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BLM Proposes Widespread Logging and Road Building without Public Comment or Environmental Review

Public involvement opportunities such as BLM field trips, public meetings and comment periods are facilitated by implementing the NEPA process. NEPA is what infuses the public interest into public land management.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is one of our nation’s most important environmental laws and it has successfully been used for decades to infuse the public interest into the public land management process. NEPA encourages public accountability, scientific rigor, and collaboration. It requires federal land managers to solicit public input, consider public comments, disclose the impacts of proposed management activities and conduct a detail scientific analysis of effects for all major land management activities.

NEPA has consistently made federal land management projects more thoughtful, innovative, environmentally responsible, scientifically credible and socially acceptable. ANN believes that NEPA should be applied to all significant federal land management projects, especially those with potentially adverse ecological impacts or some level of scientific uncertainty.

Under the direction of the the Trump administration, many government agencies are being pressured to streamline the NEPA process, eliminate meaningful public comment and reduce scientific review for land management projects. The goal is to expedite resource extraction, reduce regulation, and promote industrial land management activities on public lands.

The Integrated Vegetation Management Project for Resilient Lands

Old-growth forest in the Burton-Ninemile Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) could be logged under the IVM Project without public comment or environmental review. The Burton-Ninemile Roadless Area lies between Thompson Creek, Star Gulch and Tallowbox Mountain in the Applegate Watershed.

In response, the Medford District BLM has been working to increase timber production, while reducing public input and environmental analysis. To achieve these goals, the agency is working on the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Project (IVM). This project is being proposed under a Programmatic NEPA approach, which would allow the agency to implement timber sales and other activities, across a very broad landscape, without additional, site-specific environmental review or public comment.

As currently proposed, all action alternatives in the IVM Project would allow the agency to implement an extensive commercial logging and road building program in Land Use Allocations such as Late Successional Reserves (LSR), Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), Research Natural Areas (RNA), Northern spotted owl habitats, and other areas set aside to protect southwestern Oregon’s incredible biological values and biodiversity.

Alternative C, the Adapted Rogue Basin Strategy:

The BLM has proposed a large timber sale called the Late Mungers Project, which is “tiered” to the still unapproved IVM Project. The area is protected as a Late Successional Reserve, but is proposed for extensive commercial logging in the Late Mungers Project.

Alternative C, the Adapted Rogue Basin Strategy Alternative, was designed by the BLM to implement the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy, a plan proposed by the Nature Conservancy and the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC).

As currently designed, Alternative C proposes commercial logging throughout BLM land in southwestern Oregon, including numerous Roadless Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), Late Successional Reserves (LSR), Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) and other important conservation areas.

This proposal would include the conversion of mid- to late-successional, closed-canopied forest, into dramatically more open forest. This could include logging stands to as low as 30% canopy cover with “group selection openings” of up to 4 acres, in up to 20% of a targeted stand. In some locations, Northern spotted owl habitat would be logged, downgrading or removing suitable habitat conditions. Late Successional Reserve and Riparian Reserves would also be commercially logged under this alternative.

As currently designed, Alternative C proposes more logging and road construction than any other alternative. This would include up to 4,000 acres of commercial logging, and up to 10 miles of new road construction per year, without public comment or environmental review. Over a 10-year period, Alternative C would allow up to 25,000 acres of commercial logging and up to 90 miles of new road construction, all without public comment or environmental review.

Alternative D, the Resilient Vegetation Patterning Alternative

A view down the Powell Creek watershed in the Late Mungers Planning Area. Despite having no authorization to do so, the BLM has identified this area as the first area proposed for commercial logging in the IVM Project.

Alternative D is very similar to Alternative C. It would allow up to 4,000 acres of commercial logging and 10 miles of new road construction per year without public comment or environmental review. The 10 year maximum would include up to 25,000 acres of logging and 80 miles of new road construction. Late Successional Reserve and Riparian Reserve logging would be allowed, Northern spotted owl habitat could be downgraded or removed, canopy cover could be reduce to as low as 30% with “group selection,” and openings up to 4 acres could be implemented in up to 20% of a targeted stand.

Alternative B, 2012 IVM Approach/Northern Spotted Owl Retention

Alternative B would allow up to 2,500 acres of commercial logging and 5 miles of new road construction per year without public comment or environmental review. The 10 year maximum would include up to 25,000 acres of commercial logging and 40 miles of new road construction. This alternative would allow logging in Late Successional Reserves in stands less than 80 years of age. Riparian Reserve logging would also be allowed. Canopy cover could be reduced to as low as 30% with “group selection openings” up to a half acre and up to 15% of a targeted stand.

Alternative A, Strategic Fuels (Operations and Protection)

Although this alternative was loosely designed utilizing the public comments provided by Applegate Neighborhood Network, we cannot support this alternative as it is currently designed, and many of our concerns are not addressed by this alternative. The alternative would allow up to 2,000 acres of commercial logging per year without public comment and environmental review. No new road construction would be allowed. Over the course of 10 years as much as 17,000 acres of commercial logging could be implemented under this alternative. Treatments would be allowed within a 1/4 mile of “communities at risk” and in “operationally strategic fire management features.” No group selection openings would be allowed and only plantations less than 60 years of age would be thinned.

Amended Alternative A, Strategic Fuels and Plantations

The limited resources available to prepare communities from wildfire should work from the community out, hardening homes and reducing fuel adjacent to homes and communities. Amended Alternative A would allow prescribed fire and non-commercial fuel reduction where it is needed the most and where it is most appropriate, within a 1/4 mile of communities at risk.

Currently ANN is supporting an Amended Alternative A, which would focus on strategic fuel reduction treatments (non-commercial thinning and prescribed fire) within a 1/4 mile of communities and in plantation stands under 60 years of age. Fuel reduction treatments should retain patches of chaparral unless it specifically threatens a structure or critical infrastructure. Oak woodland would also be largely untreated and oak woodland structure would be retained. Thinning would focus on reducing density in conifer stands and creating fire-resistant forest stand structure within 1/4 mile of communities. This buffer could be utilized in wildland fires to protect communities and provide a safe location for fire crews to operate.

Plantation stands have also been shown to sustain the highest levels of fire severity in regional wildfires and are the most heavily altered habitats within the planning area. Plantation stands less than 60 years of age should also be targeted with fuel reduction treatments to support fire resistance and to protect nearby native forest stands.

This alternative would allow no commercial logging or road construction without public comment or environmental review. We believe these activities and the level of impact they create should require a full NEPA analysis, including meaningful public comment periods, public involvement, the disclosure of impacts, a full environmental review and a credible scientific analysis of effects.

The Medford District BLM is soliciting public comments on the IVM Project until November 18, 2019. Please consider the talking points below when commenting on this project.

  • Support the Amended Alternative A proposed by the Applegate Neighborhood Network
  • Require all commercial logging and road construction to undergo a full NEPA analysis, including public comment, public involvement, the disclosure of impacts, scientific analysis and environmental review.
  • The proposed Amended Alternative A is the only proposed action alternative appropriate for inclusion in a Programmatic EA. All other alternatives should require analysis through a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) due to significant impacts, scientific controversy and project complexity.
  • Agency analysis must consider the impacts associated with project activities, including increased sedimentation and water quality impacts, impacts to late successional habitats, Northern spotted owl habitat, increased fuel loading, increased fire risks, stand drying, accelerated overstory mortality, increased bark beetle mortality and recreational values.
  • The currently proposed Late Mungers Project (in the Williams, Murphy and Deer Creek watersheds), which is “tiered” to the still unapproved IVM Project is pre-decisional and planning should be immediately discontinued. The Late Mungers Project would include commercial logging in a large block of Late Successional Reserve, and the level of potential impact associated with this project requires independent NEPA analysis.
  • Comments need not be technical or scientific. Please just write the BLM and let them know how you value the area, how you use or relate to the area and why you support conservation on public lands.

Submit your comments:

Online at:  https://go.usa.gov/xmuJV
By email:  blm_or_md_ivm@blm.gov

By Mail or Delievery: 
Attn: IVM-RL EA

Medford District BLM, 3040 Biddle Road Medford, Oregon 97504 

For more information on the project, click here.

Also please attend the upcoming BLM open house to discuss the project at the Jackson County Expo, Mace Watchable Wildlife Building 4:30-7:00 PM Thursday, November 14, 2019.  Make your concerns about the ecological impacts of the IVM Project heard with BLM staff at the open house.

Bear Grub Timber Sale: Bald Mountain Units

A view from Bald Mountain into the Little Applegate River watershed and across to the Siskiyou Crest.

Starting in 2014, and for over two years Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) opposed the Nedsbar Timber Sale. The timber sale sprawled across the Little and Upper Applegate Valleys, including numerous unroaded units, late successional forests, and unique wildland habitats. Perhaps the most egregious units in the entire timber sale were located in old-growth forests on the southwest face of Bald Mountain. ANN and local community residents fought hard to protect Bald Mountain. We led public hikes, we attended BLM field trips, used social media to educate about the potential impact of logging in these beautiful old-growth stands, and in September 2016, we held protests outside the Nedsbar timber auction at the BLM Office in Medford, Oregon. Due in part to pressure from the community, the timber sale failed to sell at auction, the BLM withdrew the Nedsbar Timber Sale and Bald Mountain was spared.

Almost exactly three years later, the BLM has proposed the Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project. The preliminary project information released by the BLM identifies commercial timber production as an overriding objective and implementation is proposed to include a large commercial timber sale. Thus, we refer to the project as the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

The Bear Grub Timber Sale proposes three units within the citizen identified Bald Mountain Roadless Area. Located on the ridgeline of Bald Mountain these units are located on the northeast face of Bald Mountain in the Wagner Creek Watershed and directly above the town of Talent, Oregon.

Bald Mountain lies east of Anderson Butte and divides the Little Applegate Watershed from the Bear Creek Valley. Although the unroaded habitat is relatively small, Bald Mountain is a unique and special place. The area is important for the connectivity it provides between the Anderson Butte ridgeline, the foothills of the Applegate Valley, and the Siskiyou Crest near Wagner Butte.

Wagner Butte from near the summit of Bald Mountain. The forest in the foreground is unit 27-4 of the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

The Bald Mountain area contains the historic Front Range Trail — now referred to as the Bald Mountain Trail — along the ridgeline of Bald Mountain. This old pack trail was used to connect fire lookouts on Wagner and Anderson Butte in the 1930s and is still used to this day by local hikers and residents in the area. It is also being proposed as a portion of the Jack-Ash Trail, which will ultimately connect the communities of Jacksonville and Ashland, Oregon. The first leg of the non-motorized Jack-Ash Trail has been constructed and many local residents support its completion.

The mountain is a spectacular mosaic of late successional forest, sweeping grasslands, thickets of serviceberry, groves of mountain mahogany and fringes of oak woodland. The area is dynamic and diverse. Located in the rainshadow of Dutchman Peak and Big Red Mountain, the area is relatively arid and sits right at the edge of the transient snow zone. Eastern species such western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), large populations of rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosa) and even big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) grow here.

Siskiyou mariposa lily (Calchortus persistens)

The southwest-facing slopes of Bald Mountain are among the most beautiful in all of the Applegate. These balds, or upland prairies ring the top of harsh south-facing exposures throughout the area. Spring wildflowers can be abundant and beautiful in these openings and the Bald Mountain area, includes both rare and endemic plant species such as Applegate stonecrop (Sedum oblanceolatum). The only Oregon population of the rare and endangered Siskiyou mariposa lily (Calochortus persistens) also grows on Bald Mountain.

Stringers of conifer forest hem in the grasslands and reach to the ridgetop. The forests on the southwestern face were proposed for logging in 2014 in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. On the ridgeline, dry conifer forest abruptly dominates and forested habitats spill down the north- and east-facing slopes draining into Wagner Creek. These old stands on the ridgeline of Bald Mountain are the last complex forest in the vast sea of clearcuts at the headwaters of Wagner Creek and around Wagner Gap. They are also proposed for logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

Bear Grub, Unit 21-2

Unit 21-2 contains old-growth forest and an unusually large population of the rare tall bugbane along the proposed route of the Jack-Ash Trail.

Unit 21-2 is located on a northeast-facing slope at the headwaters of Arrasta Creek on the flank of Bald Mountain, in the small but biologically significant Bald Mountain Roadless Area. The unit is located adjacent to the Bald Mountain Trail, a historic pack trail proposed as a section of the Jack-Ash Trail. Unit 21-2 contains mid to late successional forest habitat with relatively open groves of large Douglas fir and white fir. The stand contains many large, old-growth trees (Doug fir and white fir) and a sizeable population of the rare species, tall bugbane (Cimicifuga elata).

Located at over 5,000’ the stand is relatively moist and productive. The cool, moist microclimate created by large overstory trees and the protection associated with closed canopy forest habitat supports the largest population of tall bugbane in the Siskiyou Mountains. Nearly the entire unit is carpeted with dense, vibrant populations of tall bugbane, sword fern and Cascade Oregon grape.

Tall bugbane (Cimicifuga elata) grows in abundance on the north slope of Bald Mountain.

Habitat for tall bugbane would be badly damaged by yarding operations, large tree removal and canopy reduction. It is likely that logging and yarding activity in this stand would directly kill hundreds if not thousands of tall bugbane plants. Stand desiccation, increased competition from regenerating shrubs and conifer saplings, canopy reduction, and other indirect impacts would have lasting impacts, leading to population declines and an increased likelihood of noxious weed spread.

Currently unit 21-2 is naturally very fire resistant, with large, well-spaced trees, high canopy layers, relatively moist microclimate conditions, lush understory conditions and minimal fuel loading. Logging this stand would significantly open the canopy, increasing solar radiation, introducing drying winds, and desiccating stand conditions. Canopy reduction would also trigger an aggressive understory response, regenerating dense shrubs and highly flammable conifer saplings. Young, fire-available fuels will fill canopy gaps, dramatically increasing fuels for between 5 and 50 years, or until canopy conditions recover and begin to suppress understory growth.

Ancient groves of Douglas fir in unit 27-4 of the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

Finally, unit 21-2 clearly contains Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern spotted owl and high quality denning habitat for species such as the Pacific fisher. Commercial thinning prescriptions will likely reduce canopy cover and downgrade NRF habitat. These same prescriptions will also remove future snag and downed wood habitat, eliminate interlocking canopy structure and minimize habitat complexity in the long term.

Unit 21-2 should be withdrawn from the Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project. Commercial thinning prescriptions would have potentially negative impacts on fuel loading, late successional habitat, Northern spotted owl habitat, recreation and important rare plant populations.

Bear Grub, Units 27-4 & 27-8

Large old-growth trees in unit 27-4 on the northeastern face of Bald Mountain.

Units 27-4 and 27-8 are located adjacent to each other on the northeastern slope of Bald Mountain in the Bald Mountain Roadless Area. Located in the headwaters of Reel Creek, above a vast swath of clearcuts and plantations stands, the unit is located in the last strip of complex forest in the heavily logged Reel Creek watershed. In some places the units are directly adjacent to the Bald Mountain Trail and the proposed route of the Jack-Ash Trail.

Units 27-4 and 27-8 are mid to late successional with groupings of large, old trees scattered throughout the stand. Relatively fire resistant, the stands contain a mixture of open spaced trees, high canopies, closed canopy conditions, and minimal understory fuel. Understory fuel loading is being actively suppressed by the intact canopy layer created by large, relatively open grown trees.

High on the ridgeline of Bald Mountain unit 27-8 of the Bear Grub Timber Sale contains mid to late successional habitat.

The stands contain important Nesting, Roosting & Foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl and denning habitat for the Pacific fisher. The groupings of large, old trees and snags, the downed wood, complex canopy structure and interlocking canopies create important late successional habitats that should be retained.

Unit 27-4 extends to nearly the ridgeline and lies directly below the only population of Siskiyou mariposa lily (Calchortus persistens) in the state of Oregon. This lily is listed as an endangered species and could be affected by changes in microclimate associated with nearby logging. The species is also being encroached upon by off-road vehicle trails which should be immediately closed to all motorized use.

Unit 27-4 supports late successional and relatively fire resistant old-growth forest adjacent to the Jack-Ash Trail.

Commercial logging prescriptions in units 27-4 and 27-8 would reduce canopy cover, increase understory fuel loading, degrade the recreational experience of the proposed Jack-Ash Trail, negatively affect Northern spotted owls and Pacific fisher habitat, and increase fire risks.

Please join ANN in demanding that these egregious units be withdrawn from the Bear Grub Timber Sale! Contact the Medford District BLM and ask them to protect the proposed Jack-Ash Trail and the beautiful old forests of Bald Mountain by withdrawing units 21-2, 27-4, and 27-8 from the Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project.

Contact the BLM via email:

Medford District BLM, District Manager, Elizabeth Burghard eburghar@blm.gov

Medford District BLM, Environmental Planner, Lauren Brown lpbrown@blm.gov

Contact the BLM with a written letter:

District Manager, Elizabeth Burghard, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, Oregon, 97504

BLM’s Bear Grub Timber Sale Proposed near Ruch and Little Applegate — Wellington Wildlands, East ART, Sterling Ditch Trail and Jack-Ash Trails all Threatened!

The headwaters of China Gulch in the Wellington Wildlands. The forested ridge in the background is proposed for “treatment” in the Bear Grub Timber Sale, which could include commercial logging.

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 dry mixed conifer forests at the headwaters of China Gulch and in the Wellington Wildlands are targeted for commercial logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.

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.

The proposed Bear Grub Vegetation Management Project will be implemented, at least partially, with a commercial timber sale, and will have units extending from near Ruch to Sterling Creek, and over the ridge to the mountains above Phoenix and Talent. The green polygons depict “treatment” units.

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


via the BLM eplanning site at:
https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=200005275

or via snail mail at:
Bureau of Land Management
3040 Biddle Road
Medford, Oregon 97504
Attention: Ashland Planning and Environmental Specialists

Where the Wild Things Are: A Recap of ANN’s 2019 Hikes

Our second annual Butterfly and Wildflower Hike on the Siskiyou Crest explored the Silver Fork Basin at the headwaters of Elliott Creek, then climbed to the summit of Dutchman Peak for this spectacular view.

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.

Spring Hikes

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.

March 23, 2019 Whisky Creek Trail, Stricklin Butte Roadless Area, Middle Fork Applegate Watershed

The ANN fire ecology hike on Whisky Creek was well attended by local residents curious to see the effects of the 2017 Abney Fire.

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

Discussing serpentine plant ecology with Dr. Susan Harrison at Cedar Log Flat.

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

Watching birds on the Sundown Trail in the Wellington Wildlands.

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

Hiking through the grasslands on the southern face of Tallowbox Mountain in the Burton-Ninemile Lands with Wilderness Characteristics.

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.

Summer Hikes

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

A view across the Grayback Range and Kangaroo Roadless Area from near Mt. Elijah.

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

Applegate naturalist, Linda Kappen, identifies butterflies in the Silver Fork Basin at the headwaters of Elliott Creek, a tributary of the Applegate River.

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 near Slaughterhouse Flat on the Tin Cup Trail in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area.

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).

Gratitude

Sulphur flower buckwheat at Lowden Meadows.

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!

The Forest Service Proposes to Virtually Eliminate Public Involvement and Scientific Review

Many in the Applegate cherish our public lands and believe the Forest Service should maintain or strengthen the public involvement process.

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).

Field trips, public meetings and other forms of public involvement are largely facilitated by the NEPA process. The local community is often heavily engaged in the Applegate Valley and opportunities for public involvement will be reduced or eliminated under the proposed NEPA changes.

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.

Under the proposed NEPA changes public land logging projects could be implemented without environmental review or public comment.

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 Specifics

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.

The proposed NEPA changes would allow logging, mining, road construction and off-road vehicle use in Inventoried Roadless Areas without public comment or environmental review.

Conclusions

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.”

https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FS-2019-0010

What is a “temporary” road?

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!

A “temporary” road built on Bear Wallow Ridge through previously intact Forest Service land to access a Murphy Timber Company clearcut.

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.

A section of “temporary” road on Bear Wallow Ridge, one year after “restoration” and decommissioning.

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.

The large bare clearcut at the center of the photo is land owned by the Murphy Timber Company. It burned at low severity in the 2017 Abney Fire and was quickly clearcut by Murphy Timber. A “temporary” road and log landing was built on the Forest Service land above the property.
The log landing and “temporary” road built on Bear Wallow Ridge with the Red Buttes Wilderness in the distance.

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.

To the right is the “temporary” road, while to the left the slope is recovering naturally from the 2017 Abney Fire.

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.

Below the log landing the soils have been heavily burned, leaving behind hydrophobic soils and heavily damaged soil structure. Before the logging operation some green trees survived on the slope below, but these were removed during skyline yarding operations. The yarding corridors can be seen in this photograph, but the large private land clearcut of live, green trees is out of view.

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.

In Memory of Chris Bratt: A Fierce Advocate, a Loving Friend, and a Hero of the Applegate Valley

Chris Bratt in 2016 protesting the BLM timber auction for the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Photo credit: Tim Daw

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 grateful.

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.

Left to right, Chris’s father George Bratt, his mother Beb, and Chris on Thompson Creek in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

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 Bratt on his porch above Jameson Creek in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

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.

Chris was part of the back to land movement in the 1970s and moved to Thompson Creek to “live the good life” with his wife Joan and 5 children.

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.

For sometime, the Bratt Family raised and milked goats on Thompson Creek.

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.

From left to right, Greeley Wells, Luke Ruediger, Chris Bratt and Marion Hadden at Red Lily Vineyard for the premiere film showing of “Saving Wellington” in the fall of 2018.

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.

A view into the Applegate Valley from the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

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.

Applegate Chaparral: A Unique, Underappreciated & Threatened Ecosystem

Flowering buckbrush below the Mule Mountain Trail in the Little Grayback Roadless Area.

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.

An open grown manzanita in full bloom below the Sterling Ditch Trail in the Dakubetede Roadless Area in the Little Applegate.

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.

Dense chaparral on steep south-facing slopes in the Wellington Wildlands in the Middle Applegate.

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.

The blue gray gnatcatcher occupies oak and buckbrush thickets throughout the Applegate Valley. The southern Oregon population is at the northwest end of its West Coast breeding range, following the woodland and chaparral habitats up from California. Photo: Frank Lospalluto

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.

Blooming buckbrush in the Mule Mountain Roadless Area in the Upper Applegate.

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.

Forest Service crews removed vast buckbrush chaparral habitats in the Buncom Roadless Area during the Upper Applegate Road Project. In the proceeding years the site was invaded by cheat grass and other non-native annual grasses. Chaparral has not regenerated and composition is now largely colonized by non-native annual grasses.
Intact chaparral habitat with diverse native wildflowers on the East Applegate Ridge above Ruch.

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).

A mixture of chaparral, dry mixed conifer forest and oak woodland on the south face of Anderson Butte in the Dakubetede Roadless Area in the Little Applegate.

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.

An entire ridge of whiteleaf manzanita was cleared in Lower Yale Creek by the BLM. The “treatment” will have lasting impacts by converting this site from chaparral to non-native grassland.

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.

Another view of the recent BLM manzanita massacre on lower Yale Creek.

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.

Manzanita blossoms are a treat to pollinators in the early spring.

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.

A large white eaf manzanita with a cavity created by woodpeckers.

References:

Duren, Olivia & Muir, Patricia. 2010. Does Fuel Management Accomplish Restoration in Southwestern Oregon, USA, Chaparral? Insights from Age Structure. Fire Ecology Volume 6, Issue 2, 2010. https://link.springer.com/article/10.4996/fireecology.0602076

Perchmildes, Keith., Muir, Patricia., & Hosten, Paul. 2008. Responses of Chaparral and Oak Woodland Fuel Reduction Thinning in Southwestern Oregon. Rangeland Ecology Management 61:98-109. January 2008. https://bioone.org/journals/rangeland-ecology-and-management/volume-61/issue-1/07-026R1.1/Responses-of-Chaparral-and-Oak-Woodland-Plant-Communities-to-Fuel/10.2111/07-026R1.1.short

Pfaff, Eric & Hosten, Paul. Interaction of Squires Fire with Buncom Bowl Chaparral/Woodland Fuel Reduction Project, Applegate Valley, Southwestern Oregon. http://people.oregonstate.edu/~muirp/FuelsReductionSWOregon/ResearchReports/Research_WildfireEffects/Research_WildfireEffects.html

Bumble bee foraging on yerba santa flowers

The Wildlands of the Lower Applegate Watershed

A view west across the Round Top Roadless Area from a serpentine outcrop at the headwaters of Jackson Creek. The summit at left center is Round Top Mountain, and the broad mountain at the center of the photo is known as Manzanita Lookout.

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 Area

Darlingtonia californica growing at Cedar Log Flat Research Natural Area in the Slate Creek Roadless Area.

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.

Cedar Log Creek and Port Orford-cedar.

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 Grants Pass.

The headwaters of Slate Creek in the Slate Creek Roadless Area.

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 Roadless Area

A view east into fog-filled Applegate Valley from the Round Top Mountain Roadless Area.

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.

A serpentine barren at the headwaters of Case Creek.

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.

Old-growth mixed conifer forest at the headwaters of Murphy Creek.

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

A view east into the Middle Applegate Valley from the summit of Bolt Mountain.

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.

Yellow monkeyflower blooming en mass in the Jeffrey pine savanna on the lower Bolt Mountain Trail.

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 luke@applegateneighborhood.network

A version of this article was originally printed in the Spring 2019 edition of the Applegater Newsmagazine.

Forest, Fire & Smoke Management

The effects of low severity fire in the dry mixed conifer forests of the Upper Applegate following the 2012 Lick Gulch Fire.

Information and Policy Recommendations Pertaining to Forest, Fire and Smoke Management in Southwestern Oregon

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.

Home to home ignition from ember cast was responsible for significant home losses in the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California. This is not a forest management problem, this is a development and home ignition problem. These issues can be addressed by focusing on homes, communities and public safety.

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.

A mixed severity fire mosaic from the 2017 Abney Fire on the Middle Fork of the Applegate River.

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.

View our recent policy paper at this link: Information and Policy Recommendations Pertaining to Forest, Fire and Smoke Management