanothus integerrimus), yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) and silk tassel (Garrya fremontii), with varying amounts of white oak (Quercus garryana), stump sprouting madrone (Arbutus menziesii) and the occasional open grown Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) or thicket of knobcone pine (Pinus attenuata). In the Upper Applegate, isolated stands of redberry or hollyleaf buckthorn (Rhamnus ilicifolia) are found, creating the largest of two Oregon populations.
Although this northern chaparral population can be differentiated from populations further to the south by its more variable fire history, diverse fire effects, uneven-aged stand structure, and its ability to regenerate without fire, it is also very clear that chaparral is tied to fire for regeneration, to maintain its dominance, and to increase its vigor. More than adapted to wildfire, chaparral in southern Oregon and throughout its range is dependent on relatively infrequent high severity fire to renew, rejuvenate and maintain chaparral systems. In southern Oregon, the fire regime is mixed, but the mass, fire moderated regeneration is closely associated to high severity fire effects.
Chaparral ecosystems have a unique relationship with fire and require fire-free periods of sufficient time (20-30 years) to allow seed set. This allows seed obligates (non stump-sprouting species) such as whiteleaf manazanita, yerba santa and buckbrush to regenerate and thrive. Species such as silk tassel, greenleaf manzanita and others assert their dominance by sprouting vigorously after fire events. Irregardless of the reproductive strategy, chaparral is adapted to relatively infrequent fires and high severity fire effects.
In southern Oregon, fire suppression has limited fire activity in many chaparral habitats, but it does not appear to have significantly altered plant community structure or its relationship to fire. In fact, the concept of reducing fuel and limiting fire severity in chaparral habitats is contrary to its fire regime, fire history and natural history. Unless directly tied to community fire safety, fuel reduction in chaparral is entirely ineffective, unnecessary and environmentally damaging.
Currently, the largest threats to chaparral habitat in the Applegate Watershed are associated with the clearing of chaparral species and the conversion of natural chaparral habitats to non-native annual grasslands. This unfortunate conversion is often associated with so-called “restoration” treatments and/or fuel reduction projects. Currently this conversion is taking place most extensively on public lands, often far from homes, where it has little, if any effect on community fire protection, and where conservation values are particularly high.
Numerous scientific studies conducted in the Applegate Watershed by researchers at Oregon State University have documented the impacts associated with the widespread clearing of chaparral.
One study found that BLM fuel reduction treatments in the Applegate Watershed increased the abundance of non-native annual grasses (Perchemlides 2008). Species such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and medusa head grass (Elymus caput-medusae) tend to spread quickly following the removal of chaparral and heavily invade sites treated for fuel reduction. This conversion has also been shown to increase fire risks, alter fire regimes by creating more frequent fire events and permanently impact native plant communities.
Another study conducted in the Applegate Watershed specifically asked if BLM fuel reduction activities constitute “restoration” in chaparral ecosystems. The findings of this study demonstrate that “current fuel treatments may be incompatible with chaparral ecology and restoration.” The study found that large-scale chaparral clearing is detrimental in numerous ways, by reducing natural levels of chaparral cover, inhibiting chaparral regeneration and failing to mimic natural fire or age class mosaics on the landscape scale. (Duren. 2010).
Finally, it is highly likely that fuel reduction treatments in chaparral are not only damaging to the ecosystem, but also ineffective at reducing fire severity. Research conducted after the 2002 Squires Fire above Ruch and the Little Applegate Valley showed that previous fuel treatments in chaparral habitats had little to no effect on fire severity or vegetation mortality (Pfaff and Hosten).
In California, fuel reduction and habitat clearing is also frequently associated with the invasion of non-native annual grassland species. The spread of non-native annual grasses is altering native species composition, reducing chaparral cover, creating more frequent fires, hindering chaparral regeneration and converting important native ecosystems into heavily altered, predominantly non-native grassland habitats. The collapse of chaparral habitats in California has significant implications that are receiving some attention, but are largely ignored at the northern end of chaparral’s range in southwestern Oregon.
Given the impacts of clearing chaparral, researchers recommend, “leaving chaparral untreated except where fuel loads pose an unacceptable fire hazard to human life or property (e.g. along roads or below houses).” (Duren 2010).
Instead of responsibly managing chaparral, the Medford District BLM routinely degrades habitat far from homes, in the name of fuel reduction and even “restoration.” Recently, the BLM cleared vast swaths of mature whiteleaf manzanita in the lower Yale Creek Watershed. Crews cut, piled and burned nearly every manzanita on the hillside, leaving behind only white, sunbleached manzanita stumps and black, circular”charcoal pits” from extremely hot burn piles. These highly concentrated burns sterilize the soil, destroy native plants, cook off the soil seedbed and create persistent denuded sites subject to noxious weed spread for years after implementation.
The so-called fuel reduction treatment on Yale Creek virtually eliminated the existing population of chaparral. The lack of broadcast fire, the removal of all chaparral seed sources, and the likely invasion of highly competitive cheatgrass, medusa head grass or hedgehog dogtail grass (Cynosurus echinatus) will inhibit the germination and growth of both chaparral and native herbaceous species. Clearing chaparral for fuel reduction does not just alter species composition by spreading non-native annual grasses, but these same grasses can also increase fire risks, fire frequency, rate of spread, and fire severity while degrading wildlife habitat.
Manzanita, in particular, provides abundant nectar flow for early season pollinators, including native bees and humming birds. It also produces abundant crops of little rust red berries. The berries are dry, tart, somewhat astringent, but rather tasty. Wildlife such as songbirds, small mammals, and especially black bears feast on these berries in the late summer, creating a critical food source in the midst of our extended summer dry season. Deer and other wildlife also often bed down in the shade and sleep in the shelter of manzanita at night. These habitats are important for wildlife, but are often eliminated in BLM fuel reduction treatments.
ANN encourages our federal land management agencies to consider the role of chaparral in our regional ecology. Scientific research conducted here in the Applegate Valley demonstrates the current strategy of clearing vast chaparral habitats through manual thinning and pile burning is detrimental, scientifically unsound, ineffective at reducing fire severity, and a colossal waste a taxpayer dollars.
Federal land managers should only conduct fuel reduction in chaparral habitats directly adjacent to homes and communities at risk. These treatments should retain large islands of chaparral and maintain interspersed oak, madrone and pine trees for habitat, while reducing density adjacent to existing homes. In more remote areas and away from homes, treatment is not beneficial or necessary.
Chaparral is not a wasteland. It is a unique and important ecosystem that can be conserved through largely passive management. We should be putting the limited fire mitigation dollars currently available near homes and communities that might benefit from well placed, highly strategic fuel treatments, not in remote locations with little bearing on community safety and in ecosystems that will only be degraded by our fuel management activities.
The unique northernmost populations of chaparral are more than just “brush” or “fuel” for the next fire. They are, in fact, diverse, vibrant and important ecosystems we should all embrace, celebrate and preserve in the Applegate Valley.
The Lower Applegate, between Murphy and Wilderville, is
known for its agricultural flats, not its wilderness habitat. As it blends into
the outskirts of Grants Pass, the area is the most heavily populated portion of
the Applegate Valley; however, two significant wildlands tucked into the surrounding
mountains provide important habitat for wildlife. Although not remote, the
wildlands are obscure and seldom visited. They support interesting serpentine
habitat, clear flowing streams and dense old forests. No recreational trails dissect these wildlands
and access into their interior requires extremely difficult off-trail hiking. Those
who venture into the center of these wildlands will be rewarded with solitude,
spectacular forests, abundant wildflowers and long vistas across the mountains
and valleys of southwestern Oregon. These last wild habitats in the Lower
Applegate support a unique piece of the Applegate Valley’s biodiversity and
natural heritage. They should be protected for future generations as an
important refuge for wild nature.
Slate Creek Roadless
The unprotected Slate Creek Roadless Area is located at the
headwaters of Slate Creek on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The area
is relatively small, at roughly 3,500 acres, but contains unusual serpentine habitat,
completely unique to the Applegate River watershed. Embedded within the
roadless area is the 386-acre Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area, which
protects the only population of the insectivorous cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica) in the
Applegate River basin, and numerous rare plant populations including Waldo
buckwheat, which is otherwise found only in the Illinois River Valley.
Slate Creek is the first major tributary of the Applegate
River. It supports runs of chinook salmon, steelhead and some of the Applegate
River’s most abundant runs of coho salmon. The stream flows along Highway 199
through Wonder and Wilderville before dumping into the Applegate River, west of
The area receives roughly twice as much rainfall as the driest portions of the Applegate Valley and supports abundant winter fog. The weather, the vegetation and the unique soils in the area are very similar to portions of the Illinois Valley with its endemic serpentine flora. Serpentine soils contain significant concentrations of various heavy metals and lack basic nutrients generally associated with plant growth. They are essentially toxic to plant life, but unique plant communities have evolved to thrive on these nutrient limited soils. The unusual soils support barren red rock openings, carpeted in low chaparral, sparse grass, abundant wildflowers and twisted Jeffrey pine. Majestic Port Orford-cedar, bay laurel, western azalea, and alder dominate the stream corridors, and boggy wetlands flow down serpentine slopes and into grassy clearings lined in cobra lily.
Round Top Mountain
The Round Top Mountain Roadless Area is located on the high, rocky ridgeline dividing the Illinois Valley from the Lower Applegate Valley. Portions of the area drain into the Deer Creek watershed near Selma, while the northernmost portions of the wildland drain into Jackson Creek, Murphy Creek, and Panther Creek in the Applegate River watershed.
The wildland is centered around 4,760′ Round Top Mountain and the flanks of nearby Manzanita Lookout. From 1959 to 2010 the Oregon Department of Forestry maintained a fire lookout at a broad summit west of Round Top Mountain, the site was known as Manzanita Lookout. After being condemned for safety concerns, the lookout tower was burned to the ground by ODF officials in 2010.
The area is a patchwork of rock outcrops, serpentine barrens, and mixed conifer forests. Located in the western, more moist portion of the Applegate Valley, the area receives abundant rain and winter fog. On productive soils old-growth forests of Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, white fir, incense cedar, live oak and madrone grow in contiguous unlogged forest habitats. The vast old-growth canopy is occasionally broken by serpentine outcrops, open Jeffrey pine savanna, young forests regenerating from historic wildfires, and mixed hardwood groves.
A portion of the intact habitat was protected in the BLM’s
2016 Resource Management Plan as the Round Top Mountain Lands with Wilderness Characteristics
(LWC). This 5,295-acre LWC protects the core of the area, but significant
unroaded habitats at the margins of the LWC are currently unprotected.
Bolt Mountain is not quite a wildland, but it makes an interesting and beautiful hike exploring the serpentine habitats of the Lower Applegate Valley. The low, rounded butte is a unique and isolated hump of serpentine rising 1,258’ from the valley floor above Jerome Prairie and the Applegate River near Fish Hatchery Park. A 3.3 mile trail beginning at Fish Hatchery Park climbs through beautiful Jeffrey pine woodlands with spectacular views and incredible spring floral displays. The trail climbs to the 2,227’ summit and provides an accessible hike in the serpentine habitats of the Lower Applegate.
Mark your calendars! Applegate Neighborhood Network will be leading a hike, along with the Siskiyou Chapter Native Plant Society of Oregon, to the Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area on May 11th. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/304339286907833/
To RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article was originally printed in the Spring 2019 edition of the Applegater Newsmagazine.
Following the fire and smoke of 2018, controversy has erupted throughout the region about forest, fire and smoke management. The timber industry and its allies have taken advantage of the situation and have begun pushing for an increase in public land logging, the weakening of important environmental regulations and a reduction of public involvement in the federal land management planning process. ANN is extremely concerned by these proposals, and together with our partners at Klamath Forest Alliance, we have prepared our own set of policy recommendations for Oregon legislators, lawmakers and land managers to consider while creating forest, fire and smoke management policies that will affect our region.
First and foremost, we believe that many of the communities at risk have been ignored during the current policy debate. Policy makers and land managers have focused their efforts on fuel reduction and commercial logging in locations that are often far from homes and communities. Not only are these “treatments” poorly located, but they provide no benefit to Oregon communities, and in many situations they may actually make fuel loads more volatile and fires more difficult to safely manage or contain.
We support community wildfire protection policies that start from the home and move outward. It has been proven through scientific research that the most important factor predicating if a home survives a given fire is the way in which the home was constructed, the material it was built with, if it is regularly maintained to withstand a fire, and what natural and/or domestic fuels are located immediately adjacent to the home. A focus on reducing home ignition from wildfires or ember cast is the single most effective and cost efficient way to reduce home loss and increase public safety during wildfire events.
We also believe that the natural and beneficial role of wildfire and smoke must be considered in any valid management plan. The forests of our region are adapted to wildfire and its various effects. Smoke and fire are important natural processes that cannot be safely, effectively or responsibly eliminated from our landscape. To some extent they must be embraced and managed to reduce impacts to our communities and maximize beneficial outcomes in wildland areas. In our policy paper we explore the ecology of smoke and fire in our region.
Fire is part of life in southern Oregon and has been increasingly politicized. We believe public policy surrounding wildfire and forest management must be science-based, ecologically responsible, and focused strategically on protecting homes, communities and public safety.
The Medford District BLM has proposed the Anderson Butte Safety Project to address concerns surrounding unsafe and irresponsible target shooting in the Anderson Butte area. To view BLM’s Scoping Notice for the Anderson Butte Safety Project click here to download the document.For many years ANN, recreationists who utilize the area, and many Applegate Valley neighbors in the region surrounding Anderson Butte have expressed concerns for public safety associated with rampant and highly irresponsible target shooting at trailheads, road pullouts, old log landings and across vast, open slopes with public hiking trails and communities below. We believe the public deserves a safe, enjoyable, natural experience on their public lands. The BLM has an obligation to provide this experience and basic public safety, but has failed to do so in many parts of the Applegate Valley.
COMMENT NOW! Comment information can be found at the bottom of this post!
As the problems on Anderson Butte grew and spread, local residents started to feel the impact of rampant, nearby public land shooting. Currently, at any time throughout a vast swath of Sterling Creek Road, Griffin Lane and Little Applegate Road, gunfire can be heard ringing out across the valley. The once quiet communities now have the “noise-scape” of a war zone with automatic weapons and tannerite explosions occurring regularly.
In January of 2016 a neighbor in the Griffin Lane area had a stray bullet lodge into her front door. Other neighbors and many hikers on the Sterling Ditch, Jack-Ash and Wolf Gap Trails have also been threatened by stray bullets while enjoying either their public lands or their own private residential property.
With development of the long awaited Jack-Ash Trail the problems intensified. The Jack-Ash Trail was heavily supported by the public and required significant collaborative efforts between the Siskiyou Upland Trail Association, the public and the BLM. The project was approved by the BLM and funded through private donations, grants, extensive volunteer efforts and agency support. Despite approving the development of the Jack-Ash Trail and identifying numerous locations (namely trailheads) in the area as “closed to target shooting” in the 2016 RMP, the BLM has failed to enforce these closures and ensure public safety on the Jack-Ash Trail.
Many hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers have experienced the trauma of approaching a trailhead with excessive automatic gunfire occuring. They have felt unsafe and vulnerable to bullets raining down on designated recreational trails. The impact to trail users has been to either risk your life enjoying the Jack-Ash Trail or avoid the area altogether. After the considerable collaborative and volunteer efforts to build this beautiful non-motorized trail, public members are frustrated and upset that basic public safety has not been protected by our local land managers.
The situation is particularly problematic not only because of the level of recreational use and the number of residential properties surrounding the area, but also because of the open nature of the environment on Anderson Butte. Much of the area supports south- and west-facing slopes with broad sloping grasslands and large stands of chaparral. These areas do not provide a backstop and bullets can fly unobstructed across long distances towards homes, communities and public recreational trails. The situation is extremely dangerous and at some point someone could be killed or injured by stray bullets.
Multiple fires have also been started in the Anderson Butte area since 2002 from irresponsible target shooting, further threatening the communities below. These human caused ignitions are preventable and can be reduced by prohibiting target shooting in the Anderson Butte area.
BLM’s Proposal: The Anderson Butte Safety Project
The BLM has finally responded with the proposed Anderson Butte Safety Project. The project would create a temporary (two year only) target shooting closure in the Anderson Additions Extensive Recreational Management Area to protect public safety in the area around Anderson Butte and the Jack-Ash Trail. Although ANN is supportive of this action, we believe it is not enough. We also encourage local neighbors and recreationists who love Anderson Butte to provide comment on this project. Below are recommendations for your comment and an outline of ANN’s position on this issue. Information on submitting public comment is listed at the end of this post.
ANN’s Proposal: Permanent Closure
ANN is recommending a permanent closure on recreational target shooting in the broader Anderson Butte area. This should include the entire region between the Bear Creek Valley near Talent and Phoenix, Oregon, Wagner Gap/Wagner Creek Road, Little Applegate Road, Sterling Creek Road and Griffin Lane. This prohibition should be targeted at recreational shooting from roads, landings and trailheads. Such prohibitions would allow for backcountry hunting off existing roads, while ensuring the problem of irresponsible shooting is not simply transferred to another portion of the region.
The shooting closure should be accompanied by aggressive enforcement and monitoring efforts focused on maintaining public safety. The BLM should take this obligation seriously and take actions that will protect visitor safety and the safety of nearby residents. This should include regular patrolling by BLM law enforcement, aggressively citing violators, cleaning up and maintaining clean, garbage-free areas in previously used shooting areas. All landings in the area should also be clearly posted as closed to recreational target shooting.
ANN would like to clearly state that we take no position on the Second Amendment and understand the right of people to bear arms. We also take no position on public land hunting, although in general, we support ethical, backcountry hunting as a valid public use. What we do take a position on is irresponsible, dispersed shooting on public lands. We are extremely concerned by the impacts associated with irresponsible shooting to our communities, to public safety and to our environment.
We also believe that the BLM’s multiple use policy has been replaced in many locations by a “dominant use” policy, where the most intrusive, intimidating and dominant uses are the most prominent uses of public land and are allowed to displace other users due to safety concerns or degraded recreation and habitat values. Implementation of the BLM’s multi-use policy must, at times, mean curtailing incompatible uses to ensure public safety, and ensure enjoyable recreational opportunities are available for all public land users. The BLM must abandon this long standing free-for-all on public lands and begin managing the region as a sustainable recreational resource.
Comment Now: Public Comments will be accepted until Feb 1, 2019
To celebrate winter we wanted to highlight the diversity of conifer species in the Applegate.
The Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are known for their incredible biodiversity and contain more conifer species than any other temperate forest in North America — 35 species. The Applegate Watershed alone contains 22 conifer species! The diversity of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains is a result of the region’s unique geologic diversity, steep topography and pronounced microclimates, as well as dramatic elevation gradients, climatic gradients and millions of years of undisturbed evolution.
The region closest to the coast receives up to 125″ of annual rainfall, supporting dense rainforests with some of the world’s largest coastal redwoods. Roughly forty miles interior, in a pronounced rain shadow, portions of the Applegate Valley receive less than 20″ of annual rainfall, creating a unique mixture of grassland, oak woodland, chaparral, groves of western juniper and dry mixed conifer forests of pine and fir.
Forest habitats in the Siskiyou Mountains and the Applegate Valley (the Applegate Siskiyous) are widely varied depending on the soils, slope positions, aspect and elevation. Species associated with cool and moist climates cling to the canyon bottoms and north- or east-facing slopes throughout the region, while species associated with arid mixed conifer and woodland occur on south- or west-facing slopes and ridges.
At low elevations, the Applegate Watershed supports a mixture of moist Douglas fir and tanoak habitats on Slate Creek, Cheney Creek and the headwaters of Williams Creek, where a cool, coastal-influenced environment is maintained through abundant rain, relatively productive soils, and winter fog. These forests support Port Orford-cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), a beautiful, drooping cedar with bluish foliage and layered, silvery bark. The Port Orford-cedar is endemic to the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, growing along a 200-mile strip running north to south from Coos Bay, Oregon to Horse Mountain east of Eureka, California. In general, Port Orford-cedar populations are found within 40 miles of the Pacific Coast. In the Applegate, the Williams Creek population is at the eastern edge of the prevailing Port Orford-cedar range.
The low-elevation forests in the foothills of the Applegate Valley and east of Murphy, Oregon receive far less rainfall. These habitats support dry mixed conifer forests, mixed evergreen forest and oak woodland. In addition to supporting more common conifer species such as Douglas fir, sugar pine, and ponderosa pine, these dry habitats also support some of the western-most western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) in the Siskiyou Mountains. Western juniper has a prevailing range that extends across the juniper steppe and high desert country to the east. On dry, exposed sites up the Little Applegate River and in the Dakubetede Roadless Area, groves of old growth juniper grow among oak woodlands, dry grasslands and stately open grown ponderosa pine. The western-most population of western juniper in the Siskiyou Mountains consists of a few trees on a west-facing slope in the Wellington Wildlands, above Humbug Creek.
These dry Applegate forests also support a remnant of the Rogue and Applegate Valley’s historic gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) populations. In the 1930s botanist Oliver Mathews documented gray pine populations near Ruch. Other small populations were found in the Rogue Valley near White City and Gold Hill, where a few trees remain today. Currently, a single mature gray pine tree is the last of the Applegate population. It grows in a small grassy clearing at the edge of the Little Grayback Roadless Area in the Upper Applegate, creating one of the northern-most populations of gray pine, a tree found more abundantly to the south, throughout California.
At higher elevations in the Applegate Watershed on the Siskiyou Crest, the snow forests of the Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada mingle in unique and interesting ways. Above 5,000′ Siskiyou Mountain forests are dominated by true fir species, including white fir (Abies concolor) and a confusing series of naturally occurring hybrid populations of shasta red fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis), and red fir (Abies magnifica), which are common in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades, and noble fir (Abies procera), which is more common to the north in the Cascade Mountains. The resulting blend of genetic diversity has created unusual hybrids with characteristics of numerous species that are hard to differentiate.
Also inhabiting the higher elevations of the Applegate Siskiyous are the region’s most ancient conifer species, holdouts from the Little Ice Age, when much of the west coast was covered in vast glaciers. In most places, botanical diversity was swallowed in dense sheets of ice, but in the Siskiyou Mountains ice-free areas provided habitat refugia for temperate forests that were once widespread some 65 million years ago. These forests are referred to as Arcto-Tertirary forests, which hang on as only remnants throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and the Siskiyou Crest.
Species such as the iconic Brewer’s spruce (Picea breweriana) and Port Orford-cedar are “paleoendemics,” remaining only in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Some conifer species that grew alongside Brewer’s spruce and Port Orford-cedar 65 million years ago still reach their southern limit in the Siskiyou Mountains today. These species include trees common far north of the Siskiyous, such as Alaska yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) and Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis). They can be found in the high country of the Applegate Siskiyous in the Red Buttes Wilderness, the Kangaroo Roadless Area, the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area and the high country of the Upper Applegate near Whisky Peak.
As time slowly passed, the climate changed, mountains continued forming and eroding, forest communities came and went, but small islands of these Arcto-Tertirary forests remain to this day in cool, protected north slopes that act as fire refugia. Being very sensitive to drought and fire these species find sites that tend to hold snow late into the season, grow on rocky substrates and cling to dark, cool slopes were fire either fails to burn or burns in a patchy, low-severity pattern. These species have survived in the headwaters of the Applegate River through droughts and fires, into a climatic region that would be inhospitable if the trees had not found the perfect microclimates.
The rarest conifer with the most restricted range in the Siskiyou Mountains is Baker’s cypress (Hesperocyparis bakeri). Baker’s cypress has the northern-most range of any cypress in North America, and although it is also a paleoendemic species, it does not necessarily cling to cool, moist sites. Found in 11 distinct populations worldwide, each Baker’s cypress population occurs in its own unique habitat. Some grow at high elevations in the caldera of extinct volcanoes north of Mount Shasta; some occur in the relatively recent lava flows of the Pitt River, and some inhabit the nutrient deficient soils of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Of the 11 populations world-wide, eight can be found in the Klamath-Siskiyous, and only one of these populations can be found in the Applegate Watershed. The Applegate Watershed’s Baker’s cypress are found in the Kangaroo Roadless Area on the Sturgis Fork of Carberry Creek, near Miller Lake, Steve’s Peak and Iron Mountain.
The Applegate Watershed contains 22 conifer species. Below is a list of the species found in the Applegate and a photo essay that highlights their beauty and diversity. How many have you seen?