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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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Nedsbar Timber Sale: Commercial logging unit 30-20 and Fuel Reduction unit F-30

Some of the most beautiful oak woodland in the Applegate Valley is located in fuel reduction unit F-30 of the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

On a gentle, east-facing slope, directly above the farms and pasture land at the confluence of Yale Creek and the Little Applegate River, is a beautiful series of dry meadows surrounded by massive, wide-branching white oak. This isolated oak habitat is one of the most intact oak woodlands in the Applegate Valley, including many old-growth oak trees. The stand supports a mixture of stand structures and types, including oak woodland, oak savanna, and closed oak forest. In many cases, these three major stand types are scattered about in a random mosaic among small thickets of buckbrush or manzanita, open-grown pine, and broad, grassy meadows. 

This magical piece of the Applegate Valley foothills is also identified as fuel reduction unit F-30 in the Nedsbar Timber Sale; in fact, it is the largest unit proposed in the timber sale, despite being located within the proposed Dakubetede Primitive Back-Country Area.

Big, old white oak (Quercus garryana) in unit F-30.

Historically, BLM fuel reduction treatments have degraded oak woodland and chaparral sites in the Applegate Valley, creating a novel ecosystem and spreading noxious weeds. Fuel reduction treatments in chaparral and oak woodland in the Applegate Valley have been touted as restoration projects that will increase ecosystem resilience and invigorate understory plant communities, most notably native bunchgrass species. In reality, the opposite has been true; non-native annual grasses have been found to colonize the freshly disturbed soils and open conditions, putting native herbaceous plants and grasses at risk.

Oak woodland heavily thinned and invaded by non-native annual grasses, mullein and star thistle following BLM fuel reduction treatments. This area in the Lick Gulch watershed was once a mostly closed-canopied oak woodland known for its intact native plant communities. The site was heavily degraded, not restored as the BLM often claims.

In general, native grasses in the interior valleys of southwest Oregon are found in the dappled shade of oak woodland canopies. Sites that are more open, such as oak prairie, oak savanna, and grasslands have been degraded by a variety of impacts and transformed into weedy habitats overrun with non-native annual grasses such as cheat grass and medusa head. 

The transition to non-native annual grass dominance can be associated with the excessive removal of oak canopy in woodland stands. Many non-native species are simply more competitive in these open habitat types. By aggressively cutting woodland stands and converting these historic oak woodlands to more savanna form, the BLM has impacted habitat values, facilitated the spread of noxious weeds and degraded oak woodland communities unique to the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon.

This photo depicts V-shaped oak woodland structure in unit F-30 including legacy oak trees. The structure of large old trees can provide insight into the stand’s historic structure. 

The majority of oak habitat in the foothills of the Applegate Valley  has been shown to have been more adapted to woodland form and structure. Legacy oaks in the area support v-shaped canopies rather than the round, open-grown crowns of savanna-form trees. In many cases, the growth rates of oak trees in the Applegate Valley are uniquely slow, with old-growth trees taking on a relatively small stature with stout and stocky branching patterns. 

The most
important influences on stand structure in the foothills of the
Applegate Valley include soil conditions, harsh exposure and climatic
The area’s extremely slow growth rate means that, in many cases, the structure and general functionality of oak communities have changed very little since the advent of fire suppression. 

Many old “legacy” oak trees have been removed in past fuel reduction treatments. For example, the Upper Applegate Road Project (UAR) implemented by the Forest Service, was documented to have cut a surprising number of small diameter, yet very old trees.

If unit F-30 is subjected to the same overly-simplified prescriptions, habitat values will be degraded in one of the most intact oak woodlands in the Applegate Valley.

The Nedsbar Community Alternative has proposed a complex treatment of fuel reduction and restoration in unit F-30 involving judicious thinning and prescribed fire. This prescription calls for six separate treatment types to address the needs of the site’s numerous plant communities and stand structures. 

Follow this link to access numerous interesting scientific papers about oak and chaparral management in the Applegate Valley and southwestern Oregon.

Unit 30-20

The two large Douglas fir trees marked in white are proposed for removal in the Nedsbar Timber Sale

Embedded within the oak woodlands, tall pines and young fir stands of fuel reduction unit F-30, is a small stand of mid- to late-seral forest identified by the BLM as commercial logging unit 30-20. This unit is the only stand of mid- to late-seral forest in the area, providing an important, relatively undisturbed island of complex, old forest. Unit 30-20 is proposed for a Douglas fir thinning treatment to 40% canopy cover.

The unit provides important thermal cover for wildlife due to its fairly closed canopy, yet open understory condition. This thermal cover, provided by a canopy of large, old trees, creates an important piece of the area’s winter range habitat for black tailed deer and other wildlife species. 

The unit is also identified by the BLM as roosting and foraging habitat for the northern spotted owl; however, the unit’s habitat rating will be downgraded to the lowest level of dispersal, by reducing canopy cover to 40%. In other words, habitat that was sufficient to act as the bedroom and kitchen for the the spotted owl, will be downgraded to be only sufficient as an area within which the spotted owl can freely move between connected habitat, but not good enough to be the bedroom or kitchen anymore.

A large, fire-resistant tree proposed for removal.

According to the BLM, portions of the stand are documented to be between 150-200 year old. Last winter, while working on the Nedsbar Community Alternative, I bored a few trees in the stand — one a 26″ diameter fir that was 212 years old, and a 21″ fir that was 170 years old. The stand is a good example of the slow growth rates on dry sites in Little Applegate and the potential for relatively small diameter trees to be quite old. This is of concern when implementing commercial thinning treatments and a reasonable diameter limit should be instituted to protect old-growth, yet relatively small diameter trees.The Nedsbar Community Alternative proposes a 20″ diameter limit across the entire timber sale. The BLM is refusing to institute a diameter limit in their “proposed action.”

A large, old-growth snag in unit 30-20.

At the eastern end of the unit groupings of large madrone grow among fir, pine and a few scattered old-growth snags. These hardwood groupings and important wildlife snags are likely to be impacted by tree felling and cable yarding operations. This impact has become a severe problem in cable yarding units in the Applegate Valley. Hardwoods and large diameter snags are routinely removed in commercial logging units due to mechanical damage and tree felling to facilitate safe and/or efficient timber felling operations and cable yarding corridors. 

Although the stand’s largest trees would be retained in unit 30-20, the stand’s late successional character and resilience to fire would be severely set back.  Groupings of large dominant trees are marked for removal throughout the stand. These trees, in the 20-24″ diameter class, could easily be old-growth in this slow growing, droughty stand. Large snags will likely be felled and magnificent old hardwoods badly damaged in logging operations. 

Unit 30-20 is “leave tree” marked, meaning the yellow marked trees will be retained in logging treatments. The three large trees adjacent will all be logged in the proposed Nedsbar Timber Sale.

The stand in unit 30-20 is currently relatively open and supports only scattered patches of dense understory fuel. Commercial logging to 40% canopy cover will only increase fuel concerns in the long term, by opening the site up to harsh sun, drying winds, and the associated build up of dense understory fuels. These impacts are well documented across the Applegate Valley in BLM logging treatments making our forests less fire resilient. 

Unit 30-20 was deferred from commercial treatment in the Nedsbar Community
Alternative, a community and conservation-based proposal provided to the BLM by the
local Little and Upper Applegate Valley communities. Instead, the Nedsbar Community Alternative proposed treating unit 30-20 for fuel reduction, along with the adjacent fuel reduction unit F-30. The proposal would treat young understory fuels while maintaining late-seral characteristics.  The Nesbar
Community Alternative is an innovative and collaborative forest
restoration project providing an alternative to the BLM’s timber heavy
proposal (Alternative 4). Just as the BLM’s Alternative 4 proposal should be opposed, the Nedsbar Community Alternative should be supported.

Logging unit 30-20 will impact the area’s wildlife and wildlands, while increasing fuels hazards adjacent to residential properties in the Little Applegate Valley. Unit 30-20 should be canceled from the Nedsbar Timber Sale. 

A map of unit 30-20 and F-30 at the confluence of the Little Applegate River and Yale Creek.