BLM Targets Ancient Forests on Public Lands, Threatening Owls

KS Wild hike to Griffin Half Moon with a number of birders enjoying the forest habitat that is threatened by logging. Photo: Daniel Thiede, courtesy of KS Wild.
KS Wild hike to Griffin Half Moon with a number of birders enjoying the forest habitat that is threatened by logging. Photo: Daniel Thiede, courtesy of KS Wild.

The headwater streams that feed the Klamath and Rogue Rivers come together east of Interstate 5 in the Cascade Mountains at the Oregon and California border. Here is the convergence of ecosystems, with plants and wildlife from the Great Basin, Pacific Northwest ancient forests, and biologically rich Siskiyou Mountains all inhabiting this unique landscape.

The recently released Griffin Half Moon timber sale from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would convert native forests into tree plantations. Located near Ashland, Oregon, Griffin Half Moon surrounds Howard Prairie Lake and is a stone’s throw from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Proposed logging units on BLM-administered land (that is, land owned by you and me), represent a seismic shift in BLM logging practices.

A Clearcut by Any Other Name…

The term “clearcutting” is often forbidden among timber advocates. They claim it is a thing of the past. But the truth is known to anyone who has ever climbed up or flown over southern Oregon or northern California’s mountain peaks: too many of our watersheds are riddled with clearcuts. Millions of acres of native forests on both public and private lands have been slicked off and converted into even-age timber plantations, designed to maximize economic profits.

Having abandoned the small-diameter dry forest restoration thinning paradigm that showed such promise, BLM managers in Southwest Oregon are now rushing to get clearcut timber sales like Griffin Half Moon out the door. They are under pressure from their superiors and their new boss, Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to get the cut out. But you’ll never see the word “clearcut” in their timber sale proposals. Instead, the removal of the 170-year old forest canopy east of Howard Lake and establishment of tree plantations is referred to as “regeneration harvesting” within the “Light Intensity Timber Area.”

Great grey owls. Photo: Dan Elster Photography, courtesy of KS WIld.
Great grey owls. Photo: Dan Elster Photography, courtesy of KS WIld.

Targeting Great Gray Owl Nest Sites

In addition to abandoning the dry forest restoration principles, thought to thin small-diameter trees and create more fire resilient forests, BLM timber planners have turned their back on the safeguards for wildlife created habitat protection buffers for species like the rare and magnificent great gray owl. The public forests surrounding Howard Prairie are a great gray owl hotspot and are essential as a primary “source population” for the species. Due to the importance of this habitat, previous BLM timber sales in the area had protected, rather than logged, known owl nesting sites. Those days are behind us.

Through the Griffin Half Moon sale, the BLM is targeting previously protected owl nesting sites for “regeneration.” You read that right, BLM timber planners know that the forest sites are occupied by a rare owl species that they had previously decided to protect, and have now decided that the habitat supporting their nesting sites should be removed. The Griffin Half Moon timber sale is the first project we’ve seen under the BLM’s 2016 management plan that deliberately targets important wildlife habitat that the BLM previously protected.

Increased Fire Hazard

Another recent major policy shift is that until this year many BLM timber planners previously designed timber projects to thin small-diameter trees and retain older large diameter trees. Larger trees are known to be more fire resilient, and many old trees have survived dozens of fires in their history. By thinning small trees and retaining large ones, timber planners were attempting to increase forest resilience.
The analysis contained in the BLM’s Griffin Half Moon timber sale indicates that the BLM knows that “regenerating” stands up to 170 years old and replacing them with second growth timber plantations will increase fire hazard for decades. Unfortunately, BLM timber planners are now encouraged to increase fire hazard in order to produce more timber volume.

We Can Do Better

In the face of climate change and longer fire seasons, the BLM’s decision to implement logging practices that replace resilient old-growth forest stands with dense young fiber plantations that are susceptible to stand replacing fire is extremely irresponsible.
KS Wild is working with our allies to try to change the direction of the Griffin Half Moon timber sale such that resilient old-growth forests are protected, critical wildlife habitat is retained, and public lands are managed for resiliency and restoration rather than solely for logging interests.

What You Can Do:

Visit the KS Wild website to sign a petition to oppose the Griffin Half Moon timber sale, and get more information. Click “contact the Medford BLM District Manager” at this link: