J. Patrick Quinn
Following a full year of environmental threats from the Trump Administration, extractive industries, elected officials at national, state and local levels, Umpqua Watersheds is fighting back. Not content with a purely defensive strategy, we continue to pursue a determined attack on forest management practices that impose unacceptable ecological harm to our degraded watersheds.
Summer Low Flow
In previous editions of the newsletter, we have discussed the issue of chronically depleted summer flows in streams and rivers, local and regional. We have reasonably inferred this condition after reading the Perry and Jones (2016) Study, out of OSU (https://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/people/files/jones/perry_jones_ecohydro_16.pdf)
Decades of paired stream data gathered on the H.J. Andrews and South Umpqua Experimental Forests, concluded that if 50% or more of watershed is converted from primary old growth/mature forest to plantations, summer flows do not return to pre-logging levels that both agency and timber industry representatives claimed would occur in 15-25 years post-harvest. Rather, summer flow was half of its unlogged reference stream, even decades later. The Forest Service data undergirding Perry&Jones revealed that the outcome was evident in every case, regardless of how the experimental watershed had been logged. Low flows have persisted at these study sites for as long 45 years. The environmental implications of such a chronic condition are many, none of them good.
The Coos Bay and Roseburg BLM Districts have begun a return to regeneration harvest; BLM’s modified version of the clear cut. We have heavily cited the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in our critical comments of a return to this retrograde management activity by pointing out to public land managers that the public forestlands within the alternating “checkerboard” ownerships are already surrounded by very large and recent clear cuts and monoculture fiber farms on the adjacent private timberlands. In the decades before the Northwest Forest Plan, forest management on all ownerships in the Oregon Coast Ranges and the West Slope of the Cascades focused on the liquidation of old growth forest. The myopic focus by federal forest managers on the O&C Act’s sustained yield provision, erroneously confounded the terms “sustained” and “sustainable.” The mandates of the Act to “protect watersheds, regulate streamflow and provide for recreation” were ignored in favor of a period of liquidation of the old growth forest. UW maintains that this history, along with the current private land context on the checkerboard, ought to give the BLM pause as it formulates its extractive plans.
In each case, when our comments were disregarded or wrongly deemed to be irrelevant, UW filed protests with the agency (two with Coos Bay District and three on the Roseburg District). As reported in the last issue of 1,000 Valleys, our protest of the Semaphore Timber Sale was denied. We applied for “standing” to appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) and for a “stay” of the logging. Against all odds, we were granted “standing” but to our confusion, at the same time, our petition for a “stay” was denied and the sale purchaser immediately began the harvesting one unit of the sale and dropping trees as much as 250 years old. By the time you receive this edition, all of the sale will have been felled, including one unit measuring a whopping 139 acres! Yes, it is true that green tree and snag retention are significantly better on BLM lands as compared to those logged under the retrograde strictures of the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA). And this difference remains glaring, even with the adoption of its most recent Resource Management Plan, the agency has walked away from a formal adherence to the Northwest Forest Plan by reducing the width of riparian buffers by one half, while at the same time, the Oregon Board of Forestry has widened requisite private land buffers on select small and medium fish bearing streams. The imposition of adding large canopy openings onto landscapes already pocked with an excess of private land clear cuts as well as young even aged plantations, can only serve to worsen the depleted summer flow condition.
Apparently, our citation of the Perry-Jones Study in protests and appeals has created quite a stir in agency and industry circles. A hydrological conference primarily focused on response by federal, state, and private forestland managers has been scheduled for April 4th, at Oregon State University. Although not formally invited, the Chairs of the UW Conservation and Restoration Committees plan to participate and speak up where appropriate.
In the meantime, we continue to solicit the funds needed to underwrite proposed research whose purpose would be to help establish the wider, perhaps region-wide, relevance of Perry-Jones. We have gathered half of the requisite money and remain hopeful that the entire amount will soon have this research underway. Along with others of high qualification, we are convinced that this issue has the potential to significantly improve forest management practices across all ownerships. Anyone wishing to contribute to the “low flow” effort should contact the UW office for further information on how to help.
Post Fire Salvage
Your Conservation Committee continues to file comments on various post-fire management proposals by the BLM and USFS. Some of these plans are more eco-friendly than others. While the Umpqua National Forest recognizes the beneficial impacts on significant portions of the area where wildfires occurred this past summer, the Rogue River Siskiyou and Klamath National Forests has not. A large salvage has been proposed in the latter. Large salvage plans wreak havoc on natural post-fire recovery. Adding ecological insult to environmental injury, extensive salvage will include an addition to the already considerably heavy imprint of forest roads on these watersheds. Emphatically, we do not agree with this approach and have not been shy about letting these forest managers know that we favor a more conservative treatment.
The latest scientific research has indicated the extraordinary ecological benefits of naturally recovering post-fire landscapes. Wildfire is a natural and necessary aspect of forest evolution in western North American and is of tremendous value to a variety of species from cavity creators and users to a range of native pollinating insects. Contrary to the hyperbole spouted by ill-informed and biased politicians and industry representatives, when a stand burns, more than 90% of its stored carbon remains on site, sequestered in the roots, boles and large branches of the burned trees. Remains, that is, unless it is cut and hauled away.
Roseburg District of the BLM has asked for scoping comments on its proposed management of public lands within the Horse Prairie Fire perimeter (between Riddle and Camas Valley). Among proposals being offered by the BLM (and USFS) is removal of hazard trees along selected roadways, as well as the creation of strategically located fire breaks. While UW fully appreciates proactive efforts to secure safe passage along forest roads for fire fighters in controlling wind driven wild fire, we have urged the agency to limit green tree and snag removal to roads with the heaviest use and have encouraged them to leave clumps of trees and brush for the benefit of wildlife. Legacy right of way agreements made between federal agencies, especially the BLM and private land owners, too often appear to be little more than an excuse to conduct long running clear cuts through reserves., When trying to mitigate decades of fire suppression, we remain convinced that the best value off effort lies within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Reducing the accumulated fuel load around homes and other structures is a better bargain for the tax paying public than overly aggressive treatments in the back country.
Harmful Right of Way
It has come to our attention recently, that a local private timber company has been granted a right of way across public land to construct a road by the removal of many large old growth trees. This industrial entity claims to need to construct a road in the already heavy road imprinted Little River Drainage to access one of their fiber farm stands. We have requested a meeting with representatives of the Roseburg BLM in order to discuss a possible alternate route, one not located in primary forest on public land.
Stay Active, Stay Engaged
- Yes, challenges to watershed conservation and restoration continue apace. It would be all too easy simply to sleep in while this damaging juggernaut rolls over our landscapes, unopposed. Please, for the sake of ourselves and our children and theirs; for the precious natural systems and all of the wonderful flora and fauna high functioning watersheds support, surrender neither to despair nor apathy. Together, with persistence, diligence and passion we can help to move public and even private forest management in a more enlightened and environmentally conscious direction. Beneficiaries of the hard work and sacrifices of the conservationists who preceded us, we owe our own well informed and determined efforts to those generations who will inherit the benefits flowing from conserved and restored watersheds. We hope they will take their own inspiration to participate from what we endeavor to accomplish today.