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Klamath National Forest Post-Fire Plans Run Into Opposition

Kari Greer | California Interagency Incident Management Team

Nearly a quarter-million acres of forest burned in last summer’s fires in and around the Klamath National Forest in northern California’s Siskiyou County.

The US Forest Service is proposing a recovery plan that includes salvage logging and other elements critics say will damage wildlife habitat and make future fires more likely. 

The fires burned for the better part of three months late last summer and early fall. After prolonged drought and record high temperatures, much of the area burned at high intensity, leaving little but charred tree trunks and scorched earth. Klamath National Forest supervisor Patricia Grantham says the fires created the equivalent of massive clear cuts.

Patricia Grantham: “There are places where there are thousands of acres of standing dead trees and not a green needle in sight.”

Grantham says the proposed recovery plan has three primary objectives.

Patricia Grantham: “The first one is to reduce hazards to the public and to forest workers. The second objective is to take a look at recovering the value of the burned trees.  And the third objective is to look at replanting  areas that could benefit from replanting in order to accelerate the reestablishment of a forest.”

With that in mind, the Forest Service is proposing to harvest fire-killed trees from roughly 12,000 acres, as well as clear trees along 650 miles of roads, utility corridors and adjacent  private land. Grantham says removing those trees will not only have a local economic benefit, but will enhance public safety and decrease the likelihood of future fires.

Patricia Grantham: “Twenty-five to 30 years out, when all of that standing dead material is going to fall down, there’s going to be a brush component that’s going to come in behind it, and we’re going to have conditions that we just aren’t really going to be able to safely address in fire suppression.”

But Craig Tucker says the Forest Service’s plan is a move in exactly the wrong direction.

Craig Tucker: “We think what the Klamath National Forest is trying to do is a continuation of a flawed land management policy that has made our forests and landscapes more prone to catastrophic wildfire.”

Tucker is Klamath campaign director for the Karuk Indian tribe.

Craig Tucker: “These epic fires we’ve seen in recent years is the direct result of a hundred years of fire suppression, and then the logging practices followed by the planting of tree plantations.”

The Karuk tribe is joined by local environmental groups in opposing the plan.  George Sexton is with the Ashland-based Klamath- Siskiyou Wildlands Center. He points to a pair of Oregon State University studies done on the impact of salvage logging and re-planting operations in the wake of the 2002 Biscuit fire in southern Oregon.

George Sexton: “Both of those studies found that the practices that the Forest Service is proposing – the clear-cut salvage logging followed by the fiber plantation establishment – increased future fire hazards and decreased the natural regeneration of a conifer forest.”

Opponents also object to the effort to fast-track the project by shortening public comment periods and limiting appeals. The Forest Service says it’s necessary to get the timber salvaged before it rots and loses value. But George Sexton says that by-passes important citizen input.

George Sexton: “That means there won’t be any outside review of what the Forest Service is proposing before the timber purchaser gets the timber and before the logging starts.”

The Karuk tribe has proposed an alternative would take only a third as much salvage timber as the Forest Service proposal. Officials say they’re likely to revise their proposal in light of that and other suggestions made during the review process. The comment period ends April 27th.

The Forest Service is holding a final public open house information session on the Westside Recovery Project on Tuesday evening from 4:30 to 7:30  at the Rogue Regency Inn in Medford. 

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.