Penn Butte Timber Sale: Old Forest Logging in the Williams Creek Watershed

Units we have reviewed in the Penn Butte Timber Sale are “leave tree marked,” meaning only trees marked with yellow paint would be retained if the timber sale was implemented. Under a leave tree mark this 34″ diameter, unmarked ponderosa pine would be logged in unit 31-2 , below the Jones Marble Quarry and above the community of Williams in the Applegate Valley.

The Medford District BLM recently approved the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM) Project, a large, landscape-scale industrial logging project dressed up in the language of so-called “forest restoration,” and designed to undermine the public involvement process.

The IVM Project would authorize the BLM to log up to 20,000 acres and build up to 90 miles of new road per decade without site specific environmental or scientific review, no public disclosure of impacts and dramatically reduced public involvement processes. To make matters worse, the project is designed specifically to log Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forests set aside to protect habitat for the imperlied northern spotted owl and other areas currently outside the agency’s “timber harvest land base.”

The BLM intends to begin implementation of the IVM Project this coming fall with the Penn Butte and Late Mungers Timber Sales, west of Williams, Oregon. The proposed Penn Butte Timber Sale is located in the old forests of the Mungers Late Successional Reserve, and the BLM is currently designing the project with absolutely no public transparency or accountability. In fact, despite the repeated requests of residents from Williams and the Applegate Valley, the BLM has refused to provide maps or information on the timber sale, while at the same time marking trees and timber sale unit boundaries adjacent to our homes and communities.

Watch this 10-minute video about our recent field review of Penn Butte Timber Sale units on Marble Gulch and North Fork Mungers Creek above Williams, Oregon.

In an attempt to shed some light on the BLM’s secretive timber sale plans, ANN has been scouring the landscape for marked timber sale units above Williams. On a recent weekend we were out monitoring the timber sale mark in the Penn Butte Timber Sale on Mungers Butte, as well as in the Mungers Creek and Marble Gulch watersheds, both of which are tributaries of West Fork Williams Creek.

Despite the rhetoric of forest restoration and resilience, and the claims of benevolence in the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the IVM Project, the real intent of the project becomes very clear as the tree removal mark is reviewed in the field. Although the BLM claims that the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale will be beneficial to the forests of southwestern Oregon, the tree removal mark demonstrates otherwise, and the project is, in fact, a derisive and shameful attempt by the BLM to circumvent important public involvement processes, manipulate science, mislead the public and log some of the last mature forests in our region under the guise of “restoration” and “resilience.”

The Impacts of the IVM Project & the Proposed Penn Butte Timber Sale

Old forests like those in unit 31-1 of the Penn Butte Timber Sale are proposed for logging under the provisions of the IVM Project. Many large, old trees like the large Douglas fir in the foreground of this photo, would be logging if the Penn Butte Timber Sale moves forward, dramatically impacting habitat values, increasing fire risks, and degrading public forests.

The Penn Butte Timber Sale was designed by the BLM to target relatively intact, mature and old forest stands with industrial logging prescriptions. Although the agency claims otherwise, the project will produce timber for the industry at the expense of public values, environmental concerns, and recreational values.

Under the provisions of the IVM Project, the BLM has identified trees up to 36″ in diameter and over 150 years old for removal . They are also proposing to reduce canopy cover down to as low as 30%-40%, removing extensive suitable northern spotted owl habitat designated for protection in the Mungers Late Successional Reserve. They also intend to implement damaging group selection logging prescriptions. These activities will downgrade or remove thousands of acres of northern spotted owl habitat, pushing the species further towards extinction.

According to the Decision Notice for the IVM Project, group selection cuts with either no tree or minimal tree retention can occur in up to 20% of a timber sale area, and would consist of a staggered patchwork of 2 acre clearcuts embedded within mature forest stands also subjected to heavy commercial thinning. BLM staff have describe this as the “swiss cheese” treatment, where whole groves of mature forests are logged off, creating gaping holes in the forest canopy.

This group selection cut proposed in unit 31-1 would remove every old tree in this photograph.

Yet, even BLM’s own analysis of the effects of group selection logging admits that dramatically reducing forest canopy and embedding young regeneration within mature forest stands will increase fire risks. According to the BLM, group selection logging will create brush and slash fuel types that are “more volatile and susceptible to high rates of fire caused mortality. Stands could exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread, and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control,” and “the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands.”

These same mature forests proposed for logging in both the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale store abundant carbon in the trees, snags, downed wood and forest soils. When logged these forests are quickly converted from carbon sinks to significant emission sources, releasing large volumes of stored carbon as they are converted from living trees, logged, and then made into wood products.

Mature forests store moisture, hold humidity on the landscape, and maintain cool, moist habitats in a warming climate. These habitats, in turn, provide climate refugia for plant and wildlife species requiring persistent forest habitat. Opening these stands with commercial logging, removing large trees and reducing forest canopy significantly alters microclimate conditions, increases temperatures and wind speeds, dries forest soils, increases drought stress, and encourages climate induced mortality.

Unit 31-2 currently supports diverse, open structured forests with old conifers and hardwood species. In the Penn Butte Timber Sale, literally every tree in this photograph was “unmarked” and identified for logging, except the large ponderosa pine tree at the center of the photo and another large Douglas fir in the distant right hand corner that are marked with yellow. This beautiful forests would be logged down to a few scattered trees under the BLM’s so-called Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands prescriptions.

After a weekend hiking the units of the Penn Butte Timber Sale, we can definitively say that implementation of the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale would make these forests more inhospitable to species like the northern spotted owl and would undermine the purpose of LSR forest designations. The proposed logging would also release large amounts of carbon currently stored in mature trees, contributing to a more extreme, dangerous, and unpredictable climate. Finally, implementation of the IVM Project would dramatically increase fire risks for the neighboring communities, making wildfires more fast moving and severe.

The Penn Butte Timber Sale is a direct outcome of the BLM’s approval of the massive IVM Project and it is just the first timber sale proposed for implementation, but is a sign of what the BLM intends to do across the 800,000-acre IVM Planning Area. While the BLM’s rhetoric surrounding the IVM Project is meant to mislead and confuse the public, the combined impact of IVM implementation, in the Penn Butte Timber Sale and many other timber sales to come, is dramatic and clear. If implemented, local communities would be negatively impacted, forests would be degraded, carbon would be released, wildlife would suffer, recreational opportunities would be diminished or destroyed and the public’s ability to participate in local public land management planning would be dramatically curtailed.

For the climate, for the wildlife, for our watersheds, and for the people of our region and the world, the mature forests of southwestern Oregon are best left standing. The BLM must cancel the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale, become part of the solution, safeguard our climate and protect our diverse, fire resistant, and carbon rich forest habitats!

Please donate to ANN as we work to oppose the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale. The health of our forests in southwestern Oregon depends on our work and your support. Donate Now!

Below is a description of units ANN has recently monitored in the Penn Butte Timber Sale above Williams, Oregon, as well as directions on how to get there, so you can access these units yourself to see the old trees BLM intends to log.

Marble Gulch & North Fork Mungers Creek Units

Unit 31-1

The large, old trees in this photograph have been identified as a group selection logging area in unit 31-1 of the Penn Butte Timber Sale and are proposed for removal. This includes trees up to an estimated 180 year or older and up to 36″ diameter.

Unit 31-1 is a large timber sale unit sprawling across a wide variety of habitats. In general, the stand consists of mature and late successional mixed conifer forest of Douglas fir, incense cedar, ponderosa pine, sugar pine, live oak, tan oak and madrone. Portions of the unit are located on Mule Gulch, a tributary of Marble Gulch, while other portions of the unit are located just over the ridge in the North Fork Mungers Creek watershed.

Most of the stand maintains a closed canopy, and scattered clumps or groupings of dominant overstory trees are found across the unit. Beneath these dominant, old-growth trees, grows a younger cohort, creating a secondary or layered canopy which shades the forest floor, suppresses understory growth and reduces the development of dense understory fuel beds, while also supporting important northern spotted owl habitat.

The unit is leave tree marked, meaning only the trees marked with yellow paint would be retained, and any tree left unmarked in this stand would be targeted for removal in the Penn Butte Timber Sale. The unit includes areas proposed for heavy commercial thinning, while other portions would be subjected to group selection logging, a form of staggered clearcut forestry.

Standing next to a 33″ diameter Douglas fir tree “unmarked” for removal in the Penn Butte Timber Sale.

In unit 31-1 we measured Douglas fir trees up to 35″ in diameter and likely over 180 years old proposed for removal. We also found group selection cuts marked that propose the removal of whole groves of mature trees between 24″ and 35″ in diameter. Contrary to the claims in the IVM Project EA, the Penn Butte Timber Sale would heavily fragment and degrade the Mungers LSR, increase fire risks, and reduce forest complexity.

Unit 31-1 can be accessed by walking up the gated Marble Gulch Road (39-5-5) and heading left at the first intersection on road 39-5-31.4. Look for bright flagging, unit boundary signs and yellow painted trees. The unit is flagged on the boundary. Head up into the forest and zigzag back and forth through the unit to see the old trees BLM intends to log.

Unit 31-2

An over 30″ diameter Douglas fir left unmarked for removal in Unit 31-2 on Marble Gulch above Williams, Oregon.

Unit 31-2 is located on Marble Gulch Road (BLM Road 39-5-5 and 39-5-31.3) below the Jones Marble Quarry. Long a landmark and hiking destination in the Williams area, residents frequently hike the closed road to the mine through the mature and late successional forests below. These beautiful old forests are the attraction for this hike and are well loved by local residents in the Applegate and Williams Valleys. Unfortunately, the BLM is targeting these spectacular forests for logging in the Penn Butte Timber Sale.

Much of unit 31-2 is located on south facing slopes, but maintains mature forest cover, consisting of Douglas fir, incense cedar, ponderosa pine and sugar pine. The stand also supports beautiful hardwoods, including madrone, live oak and tanoak trees. Relatively open spaced, the groves proposed for logging include many large, old trees and diverse forest habitats.

The unit has a leave tree or retention tree mark, meaning only those trees identified with yellow paint will be retained if logging occurs. During our visit we measured ponderosa pine trees up to 34″in diameter, Douglas fir trees up to 33″ in diameter and incense cedar over 24″ in diameter identified for removal.

Another over 30″ diameter Douglas fir left unmarked and targeted for logging in unit 31-2. Only a handful of trees identified with yellow paint would be retained if the Penn Butte Timber Sale is implemented.

Both unit 31-2 and most of unit 31-1 have been previously thinned in the Deer Willy Stewardship Project, which was touted as a “restoration” and fuel reduction project, but is now clearly being used as a “pre-commercial thin,” in which non-merchantable and marginally merchantable material was removed in preparation for the BLM’s timber-heavy Penn Butte Timber Sale. The 2010 Deer Willy Stewardship Project thinned the small trees, and now the BLM is going after the old trees in the same area.

Rather than working to restore forest habitats or minimize fire risks, the BLM is instead implementing the Penn Butte Timber Sale to produce logs for the timber industry at the expense of wildlife habitat, the health of our forests, and in a manner that maximizes rather than minimizes fire risks.

Unit 31-2 can be accessed by walking up the gated Marble Gulch Road (39-5-5) and heading right at the first intersection on road 39-5-31.3. Look for bright flagging, unit boundary signs and yellow painted trees to identify the proposed timber sale unit. A walk up road 39-5-31.3 to the Jones Marble Quarry offers hikers the ability to enjoy a relatively easy old forest hike near Williams, Oregon and the opportunity to view firsthand the logging proposed by BLM in the beautiful forests of Marble Gulch.

Unit 25-1

Large Douglas fir trees proposed for removal in a group selection cut in unit 25-1.

Unit 25-1 is located on a southeastern face high in the North Fork Mungers Creek watershed, just off Upper Powell Creek Road (BLM Road 38-5-15) and near the wide intersection with the gated BLM road 38-6-25.

The stand proposed for logging in unit 25-1 consists of largely closed canopy Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, sugar pine and madrone, with a significant mature, mid-successional forest component and scattered groupings of large, old trees.

As you can imagine, removing whole groves of large fire resistant trees is detrimental to the northern spotted owl and other species dependent on late successional forest habitat such as the Pacific fisher. In LSR forest designated specifically for the protection of late successional forest habitat, the large tree removal, group selection logging, and dramatic canopy reduction proposed in the IVM Project and the Penn Butte Timber Sale is both highly problematic and inconsistent with the goals and objectives of LSR designation.

Like other units we visited, unit 25-1 was previously thinned in the Deer Willy Stewardship Project, which focused on small diameter tree removal and largely non-merchantable, non-commercial fuel reduction treatments. According to the analysis for the Deer Willy Project, which was ultimately implemented by the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, the treatments were intended to restore habitat conditions and reduce fuel loading. To some extent these initial stewardship treatments may have met some of these objectives, yet the BLM is now proposing large tree removal, heavy industrial logging and significant canopy reduction in these same locations, using former “restoration” treatments as a “pre-commercial” thins in preparation for the Penn Butte Timber Sale and the removal of large, old, fire resistant trees.

Heavy commercial logging is counterproductive and inconsistent with the goals and objectives of the formerly implemented Deer Willy Stewardship Project. By logging large, old trees previously targeted for retention and “release,” previous stewardship efforts are being undermined and reversed.

A large Douglas fir proposed for removal in unit 25-1 of the Penn Butte Timber Sale.

Like the other units we have reviewed in the Penn Butte Timber Sale, unit 25-1 is leave tree or retention marked, meaning only trees marked with yellow paint would be retained if logging operations take place. If such logging was to occur in unit 25-1, many large, old trees would be removed and significant canopy fragmentation would occur, creating a loss of natural fire resistance and northern spotted owl habitat.

To access unit 25-1 drive Upper Powell Creek Road (Road 38-5-15) along beautiful Powell Creek, then switch back to the ridge. At the ridgeline, you will see a wide pullout at the intersection of gated roads 38-6-25 and 38-6-25.5. The area between Upper Powell Creek Road and road 38-6-25 is proposed for logging in the Penn Butte Timber Sale as unit 25-1.

Powell Creek Units

Unit 26-1

Only three trees marked with red paint would be retained in this portion of unit 26-1. All other trees in this stand would be removed if the Penn Butte Timber Sale is implemented.

Unit 26-1 is located on an east-facing slope at over 4,000′ on the flank of Mungers Butte near the headwaters of Powell Creek. Being higher in elevation than other timber sale units we have recently surveyed, unit 26-1 contains a more montane forest habitat dominated by Douglas fir and grand or white fir, along with an understory of chinquapin and Cascade Oregon grape.

Like other units, the stand is leave tree or retention marked, but unlike other units, crews utilized red paint to identify trees for retention. Again, these stands were lightly thinned in the Deer Willy Stewardship Project, which removed largely small diameter trees, along with some young hardwood trees and shrub species. These previous management efforts maintained canopy conditions and did not trigger an extensive understory shrub response and fuel increase.

The logging treatments proposed in the Penn Butte Timber Sale would reenter these stands with a more industrial commercial logging prescription, reducing canopy cover, breaking up naturally complex tree groupings, removing much larger, more mature trees, and encouraging the regeneration of dense, young, and highly flammable vegetation where logging occurs.

Located in both the officially designated Mungers Late Successional Reserve and the Mungers Butte Extensive Recreation Management Area, the unit would impact the scenic, recreational, and late successional forest values these areas were designated to protect.

Unit 26-1 is accessible by driving Upper Powell Creek Road (road 38-5-15) past unit 25-1 to the end of the pavement. Shortly after the gravel road begins, you will see bright flagging, unit boundary markers and trees marked with red paint. The unit extends out along the road as it runs up the ridge and then parallel to the slope.

The majority of the large trees in this photograph would be logged if the Penn Butte Timber Sale above Williams, Oregon is implemented

Help us stop the Penn Butte Timber Sale & the IVM Project!

Please support our on-the-ground timber sale monitoring efforts with a generous donation.

Satellite imagery shows logging increasing in the Williams area over time. This 2-minute timelapse video depicts the impacts to forests from logging from 1985-2020. Even more clearcuts have been logged since 2020.

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