2022: Advocacy, Activism, Litigation and Stewardship in the Applegate Siskiyous

2022 was a busy year in the Applegate Siskiyous, with significant conservation victories and numerous emerging threats to the region. In 2023, Applegate Siskiyou Alliance (ASA) will continue responding to these threats and working to expand and multiply our victories.

Although we spend incredible amounts of time working to address the seemingly endless barrage of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) timber sales in the Applegate Valley, we also find time to work proactively, building support for long-term conservation goals through the Siskiyou Crest Coalition. We coordinate community-based, public land stewardship projects, work to approve and build new non-motorized trails, lead public hikes in the wildlands of the Applegate, and offer educational opportunities that build a stronger sense of place and a deeper appreciation for the Siskiyou Mountain’s unique biodiversity.

From the Applegate River’s confluence with the Rogue River to its headwaters on the Siskiyou Crest, no other organization works specifically to protect, defend, rewild and restore the entire Applegate River watershed and the Applegate Siskiyous!

All donations over $100 made between now and January 1, 2023 will receive an Applegate Siskiyou Alliance t-shirt (organic & fair trade). Please make sure to include your email address with the donation and we will contact you for sizing and mailing information.

Below are highlights from 2022 and ongoing projects we expect to continue working on throughout 2023:

Success in the Applegate Siskiyous!

Victory at Mt. Ashland!

A view of Mt. Ashland from near McDonald Peak.

In February of 2022 ASA and Klamath Forest Alliance filed suit to halt the proposed paving of Road 20 near Mt. Ashland and the Mt. Ashland summit road. Our lawsuit claimed that road 20 had never been paved and therefore the use of a Categorical Exclusion for “routine road maintenance” was inappropriate. Concerned by the implications of this project on the environment and its effect on the wild character of the region, our suit also claimed that the Klamath National Forest did not adequately analyze the project or provide sufficient public involvement.

In short order, the Klamath National Forest realized we were correct, the Categorical Exclusion being used to approve the project was invalid, and the road, in fact, had never been paved. The agency withdrew the project and we, in turn, withdrew our litigation. Following withdrawal of the project, the Forest Service used the funding available for road maintenance to regrade and re-gravel road 20, providing public benefit without paving paradise on the Siskiyou Crest.

Victory for the Bear Grub Timber Sale!

These forests in the Bear Grub Timber Sale have been saved for now, but more must be done in 2023 to ensure the timber sale is permanently canceled.

Since 2019 ASA has been working to stop the Bear Grub Timber Sale located in the mountains above Ruch and the Little Applegate Valley. This timber sale proposes nearly 1,100 acres of commercial logging, including 293 acres in the Wellington Wildlands, an over 7,500-acre roadless area between Ruch and Humbug Creek on BLM lands. It also includes logging units along the popular East Applegate Ridge Trail.

The timber sale proposed extensive “group selection logging,” a form of staggered clearcut forestry that would increase fire risks, degrade forest habitats, and impact both the scenic and recreational values of the Applegate Valley, the Wellington Wildlands and the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

Following the BLM’s approval of the Bear Grub Timber Sale, ASA, numerous local residents and other conservation organizations in the region filed Administrative Protests documenting the numerous project impacts that were not adequately considered, disclosed or analyzed in the Bear Grub Timber Sale. Fortunately, the BLM is required to resolve these Administrative Protests before the timber sale, which sold to the Timber Products Company at auction, can be officially awarded and logging can begin.

In August of 2022, the Medford District BLM finally addressed our Administrative Protests and was forced to rescind its previous decision. The agency stated that impacts to the Pacific fisher were not adequately addressed and must be reconsidered. This means the Bear Grub Timber Sale has been rescinded, but not permanently canceled, and the agency could simply reanalyze, reauthorize, and once again target the beautiful forests of the Applegate with old forest logging.

Although this is a massive victory for the forests of the Applegate, we need help to ensure it is more than temporary!

Continuing Advocacy, Activism and Forest Defense

Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM) Project

Nearly every tree in this photograph is proposed for logging in the Penn Butte Timber Sale, authorized under the the BLM’s IVM Project.

For the past two years ASA has been opposing the BLM’s massive Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM) Project. Although cloaked in misleading euphemisms and the language of “restoration,” the project is not about “restoration” or land resiliency, and instead proposes widespread industrial logging across 800,000 acres of Medford District BLM lands in southwestern Oregon, including the Applegate Valley.

In fact, the IVM Project allows the BLM to log up to 20,000 acres and build up to 90 miles of new roads per decade without additional site-specific scientific review, public comment, public involvement or the disclosure of environmental impacts.

The intent of the project is simple: to increase timber production on BLM lands by cutting the public out of the process, and to make matters worse, the IVM Project specifically proposes this logging in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forests set aside to protect old forest habitat for the Northern spotted owl.

ASA will continue our opposition to the IVM Project in 2023!

Late Mungers/Penn Butte Timber Sales

These 37″ and 40″ diameter Douglas fir trees are proposed for logging in unit 5-1 of the Late Mungers Timber Sale.

The Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales are the first projects to be proposed under the IVM Project. The projects target old forest habitats in the mountains between Williams and Murphy in the western Applegate Valley, including beautiful old forests and large, old trees that exceed the BLM’s 36” diameter limit.

ASA spent much of the last year monitoring timber sale units, advocating for old forests habitats, and spreading the word about these horrible old forest timber sales. We also held public meetings, field trips, protests and hikes into proposed timber sale units. We have engaged the media, our elected officials and residents throughout the region. We also worked with the Climate Forest Alliance to produce the Worth More Standing report, which identifies the IVM Project, Late Mungers and Penn Butte Timber Sales as some of the worst timber sales in the country from a climate perspective. Unfortunately, despite widespread public opposition, the BLM appears to be moving forward and a decision on these sales could be released any day.  

In 2023, we are dedicated to protecting the old forests of the region and stopping both the Penn Butte and Late Mungers Timber Sale. Please sign our petition to stop the IVM Project, the Late Mungers Timber Sale and the Penn Butte Timber Sale before they damage our forests, increase fire risks and degrade wildlife habitats in the last old forests remaining in the watersheds of southwestern Oregon.   

Big Ben LSR

The Big Ben LSR Project is proposed in the mountains of the Middle Applegate between Upper Applegate, Ruch and Thompson Creek.

Recently, the Medford District BLM has proposed yet another timber sale in the Applegate Valley under the IVM Project framework, but is refusing to provide the public with information about the project. Located in the mountains between Upper Applegate, Ruch and Thompson Creek, the project proposes logging in the area surrounding Ben Johnson and Tallowbox Mountain.

Proposed under the IVM Project, this means the agency will fully design the timber sale, mark the trees for removal, and “finalize” the project before engaging the public in any way. Community concerns will not be incorporated into the proposal and environmental impacts will not be adequately disclosed to the public or analyzed in environmental documents.

What we do know, is that thus far, the BLM has chosen to implement the 800,000-acre IVM Project exclusively in the Applegate Valley alone, and in no other location in that massive area, avoiding public accountability, insulating itself from public opposition, and cutting the public out of the process.

The Applegate is tired of being the focus of the BLM’s timber sales. At any one time the Applegate has 2-5 BLM timber sales planned out of both the Medford District and Grants Pass District BLM offices, more than any other watershed or community in southwest Oregon. The Big Ben LSR Project will be yet another we have to fight.

ASA will continue opposing the IVM Project and all timber sales proposed under its provisions. We believe meaningful public engagement and a robust scientific review should be required for all federal land management projects, and we oppose the BLM’s secret, unaccountable logging plans in the Applegate Valley and throughout southwestern Oregon.

Rogue Gold Timber Sale

Old forest proposed for logging in the Rogue Gold Timber Sale.

The Rogue Gold Timber Sale is located in the mountains between Rogue River, Gold Hill and Jacksonville on the ridgeline divide between the Applegate and Rogue River watersheds. Located predominantly in Kane, Galls, and Foots Creeks, the project proposes to log the last old forest habitats remaining in these already heavily fragmented watersheds, and either remove, downgrade or degrade the last islands of suitable Northern spotted owl habitat in the area.

The removal of large, old trees up to 36″ DBH, the removal of significant forest canopy and the implementation of “group selection” logging will not only impact endangered species habitat, but it will also increase fire risks in the watershed’s last fire-resilient, old forest habitats.

In previous years, ASA conducted extensive on-the-ground monitoring of timber sale units and submitted extensive public comments in the BLM’s Scoping process. It appears that BLM may be looking to move this project forward in 2023, and we intend to continue tracking this project and advocating for the retention of old trees and old forests in the Rogue Gold Planning Area.

Proactive Habitat Protections

Wild and Scenic Rivers

The spectacular Middle Fork Applegate River and the Middle Fork Falls were removed from proposed protection in the River Democracy Act. ASA will be working to secure protection of this and other deserving streams.

For the past few years ASA and others across the state have been working with Senator Wyden’s staff to nominate streams for protection as new Wild and Scenic River segments. This process has led to the River Democracy Act, federal legislation that would protect thousands of miles of rivers and streams in Oregon watersheds as new Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Recently, Senator Wyden released a new version of the River Democracy Act, that now excludes some of the wildest and most scenic streams in the Applegate watershed, including all streams in California. Unfortunately, the newest version of the bill reduced the stream miles proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation in the Applegate from nearly 154 stream miles to 62.7 miles, a nearly 60% reduction in the Applegate River watershed.

Although we will continue to support the River Democracy Act and are appreciative of the streams still included in the legislation, we will also continue to vigorously advocate for the biggest, wildest, most worthy streams in the region at the headwaters of the Applegate River in California. This includes Middle Fork Applegate River, Butte Fork Applegate River, Cook and Green Creek, Whisky Creek, and Elliott Creek. We will also continue to advocate for the protection of Upper Pipe Fork, upper Whisky Creek, O’Brien Creek, and Brush Creek in the Oregon portion of the watershed.

Just because the Applegate’s wild headwaters are in California, it doesn’t mean they aren’t just as deserving of the same protections as other worthy streams that Oregon communities rely on for clean water and recreation.

Currently, our goal is to secure the inclusion of these streams in Senator Wyden’s River Democracy Act. Please sign our petition below.

Siskiyou Crest Coalition

A view west across the Siskiyou Crest and the headwaters of the Little Applegate River from McDonald Peak.

For the past two years ASA has been working to support the Siskiyou Crest Coalition, a collaboration of local conservation organizations and residents in the region working towards the permanent protection of the Siskiyou Crest. Currently, we are working to promote the region and support new Wild and Scenic River designations in our area through the River Democracy Act.

Organizing for future conservation campaigns, we are building appreciation for the region and its many important values, while documenting and highlighting the region’s unique biodiversity, spectacular wildlands, carbon rich forests, world class biological values, regionally significant habitat connectivity and incredible recreational values.

The Siskiyou Crest Coalition is a network of passionate local residents and experienced conservation advocates working to build a stronger sense of place in the Siskiyou Crest region, and more appropriate levels of habitat protection.

Private Timber Land Buyout

Old-growth forest proposed for public acquisition on Elliott Creek.

For many years ASA has been working with conservation allies to promote the public acquisition of private timber land on the Siskiyou Crest. These lands include old-growth forests in the Elliott Creek canyon, parcels at the headwaters of the Little Applegate River, sections of land on Yale Creek, Beaver Creek and near Big Red Mountain.

In recent years we have made significant progress towards finding willing sellers and large-scale land conservancy organizations interested in funding a significant conservation purchase. Our goal now is to entice Forest Service officials to work with this diverse coalition of industrial timber companies, local residents and conservation interests, towards a private industrial timber land buyout and the consolidation of public lands in the Siskiyou Crest region.

Please join us in encouraging our public land managers to embrace this proposal. The consolidation of public land on the Siskiyou Crest would provide significant public benefits and could very well be the most consequential conservation effort affecting the Siskiyou Crest region in many, many years. Help us secure this once-in-a-lifetime conservation opportunity and sign our petition to support the public buyout of private industrial timber lands on the Siskiyou Crest.

Stewardship Projects

Upper Applegate/Palmer Ditch Trail Proposal

A view across the Upper Applegate Valley to Mule Mountain and Little Greyback from the proposed Upper Applegate Trail.

This past spring, ASA designed and laid out approximately 10 miles of new hiking trail on the west side of the Upper Applegate Valley, extending from Kanaka Flats, just below the Applegate Dam (where the salmon ceremony used to take place), to the Gin Lin Trail through the Collings-Kinney Inventoried Roadless Area and the surrounding wildlands in the Kanaka Gulch, Buck Gulch, Kinney Creek and Palmer Creek watersheds. Portions of the trail will follow old mining ditches, similar to other hiking trails in the Applegate.

This first step of designing and laying out the trail on the ground provides a template for future trail development and future environmental review. The Forest Service has committed, in writing, to working towards approval of this new non-motorized trail by conducting the appropriate level of environmental analysis and addressing any site-specific concerns that might arise.

We hope to see the agency follow through with this commitment by prioritizing the analysis, and hopefully the approval of the Upper Applegate/Palmer Ditch Trail in 2023.

Tallowbox Trail

The beautiful forests of Ladybug Gulch along the proposed Tallowbox Trail.

ASA has worked for numerous years on the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project. During this process we advocated for pollinator and native plant restoration and responsible, low impact forest management geared towards habitat restoration and community fire risk reduction. We also proposed the Tallowbox Trail, a new non-motorized trail on Ladybug Gulch and on the south-facing slopes near Tallowbox Mountain in the Burton-Ninemile Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC).

The Burton-Ninemile LWC is one of only two protected roadless areas, or at least somewhat protected roadless areas, on BLM lands in the Applegate Valley. The area encompasses the southern slopes of Burton Butte, Baldy Mountain, and Tallowbox Mountain above Star Gulch. It also includes a portion of Ninemile Creek, with its uncut forests near the headwaters of Thompson Creek.

Currently, the Burton Ninemile LWC contains no trails, but we saw an opportunity to provide responsible public access along a long decommissioned and partially recontoured road on Ladybug Gulch. The BLM approved the Tallowbox Trail as part of the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project decision record, and currently, we are working to lay out the trail and hope to break ground on the Tallowbox Trail early in 2023!

Upper Applegate Pollinator and Native Plant Restoration

ASA volunteers planting native grasses and wildflowers on a beautiful winter day at Nick Wright Flat along the Upper Applegate River.

For the past six years ASA has been working on a pollinator and native plant restoration project in the Upper Applegate Valley at Nick Wright Flat. Located on Forest Service land, this project consists of planting and seeding native flowering plants in a dry clearing with oaks above the Applegate River. This fall we planted over 1,800 native plants at the site with 10 volunteers in November 2022.

We hope to continue working to restore native plant communities for the benefit of native pollinators and native plant conservation, as well as the surrounding community on this small, but rare piece of valley-bottom public land in the Upper Applegate Valley in 2023.

Looking Forward to 2023!

Although many troubling projects have been proposed in our watershed, ASA is rising to the challenge and commits to working everyday, to defend the wildlands of the Applegate Siskiyous. In 2023, we will advocate with the same passion, fight with the same tenacity, and move forward with the support of our community. Please support out work!