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13,626 Acres of Post-Fire Logging Proposed in the Lower Chetco River Watershed: Comment Now!

The Chetco Bar Fire mosaic from an aerial flyover. Credit: InciWeb

This summer the Chetco Bar Fire burned through some of the wildest, most remote country remaining in the Siskiyou Mountains. The fire began with a lightning strike around June 24-25, but was not reported until July 12th, 2017 when a commercial airplane pilot noticed the fire in the depths of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The fire burned until the fall rains in mid to late October. The Chetco Bar Fire burned 191,197 acres, from the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness to the coastal mountains outside Brookings, Oregon.


The initial ignition was located at the heart of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, an extremely rugged and inaccessible knot of unusually diverse mountains and deep, rocky canyons of unusually clear mountain streams. At first, the fire burned slow and cool in the Chetco River canyon in a fortress of rocky ridgelines, deep forests, chaparral, and ghostly snag forests from the massive 2002 Biscuit Fire. The Chetco Bar Fire crept through the forest and brush, burning in a mosaic pattern, but never really building much momentum. On August 15, over a month after the fire began, it was still only 5,442 acres and was burning north-northeast, further into the wilderness.

The Chetco Bar Fire began deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in extremely remote, rugged terrain. Photo: InciWeb

On August 15, the fire changed course, burning west under strong, dry “Chetco Effect” winds, and suddenly the fire was raging. For the next week hot winds pushed down the Chetco River canyon bringing extreme fire behavior and rapid spread to the west, towards Brookings, Oregon. On August 22, the fire was 99,944 acres and growing. No longer entirely a wilderness fire, the fire was now burning on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, BLM land and private timberland.


When the smoke had cleared, large portions of the Chetco River watershed had burned. Among a region of spectacular rivers and streams, the Chetco River stands out for its incomparable beauty, intact fisheries and incredible water clarity. The vast majority of the Chetco River watershed is National Forest land (78%), and most of the remaining portions of the watershed are BLM and private timberland. Private timberlands are already experiencing massive, post-fire clearcutting in the fire area, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has now proposed a massive post-fire logging project in the Chetco Bar Fire area.

The Chetco River in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness upstream of Boulder Peak. This photo was taken in 2013 before the Chetco Bar Fire.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has proposed to log 13,626 acres in the lower Chetco River watershed on lands designated as “matrix” lands. The Forest Service is saying that since these lands were designated for timber production, the goal of the project is to maximize timber production in these fire-affected forests by proposing post-fire logging in all stands subjected to 50%-100% canopy loss in the Chetco Bar Fire. The area is being viewed as a sacrifice zone, where timber production overrides all other values, including the unbelievable water quality and fisheries. 

The Forest Service has proposed units on the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary near Quail Prairie Lookout, on the South Fork of the Chetco River, and in the Mineral Hill Fork. The agency is proposing to log all dead and “dying” trees, including live, green trees that survived the fire but are predicted to die by Forest Service timber markers. Timber markers are often wrong when guessing if live trees will die after a fire, but one thing is for certain: these green trees will die, if we let the Forest Service log them.

The areas in yellow are proposed post-fire logging units in the Chetco
and Pistol River watersheds. The Kalmiopsis Wilderness is the green
swath to the east of the proposed logging units. Notice the significant
area proposed for logging near Quail Prairie Lookout and adjacent to
four miles of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary.

The Chetco River could also fill with sediment from clearcuts and new logging roads on slopes that can receive up to 160 inches of rain per year. The Chetco River is a fire-adapted landscape, with some of the most important salmon runs on the West Coast. The Chetco River fisheries drive the economy and the quality of life in the Brookings area and on the South Coast. Post-fire logging on the scale proposed will threaten the water quality and the wild beauty of the Chetco River, a destination salmon stream.

Post-fire logging and artificial reforestation, as proposed in the Chetco Bar Post-Fire Logging Project, has been shown to increase fuel loads and future fire severity, while impacting natural forest regeneration, damaging soils, increasing erosion and drastically reducing habitat values. 

The Chetco River in the western Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

Although the project is a boom for the timber industry it provides no benefit to the public interest. This project will leave a legacy of homogenization and industrialization in some of the most diverse and interesting forests in the world, and degrade some of the most import salmon habitat on the West Coast. The Chetco River is a incredible asset to our region, it is truly a river of national importance and deserves far better.


Please take a few minutes to email the Forest Service during their “scoping,” or initial phase of this massive project, to help steer them in a more ecological direction.


Public Comment Talking Points: 

  • Cancel the project and consider an approach that is focused on the protection of communities and residences in future fires.
  • The project currently proposes to maximize timber production and create highly flammable tree plantation stands. Fuel loads and fire risks will be heightened in the future by encouraging dense, even-aged vegetation. 
  • Cancel artificial regeneration (i.e. tree planting) in
    order to avoid the development of plantation stands and the associated
    increased fuel loads. 
  • The project currently does not propose any post-fire
    logging in LSR forest, Inventoried Roadless Area or Key Watersheds. Do
    not consider any of these land management designations for post-fire
    logging in the Record of Decision for this project.
     
  • Do not log in Riparian Reserves. The large wood deposited in streams from fire-killed snags is very important for long-term stability, water quality, water quantity and habitat values. 
  • Do not log in “geologic” Riparian Reserves or on unstable, highly erodible soils.
  • Do not build any new logging roads, either so-called “temporary roads,” or permanent roads.
  • Cancel all units near Quail Prairie Lookout and within one mile of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness boundary in order to protect Wilderness values.
  • Cancel all units along the Quail Prairie Lookout Trail (Trail 1102). 
  • Cancel all units near Red Mountain Prairie and at the headwaters of Red Mountain Creek.  
  • Cancel units in the Mineral Hill Fork, the watershed is steep and highly unstable.
  • Maintain large patches of unlogged snag forest, even in Matrix lands, for habitat and stand complexity. 
For more information on the Chetco Bar Fire: 

    Comment Deadline: January 31, 2018

    To comment on the project:


    Email:
    jberner@fs.fed.us
    or
    comments-pacificnorthwest-siskiyou-goldbeach@fs.fed.us


    Mail:
    Jessie Berner, Chetco Fire Salvage Coordinator
    Gold Beach Ranger District
    29279 Ellensburg Ave.
    Gold Beach, OR 97444

    Large swaths of land in the Chetco River watershed is already being clearcut by the private timber industry. The cumulative impact of federal land logging and private land logging on the Chetco River will be significant. Credit: Heidi Martin

    Comment

    • I trust the USFS to make the best decision here to log the areas with fire killed trees in forest production lands. Please be careful and mind all the federal logging rules. Be especially careful around steep slopes and watershed and riparian areas and try not to make new roads.

    Comments are closed.

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