The Klamath-Siskiyou Region of the Pacific Northwest

Site of Largest Timber Sale Area in the History of the United States Forest Service

Feature story - June 1, 2004
In the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management target ancient forests of the Klamath and Siskiyou Mountains for commercial logging.

15 June 2004 -- Southwest Oregon--A logger approaches our blockade of a logging road at the site of the Soukow Timber Sale in the Medford Bureau of Land Management District.

The old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest comprise the vast majority of America's remaining ancient forests outside of Alaska. Most of these forests exist on public land under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

In Northwest California and Southwest Oregon, the Klamath and Siskiyou Mountains host the most diverse temperate conifer forests in the world. The region is centrally significant to the Pacific coast flora of North America, and features more conifer tree species living together than in any comparably sized area on Earth.

The Klamath-Siskiyou (KS) region also features the largest network of roadless wildlands in the Pacific Northwest. Roadless areas, though isolated by vast networks of logging roads and clearcuts created during the 1970s and 80s, still provide refuges to wildlife deprived of habitat elsewhere, including Pacific fisher, California wolverine, northern spotted owl, red tree vole and Siskiyou and Del Norte salamanders.

Fire is a vital natural disturbance in Klamath-Siskiyou forests, influencing habitat patterns, species composition, nutrient cycles, hydrology and many other ecosystem characteristics. Fire interacts with topography and vegetation in variable ways over time and space, and contributes to the region's globally outstanding temperate biological diversity.

Endangered: The Port Orford Cedar

Port Orford Cedar is one of the rarest types of tree species in the world. Endemic to an area stretching 220 miles between Northwest California and Southwest Oregon, these trees face imminent threats from commercial logging, and an export market that will pay top dollar for Port Orford timber.

Read more about Port Orford Cedar, and solutions to protecting the species.

The Northwest Forest Plan

After World War II, publicly owned forests in the KS region experienced widespread road building and clearcut logging followed by planting of young tree farms. In 1991, a federal judge halted the government logging program because the USFS and BLM had no way to ensure the survival of the northern spotted owl, who is threatened with extinction.

To break the court injunction, President Clinton issued the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) in 1994, which now regulates logging and other activity in public forests within the range of the owl. The judge who had enjoined logging in owl forests upheld the NFP as the "bare minimum" needed to continue logging old-growth while complying with environmental law.

Recently, the Bush administration amended the NFP to circumvent newer court holds on timber sales. Specifically, it gutted protections for salmon by removing the "aquatic conservation strategy" requirement that logging maintain or restore aquatic habitats at all spatial and temporal scales. Also, federal foresters no longer must survey for rare and sensitive forest species before logging their habitat. The "survey and manage" program produced important scientific information about poorly understood biological communities before it was eliminated.

The legality of recent NFP changes is disputed, but in the short term, they could expedite more than 180 timber sales across 88,600 acres of public forest in the Northwest and dramatically increase logging of old-growth.

Siskiyou Wild Rivers

The Siskiyou Wild Rivers area in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou region could bear the full brunt of the Bush administration's anti-environmental agenda.

This area includes over one million acres of public lands managed by the Siskiyou National Forest and the BLM Medford District. It contains numerous wild rivers including the Chetco, Illinois, Rogue and Smith, all of which support naturally reproducing populations of threatened salmon and steelhead. The area also supports 1,800 rare wildflowers and plants, 131 of which exist only here. The World Conservation Union describes it as an "area of global botanical significance."

Although deserving of permanent protection, the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area faces imminent threats. This year, the USFS and BLM plan to offer the largest federal timber sale in modern history, known as the Biscuit Fire Recovery Project, in areas burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire. Logging on sensitive burned soils and steep slopes would trigger soil erosion and kill fish downstream. Post-fire logging would be followed by planting of tree farms that increase the likelihood of uncharacteristically severe fires in the future. According to the USFS, the Biscuit Project could directly affect 28,000 acres and foreclose the addition of 50,000 acres to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

Additionally, the Medford BLM plans to auction a 1,200-acre timber sale, known as Kelsey Whiskey, in the largest forested roadless area on BLM land in the nation. The 50,000-acre Zane Grey Roadless Area surrounds the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, and it is the last best refuge for wild critters that formerly ranged between the Cascades and Coast Ranges.

The Healthy Forests Initiative

Bush unveiled his Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) in 2002 during a visit to the BLM Medford District, which the White House touts as a model for restoring fire-dependent forests by logging them.

Under the guise of "hazardous fuel reduction," the HFI and the legislation it spawned in Congress - the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA) - gives federal foresters new authority to limit public involvement and judicial review of logging projects. Citizens will encounter more difficulty influencing public land decisions and enforcing laws when government foresters disobey them.