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The Bear Country Timber Sale: Old Forest Logging on the Wild and Scenic Salmon River

The Salmon River watershed is one of the most intact and remote locations in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Known for its beautiful and exceptionally rugged river canyon, the area also contains some of the least impacted wilderness landscapes in the region. Many of the streams flowing into the clear, blue pools of the Salmon River drain the high country of the Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Trinity Alps Wilderness and the Russian Wilderness, along with numerous roadless areas. Unfortunately, the Salmon River is also being targeted by the Klamath National Forest for commercial logging in late successional forest habitat above Forks of Salmon, on both the North and South Fork Salmon River. Recently, the agency proposed the Bear Country Timber Sale on the slopes of Blue Ridge, in old forests along the Wild and Scenic river corridor and in adjacent tributary watersheds.

Although portions of the project are commendable and appear focused on community fire safety, ingress/egress concerns and non-commercial thinning in the vast plantations above Forks of Salmon, other portions of the project propose commercial logging in some of the last fire resilient, late successional forests in the river canyon. These logging units will degrade forest habitats, reduce fire resilience and community fire safety, impact scenic values in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor and negatively affect habitat important for the Northern spotted owl, the Pacific fisher and a wide variety of other wildlife species. In fact, according to the Klamath National Forests 2019 Monitoring Report, only three Northern spotted owls were detected in a survey of 33 historic owl sites across the Scott/Salmon Ranger District, and all three occupied owl sites were located within the Bear Country Timber Sale.

Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River
The beautiful blue waters of the South Fork Salmon River.

I recently visited the Salmon River watershed to monitor the Bear Country Timber Sale and what I found was alarming. According to the Forest Service’s “Scoping Summary,” the project proposes 3,715 acres of commercial logging in natural stands, 5 miles of new road construction and 13 miles of temporary road reconstruction. Based on my recent survey of timber sale units, many of these “natural stands” contain important wildlife habitats and fire resilient, late successional forests that will be negatively impacted by the logging proposed.

These late successional forests exist within a matrix of early seral and “non-forest” habitat produced by both historic and contemporary fire, soil conditions, complex topographic features, steep environmental gradients, slope position and exposure. Located within a jumble of oak woodland, mixed hardwood forests, chaparral, and rock outcrops, these late successional conifer forests are the most fire resistant portions of the area and provide climate refugia in the otherwise hot, dry river canyon. Species such as the Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher are dependent on these habitats for nesting, roosting and denning. Deer, elk, black bear and other species use these habitats for thermal regulation and cover. Del Norte salamanders live in the mossy talus slopes, and ringtail cats come out of the rock outcrops and forage in the forest each evening, while pileated woodpeckers drum in the sun bleached snags and live in the protection of forest canopy.

Bear Country Timber Sale unit
Unit 34 in the Bear Country Timber Sale on the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River.

At Klamath Forest Alliance, we believe tying old forest logging to community wildfire safety is counterproductive, irresponsible, disingenuous and outright dangerous. We oppose the old forest logging proposed in the Bear Country Timber Sale and can only support those portions of the project that actually promote community fire safety, maintain important wildlife habitat, and support fire resilient forest conditions. We also believe that the local communities and the incredible natural values of the Salmon River watershed deserve far better from our public land managers, who are threatening both biological and community values with the logging proposed in the Bear Country Timber Sale.

The Bear Country Project should be refocused on community fire safety, ingress and egress routes, plantation thinning, and prescribed fire near the communities of the Salmon River. At the same time, commercial logging units in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor and in Late Successional Reserve forest should be immediately canceled.

South Fork Salmon River Units:

South Fork Salmon River
The South Fork Salmon River at the mouth of Matthews Creek and at Matthews Creek Campground.

The South Fork Salmon River is one of the wildest and most beautiful streams in our region. Flowing for miles through steep mountains and a stark, rocky, river canyon, the drainage is located in the rainshadow of the Salmon Divide and the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The watershed contains a complex mixture of rugged rock outcrops, serpentine soils, oak woodlands, dry mixed conifer forests, chaparral and some of the northernmost stands of gray pine. Unfortunately, many of the dry mixed conifer forests in the area are targeted for logging in the Bear Country Timber Sale.

Matthews Creek Units

Matthews Creek is a small tributary of the South Fork Salmon River below Cecilville, California. The stream is also located within a large Late Successional Reserve designated to protect old forest habitat for the Northern spotted owl. I recently monitored numerous timber sale units in the Matthews Creek drainage and many of  these units contained significant late successional forest habitat.

Unit 80

Unit 80 Bear Country Timber Sale
Old-growth forest in unit 80 of the Bear Country Timber Sale on lower Matthews Creek.

Unit 80 is located on lower Matthews Creek just above Matthews Creek Campground. The stand consists of mostly dry Douglas fir with a few scattered ponderosa and sugar pine trees. The area contains significant old forest habitat with large diameter, fire resistant trees, significant stand complexity, large downed wood and old standing snags.  The canopy layer is heavily dominated by groupings of old-growth Douglas fir, while understory species include live oak, madrone, poison oak and hazel.

Dominant Douglas fir trees range from 3′ to 5′ diameter and existing stand conditions create important nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl and denning habitat for the Pacific fisher. In fact, the Forest Service has identified high quality Northern spotted owl habitat, known as Recovery Act-32 (RA-32) habitat in the northern portion of the unit. Although this habitat will not be directly impacted, additional nesting, roosting and foraging habitat surrounding these high quality spotted owl habitats would be logged, removing important habitat features and downgrading habitat values.

The Klamath National Forest has proposed treating this unit with an “Improve Late Seral Habitat” prescription, and as nice as that sounds, it translates into relatively heavy commercial logging, large tree removal and significant canopy reduction. The prescription also calls for creating an undisclosed number of “openings” in the currently closed forest canopy, but the size of these openings is not currently identified in agency Scoping documents. No diameter limit has been identified to protect large, old trees and canopy cover would be heavily degraded if the proposed logging occurs.

Not only would late successional habitat characteristics be removed, impacting Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher habitat, but the canopy and large tree removal would also trigger an aggressive understory shrub response, replacing large, fire resistant trees with dense, young shrubs, hardwoods and conifer reproduction. This highly flammable, low-statured vegetation is both less resistant to wildfire and more likely to contribute to high severity fire effects in future fire events.

We recommend that unit 80 be canceled. It contains important habitat characteristics and is among the most fire resistant habitats in this portion of the Salmon River canyon.

Unit 139 & 140

These units are located just beyond unit 80 on lower Matthews Creek. They also contain significant mid to late successional forest habitat, with groupings of old-growth trees. Identified as an “Improve Late Seral Habitat” unit, ironically habitat conditions for species requiring late successional habitat will be downgraded, removed or degraded if  the proposed logging occurs. Current canopy conditions sustain cool, moist microclimates in an otherwise hot, dry river canyon and is also suppressing dense woody vegetation that would otherwise colonize a more open forest canopy.

Neither unit 80, or units 139 and 140 will benefit from the proposed silvicultural treatments and should be canceled.

Unit 53

Unit 53 straddles the ridgeline dividing the two major forks of Matthews Creek and supports late successional habitat important for species like the Northern spotted owl and Pacific fisher. The stand is also a dry Douglas fir forest within a mosaic of oak woodland, live oak groves, rock outcrops and chaparral. Mature, fire resistant stands of closed canopy forest, like those in unit 53, provide important thermal cover, landscape heterogeneity, and vegetative diversity.

Unit 53 should be canceled, and instead, emphasis in the Bear Country Project should be further placed on both community fire safety and the rehabilitation of heavily logged, plantation stands.

Unit 50

Unit 50 Bear Country Timber Sale
Unit 50 was marked for tree retention, meaning only those trees marked with orange paint would be retained in the proposed logging operations. Both large, unmarked trees in the foreground of this photo would be removed if the Bear Country Timber Sale is implemented.

Unit 50 is located at the headwaters of Matthews Creek in relatively productive mixed conifer forest. The stand contains mature, old trees up over 4′ diameter and mid to late seral stands of closed canopy forest. The stand was burned at low severity during the 1987 fires and maintains significant natural fire resistance. It also supports nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl, and just below the commercial unit, the Forest Service has identified high quality Northern spotted owl habitat (RA-32 Habitat).

When I visited this unit, a portion of it was marked for commercial tree removal. Based on the mark I saw, many large, old trees would be removed in this unit, Northern spotted owl habitat values would be downgraded, fire risks would increase and currently cool, moist forest refugia would be converted into a more hot, dry and windy condition.

Unit 50 and the other old forest units in the Matthews Creek drainage are important Northern spotted owl habitat and should be canceled.

Unit 197

Unit 197 Bear Country Timber Sale
A heavy mark in unit 197 proposes to leave only a single large tree at the very center of this photo and would remove the remainder of this old forest grouping.

Unit 197 is also located at the headwaters of Matthews Creek and within a large Late Successional Reserve intended to protect old forest habitat. It also borders a large block of high quality (RA-32) habitat for the Northern spotted owl. The unit contains mid to late successional forest, including large, old trees and closed canopy conditions that are actively suppressing understory growth with overstory shading.  Most of the unit appears to be nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl and contributes to the overall habitat value of the Matthews Creek watershed.

Unit 197 has been marked by the Forest Service for tree removal and the current mark proposes large, fire resistant tree removal and significant canopy reduction, degrading Northern spotted owl habitat and decreasing fire resistance. Unit 197 and other mature forests targeted for logging in Late Successional Reserve habitat should be canceled.

Matthews Campground Unit

Known for its spectacular beauty, deep swimming holes, rugged terrain and dramatic canyon scenery, the Matthews Campground is not only one of the more scenic locations in the Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River canyon, it also a popular campground and day use area.

The forests directly above the Matthews Creek Campground have been proposed for logging in the Bear Country Timber Sale, potentially damaging the scenic and recreational values of the area and diminishing habitat values.

Unit 81

Unit 81 Bear Country Timber Sale
Unit 81 of the Bear Country Timber Sale supports beautiful, fire resistant groves of Douglas fir directly above Matthews Creek Campground.

Old-growth mixed conifer forest dominated by Douglas fir grows on the steep north-facing slopes above the Matthews Creek Campground. This forest has been identified as unit 81 in the Bear Country Timber Sale, and although the prescriptions call for improving late successional habitat conditions, the level of canopy reduction and large tree removal proposed will have the opposite affect.

Extending from the Salmon River canyon to the rugged ridgeline above, this unit contains significant late successional conifer forest and maintains natural fire resistance. The proposed logging would also impact the spring that provides water to the the Matthews Creek Campground. Logging is proposed in the watershed surrounding the camp’s water source potentially impacting both water quality and quantity.

Unit 81 will not benefit from the logging prescriptions proposed; fire resistance and habitat values would be diminished and the scenic qualities of the Matthews Campground and Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River would be heavily impacted.

Unit 81 should be canceled along with all other old forest logging units in the Bear Country Timber Sale.

Butcher Gulch Units

 Bear Country Timber Sale
A view down Butcher Gulch to the South Fork Salmon River. The heavily forested ridgeline at the center of this photo is proposed for logging in the Bear Country Timber Sale.

Butcher Gulch lies just above Matthews Creek in the Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River canyon. The watershed contains a diverse mixture of south and west facing oak woodland, live oak groves, dry mixed conifer forest and chaparral. On the less harsh north-facing slopes the watershed contains spectacular low elevation, old growth forest. Large portions of the watershed are proposed for logging, including both the lush old forests and rugged woodlands.

The units proposed for logging in Butcher Gulch are located at the heart of the most scenic portion of the Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River, at the edge of the Trinity Alps Wilderness, adjacent to the Gray Pine Botanical Area, and in a designated Late Successional Reserve forest meant to protect Northern spotted owl habitat. Unfortunately, the Bear Country Timber Sale will degrade these areas by impacting biological values, botanical values, Northern spotted owl habitats and scenic qualities.

Units 56, 125 & 138

Bear Country Timber Sale
Old forest proposed for logging on the northern slope of Butcher Gulch.

Units 56, 125 and 138 contain old, complex, fire resistant, forests, important wildlife habitats and climate refugia in the sun-baked South Fork Salmon River canyon. Much of the area contains unproductive serpentine soils, rocky substrates, and harsh soil conditions more conducive to oak woodland, live oak, chaparral and unique habitats containing the northernmost stands of gray pine. Yet, Butcher Gulch’s north-facing slopes provide cool, moist habitat refugia, interior forest, thermal cover, and highly fire resistant old-growth forests.

Designated as Late Successional Reserve forests, these old-growth stands contain highly complex stand conditions, layered canopies, large downed wood, spectacular standing snags and living trees between 3′ and 6′ in diameter. These north facing forests also provide nesting, roosting and foraging habitat, connectivity between suitable habitats and important dispersal corridors for the Northern spotted owl and the Pacific fisher. In fact, the Forest Service has identified a large block of high quality Northern spotted owl habitat (RA-32 Habitat) at the center of these proposed logging units and it is our contention that additional, currently unidentified RA-32 habitat exists within this forested corridor.  Maintaining and retaining all complex forest for Northern spotted owl habitat and connectivity is consistent with Late Successional Reserve management; whereas, the proposed logging will only degrade these important habitats and the value of this Late Successional Reserve in long-term owl recovery.

Units 56, 125 and 138 should be canceled to maintain the area’s unique habitat values and scenic qualities.

North Fork Salmon River Units

Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River
The Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River from above Red Banks Campground. The forested slopes in the distance are proposed for logging in the Bear Country Timber Sale.

The North Fork Salmon River cuts through steep mountain canyons, bedrock gorges and broad gravel bars as it flows from Sawyers Bar to Forks of Salmon. The canyon contains a mixture of old forest, live oak woodland, deciduous oak groves, sweeping slopes of chaparral and early seral habitat regenerating from the numerous large wildfires that have burned through the area in recent years. Like the rest of the Salmon River, the North Fork pours through extremely rocky, rugged terrain, past river washed boulders and into deep blue pools. Set between the Marble Mountains Wilderness  and Russian Wilderness Area, the North Fork is one of the most spectacular streams in California’s Wild and Scenic River system. Unfortunately, the Klamath National Forest has proposed significant old forest logging in the heart of the Wild and Scenic River corridor.

Units 34, 54, 108 and 109

This cluster of units is located at the heart of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River, in the Heiney and Jones Gulch watersheds. Located across from the Red Banks Campground, the area contains important scenic and recreational qualities that will be degraded by commercial logging.

Large portions of these units are also old-growth or late successional forest habitats. Located on the north-facing slope of Blue Ridge, the area supports relatively productive forests of Douglas fir, sugar pine, live oak, bigleaf maple and madrone. Large, fire resistant trees between 3′ and 6′ diameter can be found in groupings or fire generated clumps scattered across the slope, while mature hardwoods fill in the canopy gaps. The forest is structurally complex and supports important nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat. Although not identified as such by the Forest Service, we believe portions of the stand create high quality, RA-32 habitat for the Northern spotted owl.

Unit 34 Bear Country Timber Sale
Old, fire resistant forest in unit 34 on Jones Gulch.

Unit 34 was identified in initial Forest Service maps for an “Improve Late Seral Habitat” prescription, but the removal of large trees, the reduction of canopy and the creation of “openings” or “gaps” through group selection logging will have the opposite effect, downgrading Northern spotted owl habitat values, eliminating canopy layering, and reducing habitat complexity.

The removal of canopy and large, fire resistant trees would also trigger an aggressive understory response, generating young, even-aged vegetation, where old forest once grew. The removal of forest canopy will dry out forest stands and increase wind speeds during fire events and lead to a potential increase in future fire severity.

Units 34, 54, 108 and 109 should be canceled to protect the important  scenic and biological qualities of the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River.

Additional North Fork Salmon River units:

Additional Bear Country Timber Sale units have been proposed up the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River from just above Forks of Salmon to the Little North Fork. Located across the river from North Fork Salmon River Road on the steep north-facing slopes of Blue Ridge and Smith Ridge, in all, 24 commercial logging units have been identified in the Forest Service Scoping documents. The majority of these units contain significant late successional or old-growth forest and provide not only complex, fire resistant old forest habitat, but also currently support the scenic qualities the North Fork is so well known for. New road construction is  proposed on Smith Ridge above the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River, which could degrade scenic resources and biological values.

Units 110 and 111 are located high on the slopes above a series of rugged bluffs and rock outcrops and have been identified by the Forest Service as late successional forest. Units 65, 66, 127, and 128, also contain late successional forest habitat and lie adjacent to a large block of high quality Northern spotted owl habitat. Units 129, 130, 219, 220, and 658 are also located within a large swath of old forest in the North Fork canyon. These units should be canceled to protect the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River and its many important scenic, recreational and biological values.

Take Action!

Please contact the Klamath National Forest and express your concerns with this project. Ask the Forest Service to:

  • Refocus the Bear Country Project on community fire safety, plantation thinning, maintaining wildfire escape routes for local residents and implementing prescribed fire adjacent to homesteads or communities on the Salmon River. These activities will increase fire safety and community fire resilience, while the logging proposed in the Bear Country Timber Sale would have the opposite affect.
  • Retain all large, fire resistant trees over 20″ diameter throughout the project area.
  • Maintain canopy cover over 70% in all dry Douglas fir stands to maintain fire resistance, reduce an aggressive understory shrub response and maintain Northern spotted owl habitat conditions.
  • Cancel all new road construction and road re-construction. Utilize the existing road network, focus on communities and timber plantations, not natural conifer stands.
  • Cancel all commercial logging units in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor.
  • Manage the Wild and Scenic River corridor specifically to enhance and maintain the “Outstandingly Remarkable Values” intended for protection. These include numerous scenic, recreational and biological values that would be impacted by the current commercial logging proposals.
  • Cancel all logging units over 80 years of age in Late Successional Reserve forest.
  • Cancel all commercial logging units currently supporting Nesting, Roosting and Foraging for the Northern spotted owl.
  • Do not downgrade, degrade or remove suitable Northern Spotted Owl habitat.

Forest Service Contacts:

Rachel Smith, Klamath National Forest Supervisor,

rachel.c.smith@usda.gov

Ruth Damico, Scott/Salmon District Ranger

ruth.damico@usda.gov

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