Summer 2016 update: The Westside project has been approved. Logging is underway, and we have filed a lawsuit to stop the project. Unfortunately, a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is not expected until late this year. Klamath National Forest’s Timber Sale maps and information can be found here.
TAKE ACTION: Say no to a logging tragedy! The heart of Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion could lose 30,000 acres of prime snag forest habitat on the steepest of unstable slopes above vital wild salmon rivers. Late Successional Reserves, meadows, seventy-five watersheds and the Caroline Creek eagles, bumblebees, endemic salamanders, Pacific fisher and seventy threatened Northern spotted owls need your help. The Westside situation is perilous.
The Westside Story is a detailed look at what could be a logging tragedy for wildlife, wild rivers and wild places. It is a summary of the findings, inconsistencies and untruths of Alternative 2 in the Klamath National Forest’s Westside Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
218,600 project acre Three Fire Areas- Beaver, Happy Camp and Whites
11,700 acres larger units, 8,900 treatment acres (3,920 in *Riparian Reserves)
20,500 acres roadside “hazard” removal or 650 miles (9,995 acres in Riparian Reserves)
22,900 acres fuels treatments (10,146 acres in Riparian Reserves)
7,900 acres of prep and plant aka: plantations
75 watersheds impacted
22 miles “temporary” roads (includes reconstructing 9 miles of decommissioned roads)
14 new stream crossings
152 new landings!
75 existing landings! That may require expansion
* Areas along streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes or potentially unstable areas.
Whites Russian Fire
The Westside project of the Klamath National Forest (KNF) surrounds the east, south and north sides of the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The terrain is extremely rugged with slopes commonly over 65 percent. The wild rivers and extremely biologically rich watersheds burned in a mosaic pattern, during the 2014 wildfire season, with high soil severity on less that 5% of the fire areas. The ecological and monetary costs of fire suppression actions were extreme. With the cost of 195 million dollars- fire fighting constructed nearly 200 miles of bulldozed ridge tops for fire lines, dumped thousands of gallons of fire retardant in sensitive areas, impacted hundreds of miles of roads and caused unknown acres of high severity burns. Several salmon streams and rivers are now choked with sediment. Before the smoke cleared timber planners started in on project planning.
North Fork Salmon River
The Westside Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released March 13, 2015. Comments are due April 27th. The agency is requesting an expedited process with plans to start logging in July 2015!
There are 7,560 acres of logging treatments within Late Successional Reserves and 13,215 acres of activity are in Riparian Reserves spanning seventy-five watersheds. The agency is proposing to extract green live trees as well as clearcut snag forest ecosystems. The largest unit is over 555 acres, three units are over 300 acres, five units are over 200 acres, seventeen units are over 100 acres and the remaining 203 units are less than 100 acres.
The DEIS exacerbates fire severity by clumping high severity with moderate severity. This affects all native plant, fungi and wildlife species. Moderate severity causes moderate soil heating and occurs where litter is consumed and duff is charred or consumed, but the underlying mineral soil is not visibly altered.
The Westside Fire project has far reaching affects to multiple species including, rare birds, endemic salamanders and bumblebees. The KNF fails its responsibility to conserve and recover threatened and imperiled wildlife. The agency considers moderately burned areas as no longer providing habitat for a number of species, although this is not consistent with the best available science and increases impacts to wildlife by putting more forest habitat at risk.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The Westside DEIS looks at 67 sub-watersheds, which are equal to a fisher (Pekania pennanti) home range. Habitat connectivity is rated low to very low in 37 of the sub-watersheds. Project treatments would diminish connectivity in 14 sub-watersheds and would remove connectivity in three others including, Cougar Creek-Elk Creek, Lower West Fork Beaver Creek, and Tom Martin Creek-Klamath River. The loss of several home ranges can result in large effects to the overall population. Habitat lost is difficult to replace and it may take many years before the area develops into habitat again.
While fishers are commonly observed on the lower 2/3 of slopes, snag retention is generally planned for only the lower 1/3 of slopes. Fishers are strongly associated with dense, mature forest, which provide the necessary food, water, shelter for reproduction and survival. Depending on the sex, the fisher’s average home range is 4.7 to 36 square miles.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The Caroline Creek eagles nest area, which has been active for decades would be destroyed. The project would remove 180 acres of habitat within 600 feet of the nest, making a high risk of eagles abandoning the nest during the nesting period and a high risk of the eagle pair not finding a nest tree in the future.
Three other nest sites, Donna, Muck-A-Muck, Frying-pan and three winter roost sites exist along the Klamath and Scott Rivers, occur within the project area. The Westside project proposes treatment within 0.5 miles for all four bald eagle nest sites, all four nest sites have been active recently and are likely to continue to be active.
Northern Spotted Owl
There are 94 nest sites, core areas and home ranges, also know as Activity Centers in the project area. The project would likely adversely affect 70 NSO Activity Centers and may adversely affect another 17. This information was not provided in the DEIS but was included in the Draft Wildlife Biological Assessment.
It is important to note that exact numbers are difficult to ascertain given that the DEIS and the Draft Wildlife Biological Assessment (BA) are wrought with inconsistencies.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a finding that Northern Spotted Owls deserve further review for up listing, from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Recent regional surveys show that populations continue to plummet at 3% per year. Barred owls and habitat loss remain to be the biggest threats.
Photo Credit: USFWS
Eleven goshawk nests have been occupied at some point in the last twenty years within or near the project area. Only one of the nest sites meets the standards for habitat minimums, which is mostly outside the fire perimeter. Broadcast surveys are currently being conducted although two years of broadcast surveys are the legal requirement.
The project proposes treatment within 0.25 miles of six goshawk nest sites (Kohl, Beaver, China, Elk, Middle, and Hickory). The project would remove habitat around four nests (Beaver, Hickory, Kelsey and West Whites) causing a high level of risk to reproduction.
Bald eagles, Northern spotted owls and goshawks like many long-lived bird species show a great fidelity to nest sites and certain landscape elements, like meadows, northerly slopes and water sources.
Siskiyou Mountains Salamander
Photo Credit: USFWS
The Siskiyou Mountains Salamander (Plethodon stormi) is endemic to 420 square miles of known habitat in northern Siskiyou County, CA and southern Jackson Country, OR. About 25% of its range overlaps the Happy Camp Fire area.
There are 48 known sites within the project area and 19 known sites are within treatment units, where ground disturbance is expected. Most of these sites have experienced high and moderate severity fire so the agency assumes habitat is not suitable and is not completing pre-disturbance surveys.
It is likely that these sites are still occupied, as salamanders have evolved with fire. The agency expects that flagging small areas around known sites and retaining some standing trees will minimize compaction by heavy equipment and state that the level of risk for disturbing known sites is low. However, mitigations are often ignored during logging. The proposed removal of canopy and shade and possible compaction will likely create conditions that would risk salamander survival. Further, surveys have shown that salamanders use early seral habitat, such as natural recovery areas post-fire.
Siskiyou Mountains salamanders require moisture to breathe through their skin. Due to their need for moist microhabitats, they can live deep underground during the summer months, prefer the shade and while at the surface, they remain under objects during the day and are active at night. Their habitat is mostly comprised of lose rock and soil where salamanders can move through the small pockets of space up to several feet below the forest floor.
Scott Bar Salamander
Photo Credit: USFWS
The endemic Scott Bar salamander (Plethodon asupak), discovered in 2001, is currently known to occur in a very small area near the confluence of the Klamath and Scott Rivers. The international Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed it as being a “vulnerable species“. Both the Siskiyou Mountains and the Scott Bar salamander have the smallest ranges of any western salamanders in their genus. The loss or decline of salamanders from forest ecosystems has important consequences up and down the food chain. Salamanders play a key role in forest nutrient flow, regulating the abundance of soil invertebrates that are responsible for the breakdown of plant detritus. Salamanders’ loss from forests is indicative of changes that will likely affect a broad array of species.
The Westside project area contains Scott Bar salamander habitat but fails to survey or analyze any effects to this species.
Pallid Bat Townsend’s Big-eared Bat and Fringed Myotis
Photo credit: Oregon Dept. of Wildlife
In the project area, there are 58 sites of possible bat habitat containing caves, mines, or the potential to contain either of these structures. The treatments may disturb a maternity site because maternity roosts are active from about April to August, and are most sensitive during the early spring when the offspring are not capable of flight. There are 15 areas with potential hibernacula with moderate risk of disturbance, which could affect a maternity roost. The sites with potential cave or cave-like structures in 13 areas with potential hibernacula have a high risk of disturbance and are likely the most vulnerable to abandonment; this could affect a population. Further, cumulative effects from other projects would result in doubling the number of areas with potential hibernacula that have a high risk of disturbing bats. Surveys have not been completed contrary to the KNF forest plan.
Willow flycatchers breed in moist, shrubby areas, often with standing or running water and winters in shrubby clearings and early successional growth. Habitat for the species was assumed to be 3rd order streams and wet meadows. The Westside project would result cumulatively in four watersheds shifting from a low to a high level of habitat alteration. The Westside DEIS fails to consider wintering habitat and the effects of grazing on riparian willow habitat.
Western Bumble Bee
Photo Credit: USFWS
Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) populations have declined dramatically in recent years and like other species of bumblebees, is sensitive to habitat disturbance. In the project area, high-quality habitat for bees is likely to occur in the meadows where several species of flowering plants occur. Meadows also offer a high density of plants to provide additional structure and small animal burrows that bees also use for nesting.
The western bumble is likely to occur over much of the Klamath National Forest although it has only been incidentally observed. The actual distribution of the bee on the forest is not known. Although the species is not exclusively associated with meadows, there is a strong relationship with its habitat needs and meadows.
There are five watersheds with possible disturbance occurring at a high level. In addition, there are five watersheds where a moderate level of disturbance may be created. Cumulative effects with other projects would result in another three watersheds going from a low level of disturbance to a moderate level. A high level of disturbance would result in affecting at least one bee colony where reproduction will be compromised. Moderate level of disturbance will result in bees traveling further to find food resources if a colony is present within close proximity to the treatments.
The Westside project would diminish eight and destroy five meadows and possibly five colonies. This is contrary to maintaining and enhancing meadows as directed in the KNF Forest Plan.
Franklin’s Bumble Bee
Chainsaw activity and helicopter noise could disturb nesting Peregrine falcons in the Grider Creek watershed within and around a Special Habitat Management Area for Peregrine falcon eyries.
Snag Dependent Species
Salvage treatment units will not provide five snags on every acre but the project will meet the Forest Plan standard of five snags per acre- averaged over 100 acres. This is inconsistent with snag retention guidelines. The project would result in 11,693 acres of snag habitat being degraded and 1,692 acres would be removed.
Photo Credit: USFWS
Cavity-nesting species are prime beneficiaries of fires, 62 species of birds and mammals use snags, broken-topped, diseased or otherwise “defective” trees for roosting, denning, foraging, or other life functions. The White-headed Woodpecker, Pygmy nuthatch and Flammulated owl all have habitat ranges within the project area.
The Northwest Forest Plan at C-45-46 states, “White-headed Woodpecker, Black-backed Wood Pecker, Pygmy nuthatch and Flammulated Owl- These species will not be sufficiently aided by application of mitigation measures for riparian habitat protection.” It continues, “Specifically, the Scientific Analysis team recommends that no snags over 20 inches DBH be marked for cutting.” The KNF forest plan requires that the largest snags be retained as they last longer make the best wildlife habitat.
Forests that burn at high severity burn, snag forests, are often incorrectly assumed to be damaged. Ecologically, this is strongly contradicted by the scientific evidence. Peak biodiversity levels of higher plants and vertebrates are found in patches of snag forest habitat—areas where most or all of the trees are killed by fire, consistent with the principle that pyrodiversity enhances biodiversity, especially where mixed-severity fire effects occur. As a result, avian species richness and diversity increases in heavily burned patches occurring within a mix of low and moderate severity effects.
Scientists recommend that forest managers ensure the maintenance of moderate and high severity fire patches to maintain populations of numerous native bird species positively associated with fire. At the landscape level, high severity habitat (unlogged) is among the most underrepresented and rare forest habitat types.
Hardwood Dependent Species
The cumulative effect will be 1,318 acres of hardwood habitat being removed and would not function as habitat in the near future.
Species recognized on the KNF as being associated with hardwoods are the Acorn woodpecker and the Western gray squirrel. The KNF forest plan standards require that pure hardwood stands be managed for wildlife habitat values and to maintain or improve the presence of Oregon white oaks.
Neo-tropical Migratory Birds
The regional decline of migratory birds is a significant issue. Numerous studies have reported local and regional trends in breeding and migratory bird populations throughout North America. These studies suggest geographically widespread population declines that have provoked conservation concern for birds, particularly neotropical. The 2005 report from the Klamath Bird Observatory indicates that several species of songbirds are suffering declining population trends at the regional level.
The DEIS states the project would result in up to 21,650 acres of habitat being affected but fails to consider the actual impacts of proposed treatments on neo-tropical migratory birds.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The distribution of marten (Martes Americana) in the project area is not well-know and martens have not been detected at any of the fisher survey stations nor have surveys been done to assess population distribution. Martens are known to occupy higher elevations with true fir forest types so while habitat exists in the project area, the DEIS claims they are not likely to occur in the project area. True fir high elevation stands occur near Tyler Meadows, Eddy gulch ridgeline and within the Grider Creek drainage.
Like fisher, marten are also associated with late-successional conifer forests characterized by an abundance of large dead and downed wood and large, decadent live and dead trees. The marten’s home range is 1 to 6 square miles.
Photo Credit: NPS
Wolverines (Gulo Gulo) have not been observed on the Klamath National Forest since the 1980’s. There are sixteen documented detections but no den sites or evidence of reproduction has been found. The wolverine’s home range is 38 to 347 square miles with the closest located study to the project area reporting an average of 130 square miles. Wolverines are typically associated with high elevation >7,200 feet within montane conifer forest consisting of Douglas fir in lower elevation to true fir and lodgepole pine at higher elevation.
Other species in the forest that may be affected but were not considered in the DEIS include; Gray wolf, River otter, beaver, black bear, American mink, ringtail cat, fox, deer, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, elk and hundreds of other species.
WILD SALMON AND AQUATIC SPECIES
The rivers in the Westside project are home to some of the most productive fisheries habitat in the world outside of Alaska. They are vital to salmon survival. There are eleven larger watersheds in the project area and seventy-five sub-watersheds. Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The project area contains over 101 miles of Coho Critical Habitat and the Salmon River is the last stronghold for native spring Chinook salmon.
Relative to aquatic species, the project would cause short-term negative effects to habitat at the site scale (due to temporary road actions and landings) for the following special status aquatic species: resident trout and tailed frog (Management Indicator Species); foothill yellow-legged frog, Cascade frog, and western pond turtle (Forest Service Sensitive). Habitat for Coho Salmon (Threatened), Chinook salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and Klamath River lamprey (Forest Service Sensitive) may also be negatively affected.
The DEIS is supposed to be in plain language however it waters down any real effects by stating that activities are not directly in the streams and rivers, except water drafting, new landings, temporary road construction and 14 new stream crossings, which are outside of and at least 350 feet above fish critical habitat for Coho salmon. The DEIS relies on unreliable mitigations (Best Management Practices and Project Design Features) and the treatment of 150 out of the 953 legacy sites (at-risk sites or chronic sediment sources mostly associated with roads) as an offset to any effects to aquatic species and calls negative effects discountable. Throughout the aquatics section, the DEIS continually states that treatments are outside Riparian Reserves, however it fails to consider the
13,215 acres of treatment within steep unstable and potentially unstable areas on decomposed granite soils recognized as Riparian Reserves.
This summary is based on the findings in the DEIS, as with wildlife, the Fish Biological Assessment is inconsistent with the DEIS.
Wet Weather Logging in Klamath National Forest October 2014
Roads, Landings and Water Drafting
The DEIS states there would be moderate short-term negative effects to aquatic species and sediment production, due to construction/reconstruction of temporary roads, installation and removal of stream crossings, and new landings in Riparian Reserves. The temporary road actions include fourteen stream crossings (4 perennial and 10 intermittent streams): Doggett Creek, Buckhorn-Beaver Creek, Grider Creek, O’Neil Creek, Kuntz Creek, China Creek, Caroline Creek-Klamath River and Whites Gulch. New temporary roads and stream crossings have a high risk for affecting aquatic species because of their impacts on sediment regimes and drainage networks. Re-opening the 46N62 road in Caroline Creek would require the reinstallation of stream crossings and widening the road on an active landslide, which could re-activate.
It is not clear in the DEIS when or how much water would extracted from numerous streams to fill water tank trucks, which can hold over 4,000 gallons per load during the proposed implementation. Given that the project area is over 200,000 acres and that there would be over 650 miles of roads needed for dust abatement, water drafting could have a significant effect on water quantity and temperature during hot summer months.
Short-term negative effects to aquatic habitat may occur in several stream reaches due to grazing allotments, private timber harvest and Forest Service timber sales, Thom Seider and Eddy LSR, which are expected to contribute sediment delivery to streams. Private land logging would contribute to elevated sediment inputs to the Klamath River, which is admitted in the DEIS but is in violation of the law.
Management Indicator Species (MIS)
River/Stream associated species include steelhead, resident rainbow trout, tailed frog, and cascades frog. There are 802 miles of perennial stream habitat and 1,012 miles of intermittent stream habitat. Resident trout may occur in approximately 338 miles and steelhead in approximately 224 miles. Cascades frogs may occur in about 314 miles and tailed frogs may occur throughout all perennial streams. The western pond turtle is associated with marsh, lakes and ponds. The project area contains about 802 miles of stream habitat and 362 acres of lentic habitat that defines western pond turtle habitat.
The DEIS assumes that high quality riparian and aquatic habitat does not occur in areas of moderate/high fire intensity, and aquatic habitat in streams downstream of these areas is likely also experiencing negative effects such as increases in sedimentation, water temperature and peak flow events. The quality of MIS habitat is expected to be reduced along stream reaches associated with 14 sites where road crossings and landings are constructed. However the DEIS claims, again, that mitigations will reduce or eliminate harm and that the treatment of a fraction of legacy sediment sites will improve habitat.
Water quality in the Klamath River, Scott River, and North Fork Salmon River is listed as impaired and is on the 303(d) Clean Water Act. While the DEIS is supposed to use plain language it skews and blurs actual effects through models and relies on unreliable mitigations and the treatment of a fraction of legacy sediment sites. For instance, models show an increase in risk but it is so slight it does not change the risk ratios. However, any increase in sediment is contrary to the intent of the Clean Water Act, the Basin Plan and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The DEIS considers different indicators of risk for water quality including: risk to channel morphology, risk of sediment regime alteration, risk of temperature regime alteration and the trend of riparian function for fisheries. The project includes portions of eight watersheds: Beaver Creek; Humbug Creek-Klamath River; Horse Creek-Klamath River; Seiad Creek-Klamath River; Lower Scott River; Thompson Creek-Klamath River; Elk Creek; and North Fork Salmon River (the DEIS Aquatics section includes eleven watersheds) and seventy-five sub-watersheds that intersect portions of the three fire-related areas. Post-fire sediment has already been delivered to project areas streams such as Elk and Grider creeks during winter 2014-2015 storms.
Risk to Channel Morphology
There will be nine watersheds that will continue to have a moderate risk, and two with a high risk to channel morphology. Cumulative effect on risk to channel morphology would result in Jessups Gulch moving from a low to high risk.
Risk of Sediment Regime Alteration
Models show increases for nine watersheds and mass-wasting increase for seventeen watersheds. Site-scale alteration of the sediment regime is anticipated in some cases.
Cumulatively thirteen watersheds had an increase in risk and three for the mass-wasting. The largest increase was in Jessups Gulch.
Risk of Temperature Regime Alteration
Nine watersheds move to high risk, including Robinson Gulch. There are ten watersheds that move to a moderate risk, including Miller Gulch-Klamath River, Upper Grider Creek, Tom Martin Creek, Horse Creek-Klamath River, Headwaters of Elk Creek, Upper Elk Creek, Lower East Fork Elk Creek, Hoop & Devil, Lower South Russian Creek and Big Creek. Cumulative effects increased the shade loss potential for 19 more watersheds. Big Ferry-Swanson, Quigley’s Cove, Doggett Creek and Dutch Creek had the largest increase in percentage of the watershed with shade loss potential
Trend of Riparian Function
The DEIS claims that eventually the land will heal and the trend will be positive, except for “a slight downward dip in riparian function in watersheds with private land harvest due to the loss of shade in the stream channels.”
While many of the watersheds would have increased high and moderate risk, the DEIS again discounts theses as insignificant and relies on the treatment of a fraction of legacy sites mainly in one watershed, Elk Creek, to offset effects to the activities in the entire project area. Reforestation is also noted as a positive, however, natural recovery would be more conducive with water quality.
Key Watersheds and the Aquatic Conservation Strategy
Refugia are a cornerstone of most species conservation strategies. They are designated areas that either provide, or are expected to provide, high quality habitat. A system of Key Watersheds that serve as refugia is crucial for maintaining and recovering habitat for at-risk stocks of anadromous salmonids and resident fish species.
Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) B-18
Key watersheds in the project area include, Grider Creek in the Siead Creek Klamath River, South and North Fork Salmon River and Elk Creek. Fires, fire suppression and multiple timber sales have greatly impacted each of these Key watersheds.
Key Watersheds are also defined by the NFP as, a system of large refugia comprising watersheds that are crucial to at-risk fish species and stocks and provide high quality water. They are the highest priority for watershed restoration. Yet, instead of restoring these Key Watersheds- as required in the Northwest Forest Plan Aquatic Conservation Strategy- logging large old trees and snags that are contributing critical elements of forest and riparian structure with ground-based, cable and helicopter yarding, road construction/reconstruction, landings, and skid trails on steep and erodible hillsides will degrade riparian values and watersheds at large.
WILD AND SCENIC RIVERS