Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Study Indicates Restoration of Unlogged Fire-excluded Forests Requires a Light Touch

While it is well known that fire suppression has resulted in structural changes in the dry interior forests of the western U.S., previous studies that have attempted to evaluate the changes in stand structure as a result of fire suppression have failed to consider how commercial logging that predated the fire suppression had already impacted the forest structure. For example, in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, commercial logging began in the 1870s, predating the effective fire suppression period by more than 50 years. This question is very important because the distinct forest management histories in previously logged vs. unlogged stands may necessitate unique restoration approaches. A new study in press with Ecological Applications entitled “Interactive effects of historical logging and fire exclusion on contemporary structure of ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir forests of the Northern Rockies,” has specifically addressed this critical question.

The Naficy et al (2010) study encompasses a broad geographic region within the northern Rockies, extending from central Montana to the Payette National Forest of western Idaho. The study is based on an extensive field campaign that identified paired logged and unlogged ponderosa pine/ Douglas-fir, fire-excluded forests. Notwithstanding the logging history, the paired logged and unlogged sites have similar management histories including effective fire suppression and similar physiographic characteristics allowing for comparison of stand structural differences that can be attributed to the logging.

Naficy et al. (2010) found that:
- Average total stand density of logged sites was more than twice that of unlogged sites.
- While the total Basal Area was similar between logged and unlogged sites, in unlogged sites the Basal Area was more concentrated in larger diameter Ponderosa Pine trees.
- In previously logged stands, the lack of large trees and abundance of smaller trees resulted in strong dominance of small fire-intolerant trees.
- Unlogged stands showed a more even distribution of ponderosa pine tree density across all size classes.

Naficy et al. (2010) shows that historically logged, fire-excluded ponderosa pine forests of the Northern Rocky Mountains have more homogenous stand structure, much higher average stand density, more standing dead trees and greater numbers and dominance of small, fire-intolerant trees than their unlogged, fire excluded counterparts, making them more prone to severe, stand-replacing wildfires than unlogged, fire excluded stands. While previously logged fire excluded forests may benefit from significant mechanical stand manipulations before fire can be safely introduced, unlogged, fire-excluded forests may require much less invasive treatments. Naficy et al. (2010) discusses the potential long-term risks associated with mechanical treatments, especially in previously unlogged forests. While acknowledging the differences between historical logging and contemporary fuels reduction practices, Naficy et al (2010) also recognizes the similarities; soil disturbance and reduction of canopy cover. Furthermore the reality of modern fuel reduction methods targeting medium and large overstory trees in order to increase canopy spacing and reduce crown fire spread and to help offset treatment costs (see photo).

Naficy et al (2010) concludes “Clearly, there is a need for careful consideration of the long-term effects of modern silvicultural treatments as part of a forward-looking fuels management approach that balances fire hazard reduction with wildlife habitat needs and other ecological values and is commensurate with the realistic financial and institutional ability of public land management agencies to maintain such treatments over time.”

A large Ponderosa Pine (marked in blue), growing here for well over a century is marked for cut in the Sugar Timber Sale. HCPC has worked diligently to explain to the Forest Service why restoration of fire-adapted old growth stands should not involved cutting early successional species that are older than the historical fire suppression period.

David Mildrexler,
Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, and
Staff Scientist

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wolf Update

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks here at HCPC world headquarters, due in no small part to all the wolf activity in NE Oregon lately. Here’s the latest on our local wolves, starting first with the good news:

- There is a pack of 10 in the Imnaha area, and the alpha female of the pack has presumably had pups again this spring. We have no visual confirmation of the pups yet.

- There is another pack of 4 in the Wenaha area, although they are very elusive. It seems likely they’ve had pups this year, but there is no proof of this … yet.

- It is quite likely other wolves have established around Oregon, as there are more and more reliable reports from around the state, especially in the Cascades and N Fk John Day area.

Now the bad news … the Imnaha pack has been very active on private ranch-land within Wallowa County, and has killed six calves and cows. This activity is getting hyped in the local media, but is getting very little attention elsewhere. What’s worse is that the local media is treating each and every unsubstantiated claim of wolf depredation as fact. We believe that only Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) has the authority and training to determine whether a depredation has occurred.

As a result of the depredations, ODFW has issued a kill permit to Wildlife Service to kill 2 wolves of the Imnaha pack—a very broad permit that covers a huge area: over 40 square miles! ODFW has also given 7 ranchers permits to shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking their livestock—these are very limited permits, and although they concern us they re not are the key focus right now.

So, what are we doing about it? We have informed ODFW that we expect them to adhere strictly to the requirements of the Oregon Plan. Read our letter to ODFW here. We feel the issuance of the permits was premature as there are still ranches in the area wolves are frequenting that have not cleaned up carcass piles and other attractants. Some have, but some haven’t. Until all ranches in the area have removed attractants, it is too early to say that non-lethal control measures were ineffective. And before the permits are issued, ODFW has a responsibility to ensure that non-lethal control measures are ineffective.

Also, just today we submitted a letter to Governor Kulongoski asking him to pardon the two Imnaha pack wolves sentenced to death by ODFW.

The larger context is that the Oregon Wolf Plan is under its 5-year review process. Public comments are due to ODFW by June 30th. HCPC will be sending out e-alerts with talking points, so join our e-alert list to receive these. Or go ahead and send an email to ODFW asking them to fully protect Oregon’s fledgling wolf population.

Greg Dyson,
Executive Director

Friday, June 4, 2010

Memorial Day Whitewater Fun on the Salmon River

Every year our family packs up our rafting gear and heads to the Salmon River in Riggins, Idaho for some big, free flowing whitewater on Memorial Day weekend. This year was no different, except the big water had not arrived yet, due to the winter-like weather we continue to experience here in the Pacific Northwest. Although the river was not pumping as we had hoped, the beauty of the deep canyons covered in wildflowers made the long trip worthwhile and welcoming.

Driving into Riggins, ID was quite a ruckus, with the whole town filled with Salmon fishermen and rafters, celebrating the rich resources the area has to offer. With the water levels low, the fishermen were able to line the banks of the Little Salmon and Salmon Rivers, hoping to catch the big one. The town was buzzing with traffic and excitement, with locals and visitors sharing stories about their day on the river in every café and on every street corner.

The Salmon River was running at 21,000 cfs (cubic feet per second), which is fairly low for this time of year; some big water years it has run between 60,000-80,000 cfs. The lower water made for a more relaxing atmosphere, with less concerns for flipping and debris in the river. At higher levels, Ruby and Lake Creek Rapids can be ‘boat-eaters,’ with 20 foot waves and chaotic water, frequently flipping three out of five rafts. This year the fun rapids were below Riggins, which come out when the river flows are below 20,000 cfs. Time Zone, Chair and Ladder rapids were where the action was, with big waves and holes for boaters to take their chances on.

As I floated down the Salmon River with family and friends, I talked about HCPC’s work to protect the beauty and resources of the Lower Salmon River and surrounding areas. This unique place attracts many recreational users, including mountain bikers, fishermen, off road vehicles, rafters, backpackers and hunters. HCPC’s work on the Salmon and Snake River areas will assure that they remain places of rich natural resources for generations to come.

This weekend in Riggins is Big Water Blowout, a whitewater celebration with discounted float trips for the public, live music, local food, Dutch oven cook-offs, and hopefully BIG WATER! There are several whitewater float companies in town to help you get on the water, or fishing guide services to help you catch a wild salmon on the Salmon River.
As we drove away, we said goodbye to the Salmon River canyon and talked about when we could return to the River of No Return, named by Lewis and Clark.

Renee Tkach, Development Outreach Director
photo provided by Jeremy Bechtel