In September of 2021, the Klamath National Forest (KNF) approved the Road 20 Project, which proposed to pave forest roads to the summit of Mt. Ashland and out to Grouse Gap Shelter, a rustic snow shelter built along the Pacific Crest Trail at the headwaters of Grouse Creek on the Siskiyou Crest. The KNF claimed the gravel Forest Service roads had historically been paved and approved the Road 20 Project with a Categorical Exclusion for “routine road maintenance and repair.”
However, this project was approved with absolutely no public notification, no public involvement, no public comment period and no public analysis of potential impacts or environmental concerns — it was also based on faulty information.
In response to the Road 20 Project, Applegate Neighborhood Network and our allies at Klamath Forest Alliance filed suit with local residents Luke Ruediger and former Ashland City Councilor, Eric Navickas as plaintiffs. Our lawsuit claimed, the roads south of Mt. Ashland had never been paved and could not be legally paved utilizing a Categorical Exclusion.
Following the filing of our lawsuit, the Klamath National Forest conducted additional research and analysis into the issue, and discovered what many of us all knew: Road 20 on the south side of Mt. Ashland had never been previously paved. Based on this information, the agency was forced to withdraw the project and halt all road paving activities.
As the highest summit on the Siskiyou Crest and in the Siskiyou Mountains, Mt. Ashland is a special place, but its unique character does not end there. The Mt. Ashland region is particularly diverse, even for the Siskiyou Mountains. It has also been designated by the Klamath National Forest as a Botanical Area to protect the area’s rare plant species, including the Mt. Ashland lupine (Lupinus aridus spp. ashlandensis), which is found only on Mt. Ashland and is one of the rarest plant species in the Pacific Northwest.
Additional rarities include the world’s largest population of Henderson’s horkelia (Horkelia hendersonii), a Siskiyou Crest endemic found in about 8 locations between Dry Lake Lookout and Mt. Ashland, and Jaynes Canyon buckwheat (Eriogonum diclinum), which is endemic to approximately 12 locations in the northern Klamath-Siskiyou region.
The last documented sighting of the endangered Franklin’s bumble bee in 2006 was on the southern slope of Mt. Ashland, adjacent to the proposed paving area in the Road 20 Project. The direct and indirect impacts of road paving would have degraded habitat conditions through road renovation work and the increased public use, the paving would have facilitated.
The Mt. Ashland area is already very accessible and recreational use of the area is very high, including non-motorized use of the roads proposed for paving in the Road 20 Project, which are popular for hiking, botanizing, butterfly watching, bird watching, mountain biking, jogging, dog walking and other uses. These uses would have essentially been eliminated on Road 20 if paving occurred and driving speeds were increased. The additional traffic, driving speeds and access would have also damaged the backcountry experience on the Pacific Crest Trail on the southern slope of Mt. Ashland and around the Grouse Gap Shelter.
We believe the withdrawal of the Road 20 Project is the best outcome for the Mt. Ashland area, the Mt. Ashland/Siskiyou Peak Botanical Area, rare plants that inhabit the region, the endangered Franklin’s bumble bee, and for the residents of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California who appreciate the area’s wild character, botanical diversity, scenic values and existing recreational experience.
We thank the Klamath National Forest for withdrawing the Road 20 Project and look forward to working with the agency to reallocate the road maintenance funds where they could be put to a much better use, with far less impact to the important recreational, botanical and biological values of the Siskiyou Crest region.
For more information, check out these great news stories on the Mt. Ashland road paving controversy.
KTVL Channel 10 News
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