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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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Nedsbar Timber Sale: Buncom Roadless Area Units

Looking southeast across the Buncom Roadless Area to unit 14-30. The unit would be logged to 40% canopy cover. The unit boundaries are outlined in red in the photo above. The proposed new road is depicted in blue. One of the two new helicopter landings is located at the light blue triangle near the center of the photo. 

The Buncom Roadless Area is a small, rugged wildland on the ridgeline dividing the Upper Applegate and Little Applegate Valleys. Although small in size, the region dominates the skyline of the Little Applegate Valley from its confluence with the Applegate River to above Buncom and the Upper Applegate Valley up to Star Ranger Station. Cloaked in chaparral, oak woodland, stands of live oak and isolated conifer forests, the roadless area provides relatively undisturbed low elevation habitat, a highly scenic natural setting for many rural residential properties, and habitat connectivity between the Little and Upper Applegate Valleys. 

I recently hiked into the Buncom Roadless Area to review the tree removal mark in units 14-30 and 15-30 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale. 

Unit 14-30

The large Douglas fir trees in this photo are marked white for removal in logging operations. Trees up to 30″ diameter are marked in unit 14-30.

Unit 14-30 is located on the dark, north-facing slope of a small mountain I call “Silk Tassel Butte.” This small hump of a mountain extends off the lower end of Cinnabar Ridge just before it crashes down towards the confluence of the Upper and Little Applegate Valley. 

Unit 14-30 overlooks the lower end of the Little Applegate Valley, and even from the valley bottom, the forest stands out as an isolated late-seral stand of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. The forest is broken by vertical strips of oak woodland and chaparral. Some of the most extensive silk tassel (Garrya fremontii) stands in the region colonize the mountain’s south-facing slope, along with buckbrush, manzanita and white oak.

Over one-half mile of new road construction within the Buncom Roadless Area would be necessary to access unit 14-30. The BLM is proposing to build new road up from the Little Applegate Valley to a low saddle west of unit 14-30, then across the steep north face of the mountain. The new road would require a rather large footprint due to the steepness of terrain. Two new helicopter landings would also be created to facilitate commercial logging. 

Proposed units 14-30 and 15-30 in the Buncom Roadless Area. The blue and pink lines denote new road construction. The pink triangles identify the location of new helicopter and log landings. Areas in green cross-hatching would be helicopter logged, the remaining portion of unit 14-30 will be tractor yarded. The black line at the left margin of the map is Upper Applegate Road. The black lines at the top of the photo are roads in the Little Applegate Valley. Yellow areas are BLM land, green is Forest Service and white is private land.

The unit is proposed for a Selective Thinning-Douglas fir  prescription. The prescription proposes to maintain 40%-50% canopy cover following logging operations. The canopy cover targets in this unit are necessitating the removal of many large, fire-resistant Douglas fir trees.

Currently the stand is relatively open spaced and spacious with very little understory fuel. Fuel loading in the unit is minimal with the mature forest canopy suppressing understory growth. Directly adjacent to the unit is a small section of land previously logged by the BLM. These logged stands, adjacent to unit 14-30, have dense understory fuel and compromised forest canopies; the result has been a dramatic increase in flashy understory fuel and an increase in overstory mortailty. The prescription proposed for unit 14-30 would create similar results, increasing fire hazards in the area and removing large, fire-resistant trees.

The view looking south from the unit boundary into the proposed commercial logging unit. Notice the minimal understory fuels and lack of ladder fuels.

From the unit boundary looking north into stands that had previous commercial thinning by the BLM. Notice the increase in understory and ladder fuels leading into the canopy of the trees retained following logging operations. Aggressive canopy reduction in BLM commercial thinning units has increased fuel loads in Applegate Valley timber sales.

The western half of the unit, much of which is located in a small draw, is proposed for tractor yarding, meaning soil disturbance and compaction
will be significant. Noxious weeds will likely spread in the tractor
treads and the dragging of large logs through the stand will pierce through the soil, disturbing a large portion of the unit. The soil disturbance associated with tractor yarding has also been shown to increase reproduction of woody understory species, creating a dramatic increase in fuel loads. 

The draw in the western half of the unit is proposed to be tractor yarded, disturbing and damaging soils. The large Douglas fir trees marked with white paint are marked for removal.

The BLM has identified the unit as about half dispersal and half roosting and foraging habitat for the northern spotted owl. The removal of large, old trees and the heavy reduction in canopy cover will impact northern spotted owl habitat, likely downgrading or eliminating habitat conditions necessary for the owl. BLM stand data claims the stand is between 100-150 years old, yet many trees older than 150 years are present throughout the stand. Some of these trees are marked for removal. 

The eastern portion of the unit would be helicopter logged, requiring two new and large helicopter landings, one at the western edge of the stand and one directly at the center of the unit. Helicopter logging will require the removal of large wildlife snags within the unit to facilitate worker safety. Helicopter yarding will also impact wildlife and local residents with substantial noise disturbance during the operational period. 

Unit 14-30 is unroaded and wild, a fragment of late-seral forest surrounded by non-forest plant communities and young conifer stands. The unit represents the most fire-resilient landscape in the immediate vicinity, as well as the most important habitat for the northern spotted owl and thermal cover for local wildlife species. Building new road and logging this stand to 40%-50% canopy cover will impact the area’s unroaded character, reduce its resilience to natural disturbances (e.g. fire and insect infestation), downgrade northern spotted owl habitat conditions, reduce thermal cover for local ungulates, and increase fuel loads adjacent to rural homes in the Little Applegate Valley. Unit 14-30 should be canceled.

Unit 15-30

Seventy-one trees over 20″ in diameter are proposed to be removed from unit 15-30. The unit is a 17-acre, fire-resilient conifer stand surrounded by chaparral and oak woodland. The trees marked with white paint are proposed to be removed in BLM logging operations.

Unit 15-30 lies on the western face of Cinnabar Ridge, directly above the intersection of Eastside Road and Upper Applegate Road. The unit is located within the Buncom Roadless Area on a brushy west-facing slope of silk tassel, buckbrush, manzanita, and patches of white oak. The arid soils support nearly all “non-forest” plant communities in a diverse patchwork predicated by solar exposure, slope position, soils, and fire history. The area burned in 1987 and behaved much like a fire would be expected to given the droughty conditions and generally scrubby plant communities. 

Much of the chaparral burned at high severity, as it naturally does, and has regenerated into a vigorous community of stump-sprouting silk tassel and patches of chaparral that sprouted from the soil’s seed bank after the fire. The community is naturally resilient to fire; its strategy is to grow quickly following fire on poor sites, colonizing the space opened by high severity fire and limited by exposure. The chaparral community mingles with stands of white oak, some that burned off in the fire and are now sprouting into multi-stemmed trees, and stands where the fire dropped to the ground and left the oak canopy unscathed. 

The fire also dropped to the ground in Nedsbar Timber Sale unit 15-30, an isolated conifer habitat on the north slope of a low spur ridge. Surrounded by chaparral and a natural high severity fire regime, the stand appears to have sustained very little mortality in the 1987 fire — burning in the understory, clearing out small patches of brushy fuel and maintaining a canopy of large old trees. 

Open forest in unit 15-30.

A mixture of pine and fir colonize the upper portion of unit 15-30 in open, fire adapted groves. A few tree-form maple grow scattered among the conifer stands in an open and park-like setting. The stand is relatively open spaced, yet the canopy is closed enough to suppress understory growth and minimize understory fuel development. It has reached an equilibruim, where the stand can maintain minimal fuel loads for long periods of time. It is, by far, the most fire-resilient portion of the immediate landscape. 

Seventy-one fire resilient trees between 20″ and 26″ in diameter are marked for removal in unit 15-30. Nearly all these trees are in the top half of the 17-acre unit. The upper portion of unit 15-30 is a model for fire resiliency in the brushy foothills of the Applegate Valley. Unit 15-30 has survived recent fires and maintained  consistently low fuel loads. 

Currently, the upper portion of the stand does not need any fuel reduction and canopy removal will only increase fuel hazards and understory fuel loads. Canopy removal will increase sunlight to the forest floor and the dense brushy fuels surrounding the unit will move in from the edges, creating a contiguous and highly flammable layer of woody understory vegetation. 

Many large, fire-resistant trees are marked for removal in the upper portion of unit 15-30. Wildfire burned through this stand at low severity in 1987, maintaining a healthy fuel mosaic and the stand’s late-seral characteristics. The trees marked with white paint are marked for removal in the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

Canopy reduction in this stand will shift the fuel dynamics from equilibrium and fire resiliency, from an understory, low severity fire regime, to a chaparral ecology of high severity fire. The diversity of the Applegate Valley foothills is one of complex patch mosaics, abrupt edge effects, and a kaleidoscope of intertwined but distinctive plant communities. This mosaic can easily be converted to homogenous chaparral fuels, especially when fire resilient vegetation types are not maintained.  

The stand provides a model of healthy, fire-adapted forest conditions in the Applegate foothills. These conditions should be maintained on the landscape by deferring treatment of unit 15-30. The unit should be canceled from the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

More work ahead on Nedsbar: 
The Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) have joined forces to fight the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Please consider supporting our work. Donations can be made to the Klamath Forest Alliance Please support the campaign to stop Nedsbar