The Gap Fire: Abundant Post-Fire Landscapes and Destructive Post-Fire Logging
|The Gap Fire burned at characteristic fire severity in the subalpine forests adjacent to Condrey Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest. The area is renowned for its biodiversity and represents a vital connectivity corridor linking the major mountain ranges of the West Coast.|
The Klamath National Forest (KNF) has released a Draft Record of Decision for the ironically named “Horse Creek Community Protection and Forest Restoration Project.” The project is actually a clearcut, post-fire logging project cloaked in the newest euphemisms of “restoration” and “community protection.” Despite the misleading language, the real motivations become crystal clear when one actually visits the units proposed for clear-cut, post-fire logging.
The Gap Fire of 2016 burned from the banks of the Klamath River to the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain and Dry Lake Mountain. The fire burned fast and furious the first few days, burning with intensity as it ran down the Horse Creek canyon, destroying nine homes. Ironically, when the Klamath National Forest was supposed to be protecting the community of Horse Creek; however, they were instead working to minimize the number of acres burned and protecting the extensive private timberlands owned by Fruit Growers Supply Company and a handful of other industrial timber interests. The agency provided virtually no notification or home site protection to the community of Horse Creek. The evacuation of the community was chaotic and poorly implemented, creating a dangerous situation for firefighters and local residents alike. In the end, nine homes burned as the fire raced through the community.
|When the community of Horse Creek needed protection from the Gap Fire, the KNF failed to act in a timely and responsible manner. Instead, the agency worked to protect private timber interests and failed to responsibly evacuate or protect the homes of local residents. “Structural protection” was not provided to many of the communities defensible homes, leading to the loss of nine homes on August 28, 2016.|
Now, after the fact, the KNF has proposed a “community protection project” and is focused on yet another large-scale, post-fire logging project on the Klamath River. Many of the proposed units are located miles from any residence on the Siskiyou Crest. Fire behavior at this location, no matter how severe, will not affect the communities in the Klamath River Canyon.
Significant scientific evidence shows that post-fire logging, especially in old forests, has no positive effect on future fuel loading or fire severity; in fact, many studies have shown the opposite effect, that post-fire logging increases fuel loads with “activity slash” from logging operations, and removes large diameter material that will hold water, build soil, provide microclimate, shade and other important elements. The removal of these elements will increase future fire severity and impact forest regeneration patterns.
The KNF claims the project will be “restorative,” yet the Gap Fire burned at characteristic fire severity, especially in the old-growth, sub-alpine forests of the Siskiyou Crest. The project also proposes clear-cut, post-fire logging in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest, designated to promote old forest habitat, complex forest structure and the habitat elements necessary for late-seral species such as the Pacific fisher and the Northern spotted owl. The clearcut logging proposed by the Klamath National Forest will degrade habitat values for hundreds of years and harm the natural regenerative process taking place.
|Does this look like forest restoration? The Forest Service is claiming that clearcut, post-fire logging will “restore” forest communities following the Gap Fire. These denuded slopes were ruthlessly logged by the Fruit Growers Supply Company. The Forest Service hopes to log the Gap Fire, creating similarly devastating results. Is this what are beloved public lands should look like?|
The Gap Fire burned throughout the Horse Creek, Middle Creek and the Buckhorn Creek drainage in the Middle Klamath River Watershed. The streams are some of the last cold water refugia in the Middle Klamath Watershed, providing habitat for the imminently threatened coho salmon and steelhead. The project proposes extensive clear-cut logging and tractor yarding in vital habitat for these endangered fisheries. Sedimentation, stream temperatures, stream flows, peak flows and other measures of watershed health will be negatively affected, especially in headwater reaches near the Siskiyou Crest. Compounding these impacts is the extensive private land logging that has occurred in the region following the Beaver and Gap Fires, where private timber companies have cleared thousands of acres on the southern slope of the Siskiyou Crest.
|Private land post-fire logging conducted by the Fruit Growers Supply Company following the 2014 Beaver Fire, directly east of the Gap Fire, The cumulative impact of private and federal land logging following the Beaver Fire and the Gap Fire is creating extensive impacts to soils, fisheries, wildlife habitat, noxious weed spread, and the natural regeneration of forest habitats.|
Adding insult to injury, the KNF has proposed logging hundreds of acres of old-growth, fire-effected forest on the Siskiyou Crest near Condrey Mountain. Fire severity in the area was low to moderate with positive ecological effects. The Siskiyou Crest is one of the most important connectivity corridors in the Pacific Northwest. The corridor will become increasingly important for connectivity and dispersal as the effects of climate change become more pronounced.
The Siskiyou Crest is widely recognized for its biodiversity and habitat connectivity. It is the only range in the Pacific Northwest to link the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains and the high deserts of the Great Basin, its diversity is unparalleled, partly because of these habitat linkages. The proposed units are located adjacent to the Condrey Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area and the Pacific Crest Trail. The region contains significant biological, recreational and social value.
The Condrey Mountain area is also a significant “bottleneck” in the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest due to the abundance of private timberland on the southern slope and in the watersheds below in the Klamath River. The units proposed for post-fire logging and new road development in upper Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek threaten the vital connectivity of the region by logging the last intact, old-growth forests in these important watersheds.
|The high elevation forest adjacent to Condrey Mountain, burned with mixed severity fire effects. The intact forests are a “bottleneck” for connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest, which connects the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains. Clearcut logging in this connectivity corridor will have disproportionate impacts to connectivity across the West Coast. The high elevation connectivity corridor found on the Siskiyou Crest will become increasingly important as climate change forces species to migrate to more favorable habitats. Notice the low severity fire effects in this photograph. The Gap Fire burned through this area, but was far from catastrophic.|
I recently visited the last, intact, fire-effected forests in the Buckhorn Creek watershed. At the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek, above the tree plantations and fresh clear-cuts on private timber land, is an island of intact habitat directly below Dry Lake Mountain and Condrey Mountain on the Siskiyou Crest. The lush mountain meadows and ancient sub-alpine forests are an oasis, linking the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area with the Eastern Siskiyou Crest. Logging these forests will severely impact this now largely intact chain of connectivity with significant impacts to the biological qualities of the Siskiyou Crest and the connectivity of the entire Pacific Northwest.
I hiked the slopes of the Siskiyou Crest from Dry Lake Mountain through the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek and Middle Creek. I stopped at Buckhorn Spring, a primitive old camp surrounded by meadows, springs, and ancient forests of mountain hemlock and red fir. Many of these forests underburned in the Gap Fire and are now streaked in early-seral snag forest habitats, providing a location for regeneration, harboring age-class diversity and habitat complexity. Pioneering braken fern, purple lupine, and yellow groundsel have colonized the blackened forest soils, bring a stark, colorful and vibrant contrast to the landscape. Natural communities have been reinvigorated and restored by the fire, providing an abundance and vibrancy not experienced for many decades near Condrey Mountain.
|Lush mountain meadows near Buckhorn Spring will be heavily impacted by clearcut post-fire logging. Many of the meadows in the Buckhorn Spring area are surrounded in post-fire logging units, such as the meadow shown above. Unit 118.03, 118.04 and 118.05 surround this beautiful meadow.|
I made my way west to a large mountain meadow surrounded in post-fire logging units and new road development. I watched two large, black bear grazing in these lush, snow-fed meadows; protected by the isolation, and housed, fed, and sustained by the complexity of the post-fire mosaic. I watched these two large, but gentle giants graze together in quiet bliss, awakened from a long winter slumber and into this lush oasis. They do not know the nightmare that lies ahead and the damage that will be unleashed upon their home by the KNF. They cannot now imagine the destruction of their mountain home: the howl of the chainsaw, trees crashing, the churning of heavy machines, bulldozers, new roads and the stump fields that could, otherwise, if left to recover naturally, be berry fields, winter dens, grassy clearings to graze in, greenleaf manzanita fields filled with “little apples,” and downed logs full of tasty grubs.
As the bears grazed in peace, unaware of my presence and unaware of the decisions made far away by Forest Supervisor, Patricia Grantham at the Yreka Office of the KNF, they could not imagine the terror of losing their home to these machines and the devastation they will be bring. No less important, but perhaps more influential, is our own inability to imagine the horror of losing one’s home, of watching it destroyed, of being refugees, and if you survive and return, finding a landscape that you no longer recognize. Generations of black bears, Pacific fishers, spotted owls and anadromous fish across the Klamath National Forest have suffered this fate. I fear these docile giants will suffer the same fate. and watch their home be desecrated for corporate greed.
The disturbance of fire is natural and regenerative, it has sculpted these mountains for millennia. The disturbance of post-fire logging has no natural equivalent and it disrupts the regenerative process; unfortunately, post-fire logging is now sculpting the Klamath River creating novel patterns and sterilized, denuded landscapes.
|Fire is a natural process that benefits forest complexity, creates age class diversity, and has for millennia shaped the mosaic of the Siskiyou Mountains. Post-fire logging will degrade habitat values and connectivity on the Siskiyou Crest through clearcut, old growth logging. This photograph shows current conditions in unit 118.06.|
The beauty and abundance of this fire-effected landscape is written across the face of the mountains, in flower-filled meadows, regenerating snag fields and ancient forest habitats. The regeneration, the vibrancy and the seamless continuity in the face of natural disturbance is as clear as the water that pours from Buckhorn Spring.
For the bear, the fisher, the fish, the forests and for the connectivity of the Siskiyou Crest, please contact Forest Supervisor Patricia Grantham and ask that she publish a Final Record of Decision that does not include the Siskiyou Crest units at the headwaters of Buckhorn and Middle Creek.
|Fire severity in upper Buckhorn Creek and adjacent to the Siskiyou Crest was predominantly low to moderate severity, providing ecological benefit and restoring the natural process of wildfire to the forests of the Siskiyou Mountains. The KNF is proposing to negate the positive benefits of the Gap Fire, by logging off the biological legacy it has created. The Siskiyou Crest is not in need of “restoration” and was only positively effected by the Gap Fire.|
|The intact, high elevation forests and meadows around Buckhorn Spring are proposed for road building and heavily industrial logging by the KNF. The forest in the background of this photo would be clearcut by the agency, leading to simplified habitat, sedimentation and significant impacts to the natural regeneration process. Units 118.03, 118.04 and 118.06 surround this meadow and two new roads will be developed to access the ancient snag forest proposed for logging.|
|A new road is proposed to be built directly through this small snow melt pond in unit 118.06. The new road will significantly disrupt hydrology and degrade the “sponge” found at the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek. This “sponge” holds, stores and releases water late into the season for the benefit of fish and other aquatic life. Features such as this small pond, created when a now long decomposed tree fell on this site, created “pit and mound” micro-topography. The pond, the micro-topography and the ability of this site to hold, store and release water late in the season will be significantly impacted by the development of new roads and the removal of large, fire effected trees.|
|Unit 118.26 directly below Dry Lake Mountain and the Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area. The Condrey Mountain Blue Schist Geologic Area was designated to protect and provide research opportunities for those studying the complex geology of the region. Instead, the area is now being targeted for clearcut logging.|
|Unit 118.04 below Condrey Mountain at the headwaters of Buckhorn Creek. The area contains significant stands of intact, old growth forest. The fire burned at characteristic fire severity, creating a mosaic of old forest, mountain meadows, manzanita fields and snag forests. The habitat is highly diverse and productive for wildlife. The KNF is proposing to build new road into this unroaded landscape, to facilitate clearcut logging of all dead standing snags and live trees the agency claims will succumb to mortality. Currently diverse snag forest habitat will be transformed into stump fields and highly flammable tree plantations.|
|Post fire logging in the Beaver Creek watershed on Fruit Growers Supply Company land. The result of this logging has been far from “restorative” instead, the landscape has been denuded of both standing snags and live trees within the logging area, streams have been heavily impacted, soils significantly disturbed and thousands of acres have been transformed from post-fire landscapes to stump fields infested with noxious weeds. Invasive mullein, star thisle, bull thisle and in particular, cheat grass have invade the post fire landscape, turning thousands of acres of post fire logging areas into noxious weed fields.|
|The forest in the foreground, directly adjacent to the dry meadow shown in this photograph is identified as unit 118.12 and proposed for clearcut, old-growth logging by the Klamath National Forest (KNF). The forested slope in the background depicts low and moderate severity fire effects and burned in healthy, characteristic patterns. The KNF is proposing to log these intact, fire adapted forests to opportunistically produce timber for the industry. No other credible explanation has been provided by the KNF, the project is plain and simple, a timber grab in areas that would not otherwise be proposed for logging due to high ecological values.|