Victory in the Slater Fire Footprint: KFA and Crag Law Center protect fragile post-fire forests on the Siskiyou Crest
On the evening of September 7, 2020, the Slater Fire was lit by a downed powerline near Slater Butte Lookout. Pushed by unusually strong winds and extremely dry conditions, the Slater Fire raged through Happy Camp, California tragically burning over 200 homes before racing up Indian Creek at high severity into both the Smith River and Illinois River watersheds. Within 24 hours the fire was over 100,000 acres and was threatening the community of Takilma, Oregon. As the historic wind event died down both fire severity and spread were moderated and much of the remaining fire burned at low to moderate severity in the headwaters of the Illinois River.
In February 2021, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest proposed the Slater Fire Re-entry Project in the mountains above Takilma, Oregon. This large, post-fire logging and “danger” tree project targeted 146 miles of roads in the Slater Fire area and 4,106 acres of commercial post-fire logging. This would have included 400’ wide roadside swaths largely clearcut of both snags and live trees in Late Successional Reserve forests, Riparian Reserves, Special Wildlife Sites, and in backcountry areas adjacent to both the Red Buttes and the Siskiyou Wilderness Area.
The agency approved this massive post-fire logging project utilizing a Categorical Exclusion; however, this particular Categorical Exclusion was specifically meant to facilitate routine road maintenance, not widespread commercial logging. By utilizing this Categorical Exclusion, the agency was attempting to implement salvage logging in the Slater Fire without full environmental review, without the public disclosure of impacts, and without public engagement processes that the law clearly requires. Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and Crag Law Center filed suit challenging this lack of adequate environmental analysis and the use of a Categorical Exclusion to authorize this largescale post-fire logging project.
After the lawsuit was filed, the Forest Service continued logging adjacent to the Takilma-Happy Camp Road near the Page Mountain Snow Park, sold another timber sale on the Takilma-Happy Camp Road and designed, but did not sell another timber sale in the area surrounding spectacular Bolan Lake, the backcountry Bolan Lake campground, and areas adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness Area.
Rather than defend its project in court, the agency came to the negotiating table and recently Klamath Forest Alliance reached a settlement agreement with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that protects over 3,000 acres from commercial logging and cancels 118 miles of roadside logging and hazard tree felling. The agreement would reduce post-fire roadside logging by about 80%, while also limiting the scope and intensity of logging proposed in the Bolan Lake area.
Although some damage has already been done, we believe this outcome is a win-win situation because public access can be safely and effectively restored to important recreation areas on the Siskiyou Crest without widespread logging that will compromise the unique biological, scenic, recreational, watershed and connectivity values of the region.
We would like to thank Crag Law Center for their excellent work on this litigation and in the settlement negotiation process. In this era of climate change and massive biodiversity loss it is more important than ever to protect diverse fire affected forests and complex early seral habitats. If you value a wild Siskiyou Crest and the natural post-fire rejuvenation of wildfires in our region, please support our work.