Worth More Standing: A Report on the Worst Public Land Timber Sales in the Country
The Climate Forest Coalition is a network of conservation groups from across the country who are dedicated to the protection of forests as a natural and effective climate solution. The Climate Forest Coalition has been reviewing timber sales across the country to demonstrate that many are inconsistent with President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order. As part of this campaign, the coalition has published “Worth More Standing: 10 Climate Saving Forests Threatened by Federal Logging,” a report that identifies the 10 worst timber sales on federal land in the country. Unfortunately, three of the worst timber sales in the country are located in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon and northwest California. Klamath Forest Alliance has been actively working to bring attention to two of those timber sales: the Bear Country Timber Sale proposed by the Klamath National Forest in the spectacular Salmon River watershed, and the IVM Project, a landscape-scale commercial logging project targeting Late Successional Reserve forests throughout southwestern Oregon on the Medford District BLM.
The mature and old forest habitats of our country contain vast reserves of carbon stored for centuries in forest soils, downed logs, standing snags and living vegetation. Some of the largest carbon reserves on federal land are located in mature, late successional, and old-growth forests, but these habitats remain largely unprotected, under-protected and vulnerable to exploitation.
Although entrusted to protect, preserve and restore our forest legacy, the federal land management agencies, including both the Forest Service and BLM, continue to prioritize industrial timber production over nearly all other values. Both agencies also have strict timber quotas that must be logged each year, as well as budgets that are often directly tied to timber production. In fact, nearly every federal timber sale includes some level of mature and old forest logging, and this logging has devastating consequences for our climate, biodiversity, watersheds, and wildlife.
Recently, President Biden signed an Earth Day Executive Order acknowledging the role of forests in combating the climate and biodiversity crisis. The Executive Order directs federal land managers to inventory our nation’s last mature and old-growth forest habitats and develop policies that conserve them as a cornerstone of our national climate strategy. Yet, many of these mature and old-growth forests are currently on the chopping block, and have either been proposed or approved for logging on federal lands throughout the country.
If we are serious about addressing the impact of climate change, these forests must be saved and federal land logging must be acknowledged as a direct and immediate threat to our last mature and old-growth forests. If necessary, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak must step in to protect these important old forests directly targeted by federal land logging projects. Additionally, the federal government must develop new policies to permanently protect our last mature, late successional and old-growth forests nationwide, and eliminate the current system of timber quotas on federal lands.
Only after protecting these old forests can we start to claim compliance with President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order — and his previous Executive Order supporting the 30X30 Initiative to protect 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030 — and only then can we start to merge our climate and forest management policies in a way that mitigates the worst impacts, protects watersheds, maximizes natural carbon storage on the landscape and preserves biodiversity.
Please sign and send the Climate Forest Coalition’s letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak urging them to permanently protect our last mature and old-growth forests. Take action at this link.
Below are descriptions and photographs of the Bear Country Timber Sale and the IVM Project, two of the nation’s worst timber sales on federal lands.
Bear Country Timber Sale: Carbon, Owls and Old Forests on the Wild and Scenic Salmon River
The Bear Country Timber Sale proposes logging mature, late successional and old-growth forest in some of the most rugged, remote, and beautiful terrain in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. It has also been recently identified as one of the worst timber sales on federal land in the country. This large, old forest timber sale has been proposed by the Scott-Salmon Ranger District in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor, in numerous occupied Northern spotted owl nesting areas, and in an important connectivity corridor linking the Marble Mountains, Russian and Trinity Alps Wilderness Areas.
In total, 4,195 acres are proposed for commercial logging in the Bear Country Timber Sale, including 3,704 acres of natural, unlogged forests, 900 acres of Riparian Reserve, and 2,330 acres in the Eddy Gulch Late Successional Reserve (LSR), a large area set aside to protect old forest habitat for the threatened Northern spotted owl. This project would remove 235 acres of nesting, roosting and foraging habitat and 701 acres of dispersal habitat, making the LSR and the surrounding forests less hospitable for the Northern spotted owl and other species requiring complex old forest habitats. The project also proposes 5.2 miles of roadside “hazard tree” logging 300′ from existing roads, 5 miles of new road construction, 15 miles of new “temporary” road construction, 19 new landings, and mechanical mastication on up to 2,271 acres and across over 24 miles of remote ridgeline throughout the Salmon River watershed.
The project proposes numerous commercial logging units in relatively productive mixed conifer forests above the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River, between Forks of Salmon and the Little North Fork Salmon River. These units include mature and old-growth forests on extremely steep, rocky slopes, and in some of the most scenic portions of the North Fork Salmon River.
On the Wild and Scenic South Fork Salmon River, the project also proposes mature and old-growth forest logging on Graham Gulch in the rugged Matthews Creek watershed and on Butcher Gulch below Cecilville, California and above the beautiful Matthews Creek Campground. It also proposes old forest logging on Argus Gulch, an area known to sustain some of the last reproducing Northern spotted owl pairs in this portion of the Klamath Mountains.
Under the current logging prescriptions intact, old forests and large trees up to over 40″ diameter are targeted for removal, reducing canopy cover to as low as 30% in affected stands. These large, old trees are exceptionally carbon rich, fire resilient, and important as wildlife habitat, while their removal is detrimental to the health, resilience, beauty, and functionality of regional forest habitats and the global climate.
Compliance with President Biden’s Executive Orders on forests and the 30X30 Initiative requires the cancellation of the still unapproved Bear Country Timber Sale and the many mature, late successional and old-growth logging units. These remote, carbon rich forests should be retained for their beauty, for the wildlife, and for the climate, and national policies should be immediately enacted to protect mature, late successional and old-growth forests on all federal lands.
The IVM Project: Logging Old Forests, Releasing Carbon, and Increasing Fire Risks in LSR Old-Growth Reserves
Klamath Forest Alliance has also been working for the last two years to oppose the Medford District BLM’s Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) Project in southwest Oregon, and unfortunately, this past spring the BLM approved this massive, landscape-scale logging proposal. The project proposes commercial logging treatments in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest designated to protect habitat for the Northern spotted owl, and in beautiful old, carbon rich forests throughout southwestern Oregon.
The IVM Project would allow the Medford District BLM to log up to 20,000 acres and build up to 90 miles of road per decade across over 800,000 acres of BLM forest with little to no environmental analysis, public involvement, or public accountability. Recent analysis by activists and scientists across the country has identified the IVM Project as one of the worst old forest timber projects on federal lands in the United States. In fact, the Medford District BLM claims the dubious distinction as the only land management agency in the country with two projects on this unfortunate list, including the IVM Project and the Poor Windy Project north of Grants Pass, Oregon.
Recently, the BLM has proposed the first timber sales under the programmatic IVM Project, including the Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales in the mountains between Murphy, Williams and Selma, Oregon. These timber sales propose old forest logging and a reduction of canopy cover to as low as 30%. Reaching this density will require the removal of large diameter and old-growth trees. The agency has also proposed “group selection” logging, a form of staggered clearcut logging that “treats” mature to late successional forests by logging whole groves of large, fire resistant trees. Although the BLM claims these timber sales are intended to enhance late successional forest conditions, reduce fire risks, and support the recovery of the Northern spotted owl, the actual tree removal mark throughout the timber sale tells a very different story.
The Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales propose to do the opposite by degrading, downgrading or removing suitable Northern spotted owl habitat by aggressively reducing canopy cover and logging large, old dominant and co-dominant trees. Additionally, by removing large, fire resistant trees and altering microclimate conditions through canopy reduction, fire risks will increase, making stands hotter, drier, and more windy during fire season. The loss of canopy will also trigger a significant understory shrub response, converting currently mature, closed stands with minimal understory fuel loading, into thickets of young, dense, highly flammable regeneration, including young conifers, stump sprouting hardwoods, and various shrub species, among widely spaced overstory “retention” trees. The mix is particularly flammable and prone to explosive fire spread.
According to the BLM, group selection logging and other forms of logging that open canopy cover and increase woody understory growth will have a direct influence on both fire behavior and severity, “For the first 1 to 5 years after harvest, these stands would remain a slash fuel type until the shrubs, grasses, and planted trees become established. After the establishment of regeneration, these stands would move into a brush fuel type. Brush fuel types are more volatile and are susceptible to high rates of fire-caused mortality. Stands could exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread, and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control. For 5 to 20 years following planting, the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands.” (DOI. 2018).
Recent research in the southern Cascade Mountains near Mt. Shasta, and in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, demonstrates that cumulative tree mortality following wildfire can be significantly higher when the mortality and tree removal from logging operations, prior to a wildfire event, is considered. (Baker & Hanson. 2022., Hanson. 2022). This demonstrates that if land managers desire more living trees remaining on the landscape following wildfire events, commercial thinning operations may have negative impacts, and the effect of cumulative mortality must be addressed. Other researchers have also demonstrated that widespread commercial thinning would reduce dense, late successional forest 3.4 to 6.0 times more than high severity fire alone, thus increasing the impact to late successional forest species (Odion. 2014).
Taken together, the science leads one to question the efficacy of commercial thinning on this landscape, especially when on the stand scale, it is actually increasing cumulative mortality effects after wildfire events, and on a landscape scale commercial thinning is leading to significantly higher rates of old forest loss than wildfire alone. According to Forest Service researchers, closed, late successional forests with no active management can serve as fire refugia and can serve as a buffer against the worst effects of climate change. Additionally this Forest Service research, based not on modeling, but actual fire effects in southwestern Oregon, found that mechanical logging treatments do not always decrease fire risks, and in many cases can increase fire risks through stand desiccation and understory shrub response. (Lesmeister. 2019).
The IVM Project and the subsequently proposed Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sale have identified many mature, late successional and old-growth forests for industrial logging. These forests are disproportionately important as natural climate solutions: absorbing and storing carbon, moderating climate, and maintaining cool, moist microlimate conditions. Research demonstrates that commercial thinning intended to reduce fire risks leads to more carbon emissions than from wildfires alone (Law. 2022) and the wood products industry is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the state of Oregon (Law. 2018).
President Biden recently signed an Earth Day Executive Order on forests, directing federal agencies to protect mature, late successional and old-growth forests for climate mitigation, yet on the ground, both the BLM and US Forest Service are doubling down on landscape scale logging projects that impact healthy, fire and climate resilient forests throughout the country. On a recent IVM field trip with the BLM above Williams, Oregon, a local BLM fire ecologist exclaimed with excitement that she could only now officially acknowledge the reality and/or say the words “climate change” in her official capacity, yet as an institution, the BLM has yet to address the issue with permanent old forest protections and become part of the solution.
The Late Mungers, Penn Butte, and Bear Country Timber Sales, like so many others proposed by federal land managers, are being implemented in direct violation of President Biden’s important executive order. The president has directed federal land managers to create an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands and develop policies to protect them. Unfortunately, our land managers already know where these intact forests are located and are targeting many of them for removal in old forest timber sales right now!.
The Biden Administration and high level cabinet officials like Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak need to demonstrate that action, not words will save our climate. Urgent action is needed to protect old, fire resistant, habitat and carbon rich forests on federal lands by both cancelling timber sales like the Late Mungers, Penn Butte and Bear Country Timber Sales, and by acknowledging the threat of old forest logging with permanent protections for mature, late successional and old-growth forests on all federal lands.
The Applegate Siskiyou Alliance has an online petition on the Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales. We encourage you to sign the petition and demand that both the IVM Project and Late Mungers Project be withdrawn. Contact your elected officials, write letters to the editor, get out and hike the units, understand what is at stake and defend the land you love.
Klamath Forest Alliance will be there with you, defending the wildlands and old forests throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains!
Baker, B.C.; Hanson, C.T. Cumulative Tree Mortality from Commercial Thinning and a Large Wildfire in the Sierra Nevada, California. Land 2022, 11, 995. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/11/7/995/htm
DOI. 2018. Clean Slate Forest Management Project. Environmental Assessment. OR/WA Bureau of Land Management. Medford District BLM, Grants Pass Resource Area. June 2018. Medford, Oregon.
Hanson, C.T. Cumulative severity of thinned and unthinned forests in a large California wildfire. Land 2022, 11, 373. http://doi.org/10.3390/land11030373
Law, Beverly E., Hudiburg. Tara W. Berner. Logan T., Kent. Jeffrey J., Buotte, Polly C., and Harmon. Mark E. 2018. Land Use Strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense temperate forests. PNAS. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1720064115
Law, B.E.; Moomaw, W.R.; Hudiburg, T.W.; Schlesinger, W.H.; Sterman, J.D.; Woodwell, G.M. Creating Strategic Reserves to Protect Forest Carbon and Reduce Biodiversity Losses in the United States. Land 2022, 11, 721. https://mdpi-res.com/d_attachment/land/land-11-00721/article_deploy/land-11-00721-v2.pdf?version=1652753099
Lesmeister, D. B., S. G. Sovern, R. J. Davis, D. M. Bell, M. J. Gregory, and J. C. Vogeler. 2019. Mixed-severity wildfire and habitat of an old-forest obligate. Ecosphere 10:e02696. https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.2696
Odion, D. C., C. T. Hanson, D. A. DellaSala, W. L. Baker, and M. L. Bond. 2014. Effects of fire and commercial thinning on future habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. Open Ecology Journal 7:37- 51. https://benthamopen.com/contents/pdf/TOECOLJ/TOECOLJ-7-1-37.pdf