Editor’s note: EPIC proudly presents this article from EPIC member Bryan Randolph. Bryan wanted to see what the Westside Project looked like on the ground, so he went! Many thanks to Bryan for sharing his findings and photographs. If you are interested in groundtruthing, click here  for more information. Just be careful out there and be aware of closed roads, which can be found here .
Until a few weeks ago I was unfamiliar with the term ‘groundtruthing.’ I knew I wanted to help in some way with the opposition of the Westside logging project and decided to use the skills I already have. Backpacking has been one of my favorite outdoor activities for years, so groundtruthing, which combines exploring the backcountry, naturalism, photography and activism quickly became my new favorite activity.
“Thank you loggers for cleaning up the mess”
I saw this sign in a front yard while driving through the small town of Seiad Valley. Located on the Klamath River on Highway 96 about 120 miles north of Willow Creek, Seiad Valley is very close to some of the largest project areas of the Westside project, these areas are also the first to see operations begin. Less than a mile outside of town I pass signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), cross the Klamath and head towards Grider Creek. I park my truck, pack my backpack with enough food for the next two days and head into the Salt Creek (a tributary to Grider Creek) watershed. I soon cross into the project boundary marked by a white and blue flag, this area has clearly been hit heavily by the wildfires of 2014; however, I would not describe this landscape as a mess. It was actually very easy to move around in, and very much alive with wildflowers, berry bushes, and oak shrubs sprouting from the base of burned specimen. I imagine deer, elk, and bears being able to move and forage in this area with ease.
A few hundred feet after entering the project boundary, I find two ponderosa pines much larger than the surrounding growth, because these trees did not have any green foliage they are not marked for leave and will be cut. As I pull out my camera and GPS to snap a photo and create a waypoint to go with it, the sound of woodpeckers carving out new homes in these ideal snags, and the babbling Salt Creek fills my ears. Over the next 24 hours I have a run in with the Caroline Creek eagles, document lots of large trees (many on steep slopes) predator and bear scat, roaming deer, and Elk tracks along Walker Creek about 200 feet away from active roadside logging. Although the project areas are all on public land, the forest service has closed the area to the public. Being aware of this I travel off road and along creeks as much as possible. In the Walker Creek area I come up to the road to photograph piles freshly cut logs. Seconds after snapping some photos, Forest Service law enforcement came around the corner and removed me from the area, making it known that the presence of law enforcement has been amped up due to “protestors” and that being here is a citable offense. A few weeks earlier work was stopped in Walker creek by a blockade of forest defenders and Karuk tribe members. As we ride through an active work zone I notice trees of larger size, or merchantable trees, line the road way while the smaller trees were left on the landscape.
“The Language of Industry”
My groundtruthing didn’t end there however, determined to explore other areas I head to the Marble Mountains where the PCT comes close to a few project areas. I hiked to the Tyler Meadows timber sale, bordering the northeast corner of Marble Mountain Wilderness and into the Grider Creek headwaters. Here I find more questionably large and some living trees to be cut on very steep slopes. I can now say I know these areas first hand. I can also say that the language the Forest Service has used goes against everything we know about the forest ecology of the Klamath-Siskyou bio region. The word salvage implies these forests were rendered useless by fire, what I found was a landscape cleared of impassable brush making it friendly to traveling and grazing ungulates (and bi pedal apes!). I found a large variety of plant life (no poison oak!) bursting to life in this post fire ecosystem, I wonder how these plants will fair with the trampling of industry, or the hot summer sun without snags to provide crucial shade. Instead of a thinning, the largest trees will be taken while the small, unprofitable trees will be left on the land. You would expect the opposite from a plan boasting ‘fuels reduction’ and ‘recovery.’
Bringing you the truth on the ground,
All photos and text by Bryan Randolph.