Pickett West, the AMA & the Applegate Ridge Trail
|The east fork of Rocky Gulch supports spectacular fire-adapted, old-growth forest identified by local residents as a highlight of the Applegate Ridge Trail. BLM has identified the area for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale.|
The BLM’s Grants Pass Resource Area has proposed a massive timber sale sprawling across 200,000 acres in the lower Applegate River, the Illinois River near Selma, and the Rogue River area from Graves Creek to Galice. The BLM has named this timber sale Pickett West. The portion of the timber sale proposed in the Applegate Valley is located within the Applegate Adaptive Management Area (AMA). The AMA was designated in the Northwest Forest Plan to promote community collaboration, innovation and experimentation in land management projects. The goal of the AMA is to implement a collaborative process steeped in the local community. The AMA was intended to promote a collaborative, community-driven process of identifying goals, outcomes and objectives for land management projects in the Applegate Watershed.
At this time, the BLM has failed to respond to numerous requests from the Applegate Valley community encouraging collaboration in the Pickett West Timber Sale. We have asked the BLM to conduct land management planning through the framework of the AMA. The BLM’s silence and unwillingness to respond to the requests of various community members demonstrates a lack of commitment to the Applegate Valley community, to collaboration, and to the AMA and its stated objectives.
Despite the BLM’s lack of engagement, the Applegate Neighborhood Network, Klamath Forest Alliance and the Siskiyou Crest Blog have joined forces to support an initial survey of Pickett West timber sale units in the Applegate Valley. I recently visited large units at the headwaters of Rocky Gulch and Miners Creek, above Missouri Flat and North Applegate Road. This area has been proposed as a portion of the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART), a long-distance hiking trail connecting the towns of Grants Pass and Jacksonville, Oregon.
|West fork Rocky Gulch|
I began by traversing the headwaters of Rocky Gulch. The watershed is steep and as its name implies, very rocky. My route followed the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail into units proposed for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale. The unit is large and diverse, extending across the headwaters and reaching into the east and west forks of the stream.
The west fork of Rocky Gulch is steep, rugged and riddled in low outcrops, rock mulch and scree-like soils, supporting large fire-generated stands of live oak and madrone. The dense canopy of hardwoods is punctuated by groupings of large pine and fir.
In the 1930s the ridgeline extending from Grants Pass to Jacksonville, including Rocky Gulch, burned in a series of fast moving fires. These large fires have shaped the nature of vegetation in the Applegate Valley, creating a mosaic of forest, woodland, grassland and dense chaparral. The Rocky Gulch watershed also burned at low-severity in the 1987 Savage Creek Fire, reducing fuel and maintaining healthy stand conditions.
The east fork of Rocky Gulch is highly diverse and uniquely beautiful— it will be a highlight of the Applegate Ridge Trail. The area supports spectacular old-growth forest; however, it is also a large timber sale unit proposed by the BLM in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
|A beautiful mosaic of habitat: the rock outcrops and grasslands at the head of Rocky Gulch.|
Large rock outcrops line the headwaters of Rocky Gulch’s east fork. The outcrops rises to the ridge, broken by isles of brush, small grassy clearings, open-grown bigleaf maple, and large black oak. The habitat is diverse, dynamic and highly scenic. Views extend across the pastoral Applegate Valley, its rugged, jumbled foothills and the high peaks of the Siskiyou Crest.
Just below these outcrops lies an exceptional stand of old-growth Douglas fir. The stand is open and spacious, with large, bigleaf maple and ancient, wide-branching madrone. Massive and blackened fir trunks, underburned in the 1987 Savage Creek Fire, create a towering green canopy.
|Old-growth forest in the east fork of Rocky Gulch, underburned in the 1987 Savage Creek Fire.|
The massive old trees with their thick, corky bark, high canopies and wide spacing have grown through droughts and fires, and windstorms, and all forms of calamity. Through the adversity, the stand has developed all the characteristics of healthy old-growth forest, including: a multi-layered canopy, massive old conifers, snags, hardwoods, large downed trees, structural complexity, a legacy of natural disturbance and spatial heterogeneity.
The forest is naturally fire resilient and highly diverse. It provides Nesting, Roosting and Foraging (NRF) habitat for the Northern spotted owl and intact habitat for the Pacific fisher. It also provides a very enjoyable recreational experience to hikers on the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail. The value of this particular forest standing, is far greater than the value of the two-by-fours it would produce. The late-seral habitat in the upper forks of Rocky Gulch should be deferred from treatment in the Pickett West Timber Sale.
|The east fork of Rocky Gulch supports high quality late-seral habitat for species such as the Northern spotted owl and Pacific
I hiked the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail east, over a low saddle, through a dense plantation and into the Miners Creek watershed. The Applegate Ridge Trail will stay high on the ridge in the grassland, chaparral and oak woodland at the headwaters of Miners Creek. The Pickett West Timber Sale units are located below the trail in the forests of Miners Creek.
The proposed units in Miners Creek could be logged responsibly, to reduce fuels and provide ecological benefit if care is taken during thinning operations, and with community collaboration and input. Miners Creek includes numerous old plantation stands, planted at high density; they represent some of the most altered ecosystems on the landscape and the most dangerous fuel loads. The unnaturally homogeneous nature of these plantation stands could be broken up; removing some merchantable trees, reducing fuel loads and excessive stand density. Many nearby stands, although not clear-cut, have also been heavily impacted by previous high-grade selective logging. Many of these stands could also benefit from treatments aimed at retaining the stand’s largest trees, reducing fuels, maintaining biodiversity and building resilience.
|A dense plantation in Miners Creek that would benefit from thinning.|
The Applegate Neighborhood Network has proposed a community alternative for the AMA portions of the Pickett West Timber Sale. This community alternative would achieve the following goals: reduce fuel loads, encourage healthy, resilient forests, institute an upper diameter limit of 20″ DBH, maintain all Northern spotted owl habitat, prohibit new road construction, and retain adequate canopy cover.
The Pickett West planning process, done through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), gives us a unique opportunity to propose non-motorized hiking trails within the project area. For five years the Applegate Trails Association has been developing a plan for the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART), and Pickett West gives us the opportunity to push for approval of the western portion of the trail, or the West ART. Currently Applegate Trails Association is awaiting approval of the East ART, which has a completed Environmental Assessment (EA) with the Medford District BLM. Trail work could begin as early as February on the East ART. To help complete the trail from Jacksonville to Grants Pass, let’s keep the importance of non-motorized recreation at the forefront of the Pickett West project and show support for the West ART trail during the planning process. The ART Trail will serve the heart of the Applegate Valley once completed.
Please contact the Medford District BLM and ask them to:
- Implement a meaningful collaborative process with the Applegate Valley community in those portions of the planning area located within the Applegate AMA.
- Implement the Pickett West Community Alternative as proposed by ANN, including a 20″ upper diameter limit, maintain all Northern spotted owl habitat, prohibit new road construction and protect the wildland character of the Applegate Ridge Trail.
- Approve the West Applegate Ridge Trail, from Slagle Creek to Board Shanty Creek, in the Pickett West Decision Record.
- Defer the late-seral (old forest) portions of the Rocky Gulch watershed from commercial treatment in the Pickett West Timber Sale.