The Conservation Column in the June, 2018 edition of this newsletter, contained the following: “Thus, when we became aware of what seemed to us to be an egregious request to impose yet another 1,400 feet of forest road through old growth on BLM managed public land near Susan Creek Falls so that Lone Rock Timber might access a few acres of second growth, we objected. Despite meeting with supervisors at the Roseburg District, and suggesting reasonable alternatives, quite a few very ancient trees were felled, ostensibly so that machinery designed to greatly automate clear cutting could gain access. However, as of this writing, it looks like that particular six acres of private timber has been taken off the table, the right of way carved through primary public forest an apparent road to nowhere, at least for the present.”
Readers may recall this impasse and related issues reported in local media. Recently, a News Review investigation revealed that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office had taken the precautionary step of monitoring the social media postings of several individuals and organizations regarding a purported threat made to Lone Rock Timber, after that company went ahead and felled the many large old trees within that 1,400′ public land right of way. The sheriff’s office didn’t say whom they were observing, but we can guess. For the record, no one associated with Umpqua Watersheds leadership, that we are aware of, was responsible for making this alleged threat, or any other for that matter. As outlined in past conservation columns, UW voices its objection to egregious and ill-considered forest management actions through participation in the NEPA process and/or by joining in face to face discussion with management agencies and other stakeholders. Intimidation through the issuance of violent threats never has been and never will be UW’s modus operandi. Never.
The forest road that Lone Rock gouged through your public land and old growth and mature forest last year faced no discretion either to object to or prevent it, and no alternatives were available. Lone Rock was permitted because no law precludes it. Interestingly, just this past week we were informed by the agency that timber extraction is being planned for that very locality, facilitated, one would reasonably assume, by that same disgraceful road. Did the agency know this when they denied any ability to prevent this egregious action and subsequently approved this one more environmental outrage? Perhaps not, but given the long lead time typical of BLM planning endeavors, it is at least likely that they did, although no hint of such future public land logging was revealed when we met to discuss alternatives to still more road building through primary forest. Sadly, this is how conscientious skeptics metamorphose into bitter cynics.
Euphemistically titled “Umpqua Sweets,” this proposed logging activity, which we are informed will include more than one kind of large canopy opening, and which, will fall trees up to 140 years old, is very near to the Roseburg District’s ongoing Third Rock timber sale. Both of these large actions impact important drainages of the iconic North Umpqua River. And critical to note, these public forestlands do not exist in a vacuum but are sited within the infamous and most unfortunate “checkerboard” of alternating ownerships. Large, poorly regulated private industrial clear cuts, with their suite of related and often questionable management activities, can occur all around the public lands whenever the whims of financiers and timber markets dictate. Environmental criteria, you can be quite sure, will not play any significant part in how these fiber farms will be managed.
Google Earth images reveal that just to the west, a cut over landscape rivaling anything on the Oregon Coast Range in Douglas or Coos Counties, or across the hills above the beleaguered South Umpqua River. For years, UW’s Conservation Chair has been highlighting this geographic management context to the BLM, insisting that all of this rampant private timberland clear cutting and monoculture restocking, with its attendant aerial herbicide spraying and never ending road construction, must be fully acknowledged and mitigated for on the adjoining public lands under the management of the BLM. For all of the apparent good that has been done, we might just as well have been whistling into the wind. Regarding past and current extractive practices on many of these degraded watersheds, the BLM remains in apparent denial, slave to the out of date insistence on achieving its assigned sale quantity. It is our position that the efficacy of any agency management activity ought to be measured by the number of acres rehabilitated to natural function, rather than by the number of board feet felled and trucked to one or another mill.
This is not to say that no one at the BLM has been engaged in any restorative activities; far from it. In fact, in the very area referred to above, along Rock Creek, a key North Umpqua tributary, BLM currently working on extensive riparian restoration. And there are other worthwhile efforts of a similar nature underway on the Coquille and elsewhere. Unfortunately, while one agency hand encourages nature’s healing, the other seems to be doing its best to obviate it. Of course, this is not to mention the impact of private land practices on the public resource that go so far in helping to undermine public land restorative efforts on this very landscape. As so many times before, we intend to make our position regarding regeneration logging of public forestlands known. If we are not able to prevent these environmentally egregious actions on your public lands, UW will at least bear formal citizen witness to them, in the hopes of someday realizing true reform, with complete conservation of older stands, wider spread rehabilitation of plantations and meaningful changes to the very retrograde Oregon Forest Practices Act as one of our ultimate goals.
Despite discouraging developments on the watersheds of the Umpqua, the Coquille and beyond, we are pleased to report on positive developments on USFS rehabilitation proposals: Skillem on the Tiller Ranger District, and Calf-Copeland on the North Umpqua Ranger District. Commercial harvest on these projects in existing young plantations and thinning of some older stems for legacy pine conservation on Calf-Copeland are projects that UW supports. Commercial logging is not the driver on either ranger district, but rather is a declared bi-product of restoration. Are either of these proposals perfect? No, there are particulars, such as temporary roads into reserves on Skillem, as well as extractive activities in NSO critical habitat, both of which UW would prefer not to see. However, matrix plantations are slated for skips and gaps on both projects, as well as the reintroduction of minority species, such as Sugar Pine and the restoration of oak meadows. Significant reductions in forest road miles is a part of Skillem and Calf-Copeland, although not as much as we would prefer. With forest roads in general, it is safe to say that less amounts to more. And refreshingly, unlike current BLM proposals, regeneration “harvests” (read: “clear cuts lite”) have no part in these restoration efforts. UW will offer its honest critique of those aspects of these exciting restoration projects as needed. At the same time, it is our overall intention not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Among a host of retrograde environmental roll backs proposed by the Trump administration, readers may have heard about draconian changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As outlined in a recent conservation column, NEPA is the portal through which citizens and their representative organizations can provide critique and offer suggestions regarding actions by federal agencies that might have detrimental impacts to public lands and the life forms, including human, that depend upon the conservation and/or restoration of habitats. On Forest Service lands, these changes would greatly increase the size of areas given a pass from engaging in the NEPA process. Some of the political appointees currently managing federal agencies are less than ideal and a picture of the worst that such an administrative might well allow. UW is co-signatory to extensive group comments opposing these possible diminutions of critical Forest Service functions, undertaken in fulfillment of the public trust.
Not to be outdone, the Medford and Roseburg BLM Districts have proposed their own version of a NEPA end run. It appears that 14,000 acres of poorly defined extractive activities, along with up to 25 miles of new forest roads, would be permitted annually on the Medford District forestlands, while some 1,000 acres and 5 miles of new roads would be allowed on the South River Field area of the Roseburg District. These activities would possibly be extended across all land use classifications, including Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), Late Successional Reserves, Riparian Reserves etc. Considering the compromised interests of current appointees at the Department of the Interior, we feel regrettably justified in fearing the worst from this proposal. We have filed extensive comments regarding the potential dangers involved on both districts. In return, they have promised to solicit more public input via meetings, tours etc. Stay tuned, remain alert, and get engaged. The watersheds you save may be your own!