Umpqua Watersheds Blog

Conservation

Fall 2017

Published September 7th, 2017 in Conservation

J. Patrick Quinn

In the last issue of 1000 Valleys, your Conservation Committee received a copy of a scientific study that analyzed more than fifty years of Forest Service paired stream data. The Perry-Jones Special Paper (2017), concluded that conversion of primary old growth and mature forest to plantation has led to long term depleted summer flow conditions. We have attempted to bring this to the attention of the BLM, as they proceed to offer more timber sales which would impose more large canopy openings on these already badly degraded landscapes.

Unfortunately BLM dismisses our concerns and the peer reviewed data. It appears that the obvious relevance of Perry-Jones to their management proposals is being ignored. In the coast range of the Klamath Province near Camas Valley, Umpqua Watersheds first protested the Semaphore regeneration harvest sale. That objection, was significantly based upon the reasonable inferences we made from Perry-Jones. When BLM denied our protest, we reluctantly submitted an appeal of that decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, in Arlington, Virginia. At this writing, we await word as to whether we will be granted formal standing, a stay of the proposed timber falling, and of the overall success of our appeal. Given the discouraging track record of appeals brought to this board by the conservation community, we are not overly optimistic. That said, this depleted streamflow issue has wide implications for the maintenance and ultimate recovery of imperiled fish runs on nearly all of the rivers and streams in our area. Water availability for residential, recreational and agricultural uses is also diminished, as we believe, by the long history of vast conversion of primary forest to plantations on both public and private lands. Likewise, we see the past and present clear cut/fiber farm plantation model practiced on the intervening private industrial timberlands on these watersheds as only making this dire situation worse.

Despite UW’s repeated highlighting of this critical issue, BLM persists in maintaining that the troubling hydrological inferences deriving from Perry-Jones have little to no bearing on what they do. We also featured our analysis of this flow issue in our comments on the agency’s Days Creek-South Umpqua Harvest Plan Environmental Assessment (EA). Therein we suggested the suitability of a thorough examination of historic low flows as compared to current summer flows; this suggested research being accompanied by direct consultation on the issue with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. We felt that this “hard look,” stipulated in fact by the guiding parameters of the National Environmental Policy Act, ought to culminate in a true Environmental Impact Statement. In announcing the Daydream Timber Sale, the first offering of the Days-Creek-South Umpqua Harvest Plan, BLM signaled to us its determination to forge ahead regardless, thereby ignoring or failing to acknowledge the certain environmental consequences of its actions. Therefore, and however reluctantly, we have filed a formal protest of this proposal, as well.

For us, as for others possessing excellent scientific credentials, it is difficult to see how such cold water, small-stream-reliant species as the Coastal Coho Salmon, the Pacific Lamprey or the greatly imperiled South Umpqua Spring Chinook as well as others can ever be conserved, no less satisfactorily recovered under this depleted water regime. At the same time, such warm water species as Small Mouth Bass continue to advance their colonization farther up area anadromous fish rivers, seemingly every year. Perhaps the only hope for amelioration of this degraded hydrological situation lies in a strong resort to the Federal Judiciary. Time will tell.

On a more positive note, UW has been pleased to submit encouraging scoping comments to the North Umpqua Ranger District concerning its proposed restoration work in the Calf-Copeland basin. Goals here are the conservation of imperiled legacy Sugar and Ponderosa Pines, as well as restoration of streams and wetlands. There are wildfire mitigation ideas being discussed here too; a timely discussion, no doubt, given the wildfire situation, ongoing as this is written, some affecting Calf-Copeland.

While the lingering smoke, reports of involved acreage, money and manpower expended are quite alarming, it is useful to recall that the forests of our region developed in the presence of fire. Interestingly, recent careful research suggests that, historically speaking, wildfire intensity, frequency and impacted area may well have been considerably greater before Euro-American settlement in the northwest. The prospect of dealing with more than a century of fire suppression and subsequent fuel accumulation by mechanical means alone; that is by logging forests in order to save them, is unrealistic. The area needing to be treated across the forested west is simply too vast, the task much too expensive, ever to be achieved. For better or worse, fire will do much of this work for us. Nonetheless, as firefighting costs spiral out of the control, perhaps concentration of preventive efforts on the wildland urban interface (WUI), for the protection of homes and other resources, might prove to be more cost effective than expending so much time and treasure in the back country, where fire can serve its historically useful and much needed ecological role.

As this is being written, retrograde elements in the Congress, often at the behest of Industrial Timber, and its enablers in local, state and national government, are hard at work introducing one draconian “get the cut out” bill after another. Needless to say, the increasingly palpable impacts of accelerating climate change are already all too evident. Renewed BLM proposals that would impose more large canopy openings on public forestlands, along with those being proposed by Congress, in combination with the clear cut barbarity currently all too evident on private industrial timberlands within the unfortunate checkerboard of alternating ownerships, mean that already degraded environmental conditions can only be exacerbated, including the streamflow issue discussed above. These dire assaults on ecological functioning, along with the myriad other ecological impositions human activity has inflicted on these, the watersheds we all call home, represent an enormous challenge for all those individuals and organizations involved with the conservation and restoration of our priceless natural systems. Please do what you can to help. This Conservation Committee is in great need of volunteer activists to aid in field and data research and other tasks. To paraphrase the old Madison Avenue public service announcement: the world you save might just be your own.