The Medford District BLM has proposed the Bear Grub Timber Sale in the mountains of Southwestern Oregon. The timber sale proposes “group selection” logging, a form of incremental clearcut logging in the mountains between Talent in the Rogue Valley and Ruch in the Applegate Valley. This includes some of the driest watersheds in Western Oregon, popular recreation areas, and important wildlife habitats. The timber sale threatens the surrounding communities by creating significant fuel loads and additional fire risks.
Group Selection Logging
The BLM has proposed group selection logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale. Group selection logging will remove whole groves of large, fire resistant trees and replace them with dense understory growth. The BLM has identified stands of up to 4 acres for complete or near complete tree removal. According to the BLM these incremental, staggered clearcuts can occur on up to 30% of a forested stand.
Group selection logging and the heavy commercial thinning proposed in the Bear Grub Timber Sale will fragment forest habitats and dramatically increase fuel loads and fire risks in dry, fire-prone forests. These forests surround hundreds of rural residential homes in the Applegate Valley and small urban communities such as Talent and Phoenix in the Rogue River Valley.
Community Fire Risks
Although the Medford District BLM’s 2016 Resource Management Plan requires the agency to implement activities that will reduce fire risks, the Bear Grub Timber Sale will dramatically increase fuel loads and fire risks by removing large, fire resistant trees and creating significant canopy gaps in currently mature, closed canopy forests. These mature, closed canopy forests often suppress understory growth, maintain minimal understory fuel loading and are dominated by large, fire resistant trees with thick insulating bark and high canopies. In fact, these stands are currently the most fire resistant portions of the landscape and will not benefit from the proposed logging prescriptions.
The loss of canopy associated with group selection logging and other forms of heavy commercial thinning will increase exposure to sunlight and winds, increasing ambient air temperatures, drying out forest fuels and fanning the flames of future wildfires. This logging will also convert whole stands of large, fire resistant trees into dense, highly flammable understory vegetation.
In SW Oregon when forest canopies are cleared, woody shrubs and flammable young trees will undoubtedly regenerate in the new canopy gaps. By removing large trees and drastically opening forest canopies, fire resistance will be reduced, fuel loading will increase, and stands will become more dry, windy and vulnerable to fast moving, high severity wildfires. This is particularly troubling in the Bear Grub Timber Sale because timber sale prescriptions will increase fuel loading and fire risks adjacent to homes and communities.
Ironically, under group selection logging prescriptions, if thickets of vegetation do not regenerate in the patchwork of newly created clearcuts, the BLM will replant at a density of 150 trees per acre. According to environmental analysis in two recent BLM timber sales, similar prescriptions were documented to, “…exhibit higher flame lengths, rates of spread and fire intensity. Fires started within these stands could be difficult to initially attack and control. For five to 20 years following planting, the overall fire hazard would increase in these stands” (Clean Slate EA P. 192, Griffin Halfmoon EA P. C-17).
Recent scientific research has also confirmed these findings by demonstrating that young, heavily managed stands tend to burn at higher severity than unmanaged forests and late successional stands (Zald. 2018., Harma. 2003., Odion. 2004., Weatherspoon & Skinner. 1995., Bradley. 2016.).
The Bear Grub Timber Sale surrounds hundreds of rural homes and the communities of Ruch, Talent, and Phoenix, Oregon. While the BLM serves the interests of the timber industry, it is local residents that will get burned.
Impacts to Recreation
The Bear Grub Timber Sale proposes commercial logging units along or adjacent to the popular East Applegate Ridge Trail and the Jack-Ash Trail, as well as within the Wellington Wildlands, a 7,527-acre roadless area located between Ruch and Humbug Creek, at the heart of the Applegate Valley.
Together both the Applegate Ridge Trail and the Jack-Ash Trail are proposed to create an over 80-mile, non-motorized trail connecting and benefiting the communities of Ashland, Talent, Jacksonville, Grants Pass, Rogue River and the Applegate Valley. Currently only two small portions have been approved by the BLM and built by the community, but they have proven extremely popular due their beautiful forests, woodlands and spectacular vistas. Both the currently developed East Applegate Ridge Trail and the Jack-Ash Trail were built with extensive community support, small grants and community funding acquired by the Applegate Trails Association and the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association. These trails have become the pride of the Applegate Valley and both organizations are dedicated to continuing development of this wonderful non-motorized trail system.
Meanwhile, the BLM has proposed extensive commercial logging along the East Applegate Ridge Trail and in its spectacular viewshed in the Bear Grub Timber Sale, as well as, the Jack-Ash Trail near Anderson Butte. Additionally, the BLM is also proposing logging units along proposed, but not yet developed, sections of these trails, including old-growth forests on Bald Mountain above Talent and the Little Applegate, and in the Wellington Wildlands above Ruch.
The Bear Grub Timber Sale area is also a world renowned paragliding destination, with developed launch sites on Woodrat Mountain. Well loved by the paragliding community for its spectacular vistas and ideal paragliding conditions. The viewshed will be badly damaged by group selection logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale.
Impacts to Wildlife
The forests of the Bear Grub Timber Sale support nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl, denning and resting habitat for the Pacific fisher, nesting and foraging habitat for the great gray owl, and thermal cover habitat important for a variety of wildlife species. The mature, closed canopy forests of the region, mixed among the oak woodlands, grasslands and chaparral of the Bear Grub “planning area” create an ideal mix of habitats important for regional wildlife species.
The large tree removal and canopy reduction proposed in the Bear Grub Timber Sale will impact wildlife habitat values for a variety of species. Habitat for species such as Northern spotted owls, Pacific fisher and great gray owls that require late successional or old-growth forest conditions will be negatively impacted. Northern spotted owl habitat, and in turn Pacific fisher denning habitat or great gray owl nesting habitat with be either “downgraded” or “removed” due to a loss of important habitat characteristics such as large old trees, snags, coarse wood, multilayered canopy structure, and closed canopy conditions.
Thermal cover is also important to many species of wildlife for temperature moderation during the cold nights of winter and the long, hot days of summer. The dense canopy of large, mature trees shields the forest floor from the intensity of summer sunlight and insulates wildlife against the biting cold and deep frosts of winter. As canopies are fragmented and opened from commercial logging their value as thermal cover is lost.
The Bear Grub Timber Sale has proposed a series of fuel reduction units in a newly introduced noxious weed population. Shiny geranium (Geranium lucidum) was until recently unknown south of the Willamette Valley. A new and quickly expanding population was recently introduced on lower Forest Creek in the Bear Grub Planning Area along unauthorized off-road vehicle trails.
Shiny geranium is a highly invasive species with the potential to do great damage to the ecosystems of the Applegate Valley and southern Oregon as a whole. It is extremely aggressive and outcompetes native plant species, creating dense non-native monocultures where diverse native plant species once flourished. Unlike many noxious weeds it can grow in the shade of dense forest canopy and can spread even without soil disturbance.
Fuel reduction thinning has been proposed in this isolated shiny geranium population and will increase the potential for noxious weed spread, as well as the introduction of new populations by opening forest canopies, disturbing soils, and creating additional vectors of spread. These fuel reduction units should be canceled, the unauthorized off-road vehicle trails should be immediately closed and the BLM should take aggressive measures to eradicate, contain or control the spread of this new, highly aggressive and dangerously noxious species. Once the population is eliminated fuel reduction thinning could be considered, but under current conditions, additional opportunities for noxious weed spread are not justified. The fuel reduction units proposed within the shiny geranium populations should be turned into noxious weed treatment units alone.
Recent research conducted at Oregon State University demonstrates that the timber industry is the largest source of carbon pollution in the state of Oregon (Law. 2018.).
The Bear Grub Timber Sale will diminish the capacity of local forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere by removing large, old trees and reducing forest cover. Logging these stands will also make them drier, more exposed micro-climates with increased susceptibility to bark beetle outbreaks, high severity fires and drought stress. The forests of southwestern Oregon and the Siskiyou Mountains are significant carbon sinks and climate refugia. These important climate resilience values will be degraded by group selection and heavy commercial logging.
Intact conifer forests support climate resilience and are part of the climate solution. They should be protected, not clearcut on federal lands like the Bear Grub planning area.
Stop Bear Grub!
Stop Bear Grub is a campaign of Applegate Neighborhood Network (ANN) and Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA). We are working together with local residents and friends of the Siskiyou Mountains to cancel the Bear Grub Timber Sale and focus BLM management activities on projects that will reduce fire risks to nearby communities, support the recreation and amenities-based economy of the Applegate and Rogue River Valleys.
For more information:
Bradley, C. M., Hanson, C.T., and DellaSala, D.A. 2016. Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States? Ecosphere 7(10):e01492. 10.1002/ecs2.1492
Harma, K., Morrison, P. 2003 “Analysis of Vegetation Mortality and Prior Landscape Condition, 2002 Biscuit Fire Complex.” Unpublished Report. Pacific Biodiversity Institute. Winthrop, WA.
Law, Beverly E., Hudiburg, Tara., Berner, Jeffery., Buotte, Polly C., Harmon, Mark E. Land Use Strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 2018, 115 (14) 3663-3668: DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1720064115
Odion, D.C., J.R. Strittholt, H. Jiang, E. Frost, D.A. DellaSala, and M. Moritz. 2004. Fire severity patterns and forest management in the Klamath National Forest, northwest California, USA. Conservation Biology 18:927-936.
Weatherspoon, Phillip C., Skinner, Carl N. (1995) An Assessment of Factors Associated with Damage to Tree Crowns from the 1987 Wildfires in Northern California. Forest Science, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp 430-451.
Zald, Harold S. & Dunn, Christopher J. (2018) Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in multi-ownership landscape. Ecological Applications 0(0), 2018. Pp 1-13