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The Wellington Butte Roadless Area: A Wilderness at Our Backdoor

A view down the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek into the Applegate Valley.

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area is one of the most wild, spectacular, and threatened landscapes in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. It is also perhaps the most accessible wildland in the Applegate Watershed, with immense conservation and recreational opportunities

The region contains a diverse mosaic of plant communities, including sweeping grasslands, dense chaparral, sunlit oak woodlands, intact conifer forests and beautiful, mixed-hardwood stands dominated by madrone.

A flush of annual lupine blooming at the headwaters of the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek.

Spring has arrived in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and the slopes are currently ablaze with the colors of spring, buzzing with busy bees, fluttering butterflies, pollinating flies and beetles. Song birds chirp and sing, happily foraging for insects and seeds on the steep mountain slopes and in the brushy chaparral. Deer graze on the fresh grasses and black bear have awakened from their winter semi-hibernation. Lizards dart across the rocky outcrops and snakes slither through the grasslands eating insects, voles, and mice. It is a time of abundance and beauty in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.

Spring wildflowers abound and fresh green oak leaves have emerged in the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek.

Although the scenery is pleasant and peaceful, the wildlife continue their seasonal patterns and wildflowers bloom as they have for millennia, the future of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area is uncertain. The wild landscape we know and love today could be lost forever.

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area was originally proposed for protection as a Land With Wilderness Characteristics (LWC) in the BLM’s 2016 Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP). This designation would have provided minimal, but important interim protections and highlighted the area’s wilderness qualities. 

Although the area met all the requirements for LWC designation and is one of the most well-known and well-loved wildlands in the Applegate Valley, the agency withdrew the area from consideration due to scattered stands of marketable timber among a vast mosaic of arid grassland, chaparral, oak woodland, mixed hardwood stands and dry, widely dispersed forest. The only real timber is located in the Deadhorse Fork of Balls Branch (a tributary of Humbug Creek) and Long Gulch, far from any roads, in deep canyons, riparian areas and north-facing slopes. 

The north-facing slopes and canyon bottom of the Deadhorse Fork is likely the largest concentration of uncut forest in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.

Despite significant public support for protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, the
BLM has instead responded by opening portions of the area to off-road
vehicle use, and is now proposing the massive Middle Applegate Timber Sale, in
and around the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.

The Middle Applegate Timber Sale is a large, landscape-scale timber sale proposed by the Medford District BLM. Although the BLM has not yet released an official proposal, the planning area extends across the Middle Applegate watershed from Forest Creek in the east, to Slagle Creek on the west. As proposed, the timber sale could sprawl across the mountains of the Applegate Valley from the town of Ruch, to beyond the town of Applegate. At the center of the planning area is the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and to date, BLM has refused to removed the area from consideration in the Middle Applegate Timber Sale. 

Beyond the large grasslands, on the north-facing slopes of Balls Branch and the Deadhorse Fork, is the largest concentration of forest in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. Residents of the Applegate Valley and conservationists across southern Oregon urge the BLM to withdraw the Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the Middle Applegate Timber Sale.

The social and ecologic cost of removing timber from this area is extremely high, while the quality of timber and the regenerative
capacity of the land in question is very low. It is abundantly clear that these wildlands and their minimal timber values are better suited for conservation than timber production, yet BLM pushes forward with plans to log some of the last intact landscapes in the Middle Applegate watershed.


 In early 2017 the Medford District BLM also approved a very controversial Categorical Exclusion (CE) — which means the public was “categorically” excluded from the decision making process — to provide defacto designation of 65 miles of previously unauthorized and illegally built off-road vehicle trails in the John’s Peak OHV Area, including the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. They also approved the utilization of public funds and public agency crews or contractors to maintain off-road vehicle trails that have never received formal approval, are creating significant environmental impacts and have never been subjected to the NEPA process or public review. Despite over two decades of significant controversy surrounding the John’s Peak OHV Area, the BLM made the decision without a public comment period or public review process. They simply did not want to hear what we had to say. 

The Medford District BLM is effectively encouraging illegal off-road vehicle trail creation and giving large tracks of land to off-road vehicle interests to utilize for their exclusive benefit, including the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. For decades, the BLM has turned a blind eye to unauthorized off-road vehicle activity and now they are codifying this unauthorized use and excluding the public from the process. The implications for the Wellington Butte Roadless Area are severe and eventually off-road vehicle trails could extend across the most remote portions of the region.

The spectacular wildflower fields of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area should be protected from off-road vehicle use.

If the BLM has their
way, the Wellington Butte Roadless Area will be lost forever — the wild character
replaced with logging roads, log landings, noxious weeds, stump fields
and erosive dirt bike tracks.

Fortunately, residents in the area and local environmental organizations have begun tracking the Middle Applegate Timber Sale and are asking the BLM to remove the entire Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the planning area. We ask that the BLM remove the Wellington Butte Roadless Area from the planning area due to significant public controversy, incredible biological values, highly important low-elevation wildlife habitat, and marginal timber values. 

We also ask that the BLM rescind their recent Categorical Exclusion to allow maintenance of unauthorized  OHV trails in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, and instead conduct Travel Management Planning as required in the 2016 RMP. 


Finally, Applegate Neighborhood Network, Klamath Forest Alliance and others in the conservation community are organizing a campaign to permanently protect the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. We believe the interim LWC designation should be extended to the entire 7,527 acre Roadless Area, creating the Wellington Butte Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. We also believe local advocates for the Wellington Butte Roadless Area should build a movement towards permanent Wilderness designation for the Applegate Foothills Wilderness, including its most threatened wildland: the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. 

Snowy or cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale) blooming on Balls Branch.

In all, nearly 50,000 acres of intact, roadless habitat exists in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. The wildlands are found scattered around the Applegate. They provide the scenic backdrop to our region; they provide incredible wildlife habitat and contain unique native plant communities, and they also provide highly important recreational opportunities in close proximity to nearby towns and communities. Additionally, the Wellington Butte Roadless Area will one day be traversed by the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail, providing highly accessible and highly scenic recreational opportunities for local hikers and equestrians.


We believe that the Applegate Foothills Wilderness should be protected in perpetuity. We also believe the protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area is the first step in this process. This uniquely accessible wildland, its scenic beauty and intact habitats are worth far more as they are. We will not let them become another BLM stumpfield riddled in off-road vehicle tracks. Please join us and advocate for the protection of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area!

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area should remain wild for generations to come.

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