Monday, August 31, 2015

OHV Monitoring Reports Submitted to BLM and USFS

A view of the Hinkle Lake Basin and Whisky Peak from the summit of Arnold Mountain.

Recently I submitted the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Reports and Motorized Vehicle Closure Petitions to the BLM and Forest Service. Both the BLM and Forest Service have acknowledged receipt of these documents and I am awaiting their official response. 

The reports document the impacts of OHV use in the Applegate Valley and the petitions request official closure and/or decommissioning of unauthorized and damaging OHV trails. Many local residents helped to support this project by signing on to the petition, providing me with tips and information about OHV routes, and funding the Kickstarter campaign that made it all possible. Thank you all for your support. 

I would like to specifically thank those who funded my Kickstarter campaign and supported the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project. Below are all the people that made the monitoring reports and petitions possible. Thanks!

David Callahan, Applegate, OR
Cherie Savoie Tintary, Forest Grove, OR
Leah Wingfield/Steve Clements, Jacksonville, OR
Chad Derosier, Ashland, OR
Chelsea Ruediger, Washington D.C.
Katherine Oldfield, Seattle, WA
Doranne Long, Grants Pass, OR
Greeley Wells, Jacksonville, OR
Jay Lininger, Talent, OR
Gary Lisman, Jacksonville, OR
Dave & Janet Kramer, Applegate, OR
Drummond Rennie, Jacksonville, OR
Cythia Cheney, Jacksonville, OR
Jane Fossen, Jacksonville, OR
Ann Gunter, Williams, OR
Rick & Louann Faist,
Karen Mitchell, Jacksonville, OR
Peter Salant, Jacksonville, OR
Mark Lansing
Eugene Weir, Ashland, OR
Morgan Lindsay, Ashland, OR
Spencer Lennard, Williams, OR
Jeff Judkins, Jacksonville, OR
Jessica Ruediger, Talent, OR
Vivian McAleavey, Jacksonville, OR
Ryan Ginn, Jacksonville, OR
Ken Chapman, Applegate, OR
Clint Driver, Jacksonville, OR
Wendy Seldon, Medford, OR
Dot Fisher-Smith, Ashland, OR
Annette Parsons, Grants Pass, OR
Dylan Owens, Ashland, OR
James Roemer
Ajit Singh, Ashland, OR
Chant Thomas & Susanna Bahaar, Jacksonville, OR
Jonathan Major, Jacksonville, OR
Jan Wright, Talent, OR
Diana Coogle, Applegate OR
Marion Hadden, Jacksonville, OR

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

OHV Monitoring Reports Released! Sign the petitions now!

OHV use is impacting many of the Botanical Areas designated to protect rare plant species and unique plant communities on the Siskiyou Crest. The Siskiyou Crest OHV Monitoring Report documents these impacts and recommends solutions. Please read the report and sign onto our petition for OHV closure on the Siskiyou Crest.

The Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project, the Siskiyou Crest Blog and Klamath Forest Alliance have joined forces to document the impact of OHV use on public land in the Applegate River watershed. In May, the Siskiyou Crest Blog initiated a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project. Thanks to the support of the local community the project was funded.

Since June, I have hiked many miles of OHV routes in the blazing summer heat, spent countless hours writing and organizing reports, documenting the impacts and recommending management solutions. Now we need your help to make the biggest impact possible.

 I have produced a monitoring report for Medford District BLM lands in the Applegate Valley, and a separate report exploring OHV impacts on Forest Service land on the Siskiyou Crest. There are now two separate petitions for these different agencies: one for BLM land and another for Forest Service land. 

Please sign onto our petitions requesting an emergency OHV closure on trails, routes, and roads causing significant environmental and social impacts. Links to the reports and the petitions can be found below.   Check out the reports and sign onto both petitions to protect the Applegate Valley from unauthorized OHV use. Please spread widely. Together we can make a difference!

The Medford District BLM OHV Monitoring Report documents the impact of OHV use in the foothills of the Applegate Valley, including numerous roadless areas and areas identified as "lands with wilderness characteristics." Please read the report and sign on to our petition for OHV closure. 

2015 OHV Monitoring Reports 

Siskiyou Crest/Forest Service OHV Petition 

BLM OHV Petition 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Debris Flows and Turbidity Inundate the Klamath River.

North Fork of the Salmon River on July 6, 2015 following severe thunderstorms. The turbidity and sedimentation from this event turned 230 miles of the Klamath River brown and turbid, from Beaver Creek to the mouth of the River near Klamath Glen. (Photo: Scott Harding)

           The fires on the Klamath River in 2014 burned on a vast scale across over 200,000 acres in the Klamath, Scott, and Salmon River watersheds. The fires burned in a mixed severity fire mosaic, including many acres of low severity understory fire and some large high severity burn patches. Most of these high severity patches burned during extreme weather conditions, including high winds and temperatures. At other times fires burned intensely when inversion layers lifted and created unstable atmospheric conditions. These high severity burn patches include areas of nearly complete tree mortality, where soils were, at times, scorched, causing them to become hydrophobic. Hydrophobic soils absorb water very poorly and tend to produce large volumes of runoff. 
            On July 5, 2015 the Klamath River area received intense thunderstorms, including heavy downpours, some of which were reported to have produced over 1.5” of rain in less than a half hour. On numerous afternoons the rain came down on these fragile post-fire landscapes, producing extreme sedimentation in fire-effected watersheds and turning the Klamath River itself turbid, dark and silty-brown, from Beaver Creek to the mouth of the Klamath River. This turbidity has impacted 230 miles of the Klamath River watershed. Tributary streams affected by sedimentation include Beaver Creek, Walker Creek, Grider Creek, and Elk Creek. 
           Tributaries affected by the Whites Fire of 2014—including South Russian Creek, Music Creek, and Whites Gulch—also filled the Salmon River with sediment from the upper North Fork to the mouth near Somes Bar, California. It is feared that the impacts to the spring-run Chinook salmon currently in the Salmon River will be severe. The sedimentation and debris flows pouring into some of these streams filled in a large number of pools that are very important as refugia for endangered salmon and steelhead species. Numerous of these streams are important habitat for anadromous fish because they pour cold, high quality water into the Klamath River, and many of these streams themselves also provide cold water habitat, deep pools and important spawning gravels. These gravels and pools have been filled in with fine sediment, reducing available habitat to our local salmon species. The impact has been severe, and unfortunately, could only get worse if the Klamath National Forest proceeds with the enormous post-fire logging project known as the Westside Fire Recovery Project. 

Before and after photos on the North Fork of the Salmon River (Photos: Scott Harding)

            Many of the watersheds affected by this turbidity event have one thing in common: unstable and highly erosive granitic soils. I believe this is one of the most important factors contributing to the turbidity and sedimentation. The events we have watched unfold were the perfect storm. A combination of high severity burn patches, highly erosive granitic soils, steep topography, sudden torrential downpours, and the historic impact of industrialization in our forests, including fire suppression, road building and logging. All things are connected, and likely many things contributed to the watershed impacts we are seeing, most notably high severity fire, erosive granitic soils, and unusually severe rain events.
            Unfortunately, these same fragile, granitic watersheds have been targeted for large-scale industrial logging in the Westside Fire Recovery Project. Many areas that recently experienced severe erosion, and watersheds that were seriously impacted by turbidity and sedimentation, are also proposed for clear-cut, post-fire logging, large scale road reconstruction, and other impacts associated with heavy industrial logging. Walker Creek and Grider Creek are proposed for the largest concentration of salvage logging units in the Westside Project. 

Grider Creek on July 9, 2015. Notice the heavy sedimentation piling up along the banks of the stream. Deep pools and spawning gravels have been filled with decomposed granite that washed down during the heavy rain events on July 5, 2015. Grider Creek is being targeted for large-scale, post-fire logging on very steep, erosive slopes. (Photo: Mark Moytka)

            One thing is for certain: to implement one of the region’s largest industrial-logging projects in recent history in the wake of this turbidity event and in the wake of these large fires is irresponsible. The Westside Project should be canceled and real watershed recovery projects proposed that would sustain our natural legacy into the future. The Klamath River salmon are simply too important to lose. 
        This summer turbidity event should be seen as a game-changer for the Westside Project; the situation has taken a drastic turn and a new analysis should be done to take this turbidity event into account. 
            Please contact the Klamath National Forest and tell them that the environmental baseline from which they did their analysis has changed, new information and new environmental conditions exist that should make the current Environmental Impact Statement for the Westside Fire Recovery Project null and void. Likewise, given what we have seen already, the potential for water quality and fisheries impacts associated with the Westside Project are too high. The project must be canceled!

Walker Creek has been filled with sediment, cobbles, and woody debris from debris flows. The area is also being targeted with the largest concentration of post-fire logging units in the Westside Project. The logging proposed is likely to increase sedimentation and erosion in the watershed, impacting riparian values and salmon fisheries in Walker Creek and downstream in the Klamath River. Post-fire logging in these sensitive watersheds is irresponsible and should be canceled. (Photo: Mark Mytoka)

            Contact the North Coast Water Control Board and ask them not to approve a water quality waiver for the Westside Fire Recovery Project. The stakes are simply too high.
            Contact the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS or NOAA Fisheries) and let them know that the fisheries of the Klamath River are too precious to lose and that the Westside Project will put the future of the Klamath River salmon in jeopardy.

Listen to an excellent radio interview about the issue with Scott Harding of the Salmon River Restoration Council. 

Stop the Westside Fire Recovery Project!
Contacts for the appropriate officials are posted below.   

  • NMFS: 
  • North West Water Control Board:
  • Klamath National Forest Supervisor:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

OHV Impacts in the Dakubetede Roadless Area

The Dakubetede Roadless Area from upper Birch Creek.

The Dakubetede Roadless Area is located in the Little Applegate River watershed on the south-facing slopes of Anderson Butte and the surrounding ridgelines. Local environmentalists have long fought to keep this relatively intact piece of the Applegate Valley foothills wild, unroaded, and mostly undisturbed. In acknowledgement of the area's unique and important wildland values, the BLM has recently identified 5,099 acres of land within the Dakubetede Roadless Area as "land with wilderness characteristics" (LWC).

Located in the rain shadow of the Siskiyou Mountains' highest summits, and at the eastern-most portion of the range, the area is the driest watershed in Western Oregon. The watershed contains a diverse and unique mixture of Pacific Northwest forest species and high desert species, as well as California oak woodland and chaparral associates. The largest population of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) in the Siskiyou Mountains clings to the ridgetops here, growing in harsh, sunbaked grasslands and on rock outcrops. The area also supports a disjunct population of water birch (Betula occidentalis), as well as a robust population of the rare Gentner's fritillaria (Fritillaria gentneri), a red lily endemic to the valleys and foothills of Southwest Oregon and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Disjunct populations of western juniper and rabbitbrush on the southern face of Anderson Butte. The shallow soils, heavy exposure, and aridity of the area provides habitat niches for species more characteristic of Eastern Oregon's high desert country. Much of this isolated and unique plant community is currently being impacted by OHV use.

A local hiking club called the Siskiyou Uplands Trail Association has begun renovating, maintaining, and recreating historic hiking trails in the region, including the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, Wolf Gap Trail, Tunnel Ridge Trail, Bear Gulch Trail, and the Little Applegate Trail. The group has also proposed a long distance hiking trail called the Jack-Ash Trail that would link Jacksonville and Ashland, Oregon. The central portion of this proposed non-motorized trail system would be Anderson Butte and the high ridges above the Dakubetede Roadless Area. 

Non-motorized trail use in the region is clearly increasing with trailheads on Little Applegate Road and Deming Gulch Road heavily utilized by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. In fact, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail has recently been declared an Oregon State Scenic Trail due to its scenic beauty and popularity. The proposed Jack-Ash Trail would only provide more non-motorized options for trail-hungry hikers, and offer loops tying together the Jack-Ash Trail and the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.

A log landing turned into a dumping, shooting, and OHV staging area.
It would appear that all is well in the Dakubetede Roadless Area and the Anderson Butte region. Community groups are stewarding this landscape, activists are fighting for its preservation, and the BLM is slowly acknowledging the area's important wildland character. Yet, other, less responsible forest users are doing substantial damage to the area's important resources; they are building user created OHV trails, hill climbs, and camps littered in garbage, shotgun shells, shattered clay pigeons, and beer cans. Loud explosions ring out across the Little Applegate River canyon as local yahoos explode tannerite, blowing apart old appliances, garbage, trees, stumps, and other natural features. Click here for an explanation of tannerite by Wikipedia. The desecration of Anderson Butte has become so routine that many in the BLM and local Applegate Valley community seem to throw their hands up and declare: "What can we do?"

What we can do is document the impacts, advocate for the responsible management of recreational activities, advocate for the closure of damaging OHV routes and work to protect this wild, diverse landscape with permanent protection. These are the goals of the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project.

Numerous unauthorized, user-created OHV trails have penetrated the steep slopes and wild ridgelines of the Dakubetede Roadless Area, including the Goat Cabin Ridge Route, the Little Applegate Divide and a number of particularly egregious hill climbs on the steep and grassy slopes below Anderson Butte.

OHV damage on Goat Cabin Ridge, where deep ruts and compaction are channelizing run-off and badly eroding the heavy clay soils.

Goat Cabin Ridge
The worst damage is being sustained on Goat Cabin Ridge, a long exposed ridgeline dividing Rush Creek from Birch Creek. The ridge heads south towards the Little Applegate River canyon through the arid, grassy slopes of the Dakubetede Roadless Area and LWC. The Goat Cabin Ridge Route begins by trespassing on private residential land at the southeastern edge of the Dakubtede Roadless Area. The route is extremely erosive and incised with multiple ruts extending from 12" to 30" deep. The trail is 7' wide and cut into thickets of buckbrush. A large portion of the trail climbs up sustained grades of over 20% for the first mile.

The trail climbs into a large, grassy bowl at the upper end of a roadless watershed. Here, OHV users have developed exceptionally steep hill climbs. The hill climbs have cut deep and incised tracks straight into the headwall of the gulch and across the small ephemeral stream channel. Climbing out of the grassy bowl the trail is braided and very wide as it reaches the ridgeline. 

The track reaches a long and gentle ridgeline dropping from between Anderson Butte and Section Line Gap. The single track trail reaches a trashed-out campsite cluttered with shotgun shells, beer cans, old mattresses and fire rings filled with broken glass. Numerous large, old trees have been shot full of bullet holes, damaging the cambium layer and partially girdling the trees. A large, old juniper has also been cut down adjacent to one camp. The trash, which mars the area's beauty, would not be present without this OHV use; it is certainly associated with OHV use, especially those items that are too heavy or awkward for non-motorized users to have carried in. 

The impact of OHV use to the wilderness landscape on Goat Cabin Ridge.

The trail, now a 4X4 track, is doing significant damage to this highly scenic ridgeline. The route climbs the ridge, then heads up a very steep incline creating an erosive, braided, trail between 12' and 20' wide.  It is very unlikely that this route, originally a user-created trail, satisfies BLM road safety standards and should be officially closed to motorized traffic for reasons of public safety, liability, and extreme resource damage. 

An aggressive approach to road closure, enforcement, and monitoring will be needed to sustain an OHV closure in the area. It is also likely that significant physical barriers will be required to eliminate OHV use on Goat Cabin Ridge, yet the extreme impacts of this route justify such a intensive approach. Judging from the popularity of nearby hiking trails, many in the area believe the complex ecology and scenic beauty of the Dakubetede Roadless Area is worth the effort and investment. It is now time for the BLM to get on board and get serious about eliminating the significant and unnecessary impact of OHV use in the area.  

Applegate sedum (Sedum oblanceolatum)
The Little Applegate Divide The longest contiguous, unauthorized, user-created trail impacting the Dakubetede Roadless Area and LWC follows the Little Applegate Divide for roughly 7 miles. The route begins near the roadless area's western boundary and extends to Section Line Gap on a series of open roads, decommissioned roadbeds, and user-created trails. The route includes many steep and erosive sections, with deep and incised tread and wide, braided trail. Some sections of the trail traverse the largest stand of western juniper in the Siskiyou Mountains, disturbing the unique plant communities in these disjunct juniper groves. Other sections travel through late-seral (older) forest, grassy prairie, mountain mahogany groves, oak woodlands, and scrubby thickets of buckbrush or manzanita. Sensitive species such as the endemic Applegate sedum are being directly impacted; as trails widen and affect little rock outcrops high on the ridgeline, OHVs crush mature Applegate sedum plants. 
Unauthorized, user-created trail near Wolf Gap. This section of trail leads up slopes over 30% grade and is creating severe rill and gully erosion that will be very difficult in the future to stabilize. Continued use of this trail will create lasting impacts. 

Numerous locations show the signs of crosscountry OHV use and appear to be the beginning of new user-created trails that will further encroach upon the Dakubetede Roadless Area and LWC, impacting the area's wilderness characteristics, ecological values, and scenic qualities. User-created spur trails also extend up the decommissioned road and ridgeline accessing the summit of Anderson Butte, impacting rock gardens and juniper balds near the summit area.  

The trail climbs through some of the region's most intact and unique plant communities and should be close to motorized use to protect botanical values, wilderness characteristics, and relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat. Closure of the Little Applegate Divide OHV Trail would also reduce erosion, hydrological impacts, noxious weed spread and vegetation loss due to inappropriate and irresponsible OHV use.

Local Hillclimbs
Hill climb in the Dakubetede Roadless Area
Other significant OHV impacts in the area include very steep hill climbs on the area's open and grassy slopes. Numerous hillclimbs are found in the area, including trails on over 30% grade that cross intermittent stream channels and channelize run-off into headwater streams, increasing peak flows and erosion. The area is very susceptible to the proliferation of user-created trails due to the open nature of the terrain.

 One specific hillclimb drops down steep and erosive slopes to a population of heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia), a host plant for the monarch butterfly. Monarch populations have crashed in recent years due in part to habitat loss and declines in milkweed populations. The precipitous drop in monarch populations has made the butterfly a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Milkweed is the only food source for monarch caterpillars and is essential for the butterfly's complex lifecycle. Heartleaf milkweed is the main native milkweed found in the mountains and foothills of Southwest Oregon, providing a crucial link between the monarch's mountain/foothill habitat to the valley bottoms where the more common showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) and narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) grow in abundance.
Heartleaf Mlikweed (Asclepias cordifolia)

Local heartleaf milkweed populations are widely distributed and often very small in size. Many of its native habitats have been overrun by noxious weeds and non-native grasses. The plant appears to be uncommon throughout Southwest Oregon, colonizing scattered rock outcrops and open, south-facing slopes.

The population of heartleaf milkweed scattered across the Dakubetede Roadless Area appears to be one of the region's largest; however, most of the population is widely dispersed and the population size is still relatively small, consisting of a few scattered plants here and a few scattered plants there. Large colonies of heartleaf milkweed are present in the Dakubetede Roadless Area, but rare. Very little reproduction can be found and most of the population appears to be old, established plants. It is very likely that plants trampled and/or crushed by OHV use will be killed, especially in high use areas. 

Recently, while following one particularly egregious OHV hill climb, I found a population of numerous mature heartleaf milkweed plants. One plant is being directly impacted by the hill climb and is being physically damaged by OHV use. Another plant, not more than three feet from the active hill climb, was being utilized by nine monarch caterpillars, wildlife that cannot disperse away from the disturbance or find nearby habitat. These nine healthy caterpillars are living precariously on the edge, three feet from sure death with no way to escape. Active use of the hill climb could very easily crush and kill the defenseless caterpillars who cannot leave their host plant and are not able to flee from oncoming danger. 

These are the real and sometimes subtle impacts of OHV use. Although less evident on the landscape then the raw, tire churned earth and erosive, incised tire tracks of many OHV routes. The more subtle impacts include the loss of native vegetation and the disruption of native plant communities, the spread of noxious weeds, the destruction of habitat for important native pollinators, and the potential for the localized extirpation of species.
This beautiful monarch caterpillar happily munching on heart-leaf milkweed was surviving with many others within 3' of an OHV hill climb. The hill climb should be closed to protect habitat for the heartleaf milkweed and the monarch butterflies that depend upon the species. The monarch butterfly has suffered huge populations crashes in recent years and is currently proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. One OHV rider could kill this entire population of monarch caterpillars by simply driving 3' beyond the existing trail.
What you can do
Currently the BLM has proposed three Recreational Management Areas (RMA) in the Dakubetede Roadless Area and LWC in the Western Oregon Resource Management Plan. The Sterling Ditch Trail would be managed for non-motorized use while the Anderson-Little Applegate RMA and Anderson Additions RMA would be designated for non-motorized and motorized use. 

The user-created OHV routes described above are all within the Anderson Additions RMA. Many local residents, hikers, and environmentalists are concerned that the BLM will "grandfather-in" many of these unauthorized, user-created trails, as they have in the past. Environmental Analysis and public comment can be conducted up to five years following approval of a new resource management plan. In past OHV analysis, the Medford District BLM has identified user-created trails as "existing trails," with use respected despite their unauthorized creation and often extreme environmental impacts. Many recreational visitors to the Dakubetede region value the area for its wilderness characteristics, botanical diversity, and quiet, peaceful scenery. The Dakubetede Roadless Area and the Anderson Additions RMA lie at the center of a region now well known for its highly scenic and enjoyable non-motorized recreational experience. The designation of OHV trails within these areas will create significant user conflict and impact the developing non-motorized recreational opportunities the area provides. The Anderson Addition RMA should be joined with the Sterling Ditch and Anderson-Little Applegate RMA, creating a large, non-motorized RMA that will sustain the area's important biological and social values. All unauthorized, user-created OHV trails in the area should be closed to motorized use, rehabilitated and monitored for trespass.

Please contact the following BLM officials and consider commenting on the Western Oregon Resource Management Plan before OHV use is codified and encouraged through the designation of RMAs, with allowances for motorized trail use. Let the agency know you would like to see the Dakubetede Roadless Area and LWC closed to all forms of motorized use. Tell them to combine  the Anderson Additions, Sterling Ditch and Anderson-Little Applegate RMAs into one large, non-motorized recreation area. This will protect the viewshed, solitude, and wilderness experience of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, the proposed Jack-Ash Trail and the Dakubetede Roadless Area. 

Email comments for the RMP:

Local BLM officials:
Dayne Barron, District Manager

John Gerritsma, Field Manager

Jerome Perez, State Director


Thursday, June 25, 2015

OHV impacts in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area

The view from Wellington Butte looking southeast to Ruch, Oregon in the Applegate Valley. The Wellington Butte Roadless Area was identified by the BLM as an area containing 5,711 acres of "lands with wilderness characteristics." Relatively intact, low-elevation habitat such as that found in the foothills of the Applegate Valley is increasingly rare and in desperate need of protection.

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area in the Middle Applegate River watershed is a wonderfully diverse and beautiful region. The region hosts a complex mosaic of chaparral, oak woodland, madrone groves, mixed conifer forest, and grasslands. The Wellington Butte Roadless Area has recently been identified in the BLM's Lands with Wilderness Characteristic Inventory (LWC) as one of the last significant roadless tracts of BLM land in western Oregon. Located directly above Ruch and Applegate, Oregon the region is the backdrop for much of the Middle Applegate Valley.

The northeastern boundary of the roadless area is also, unfortunately, directly adjacent to the boundary of the BLM's John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV area. The John's Peak/ Timber Mountain OHV Area was designated in the 1995 Resource Management Plan as an OHV area, but the area remains somewhat elusive. In 1995 the agency designated the OHV area and now, twenty years later, has yet to designate official trails. This has led to the proliferation of unauthorized, user-created OHV trails and cross country routes. The area now supports 92 miles of unauthorized user-created routes that generate large volumes of erosion, sedimentation, soil compaction, vegetation loss, and conflicts between local residents, private landowners, and public land use groups such as hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and other forest users. In fact, in 2007, portions of the John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area were closed to motorized vehicle use due to unacceptable environmental and resource impacts.

Today, OHV enthusiasts spilling out from the designated boundary of the John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area have begun encroaching upon the largest roadless tract in the Middle Applegate Valley. Trails have been developed on the boundary of the roadless area and LWC; a few have nibbled at the edges and one controversial route cuts into the heart of the wild, unroaded region.

An example of unauthorized, user-created OHV trails and the damage they create. This is a dry meadow on the eastern edge of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. OHV use has created severe impacts in the area at the head of China Gulch. Such damaging and irresponsible OHV use should be strongly discouraged by the BLM by enforcing a permanent motor vehicle closure in the area.

The worst OHV damage in the Wellington Butte Roadless Area emanates from China Gulch, a relatively small drainage north of Ruch, Oregon. The BLM road accessing China Gulch has been gated for many years, but OHV users have built routes around the road closure accessing the old mine road that winds up China Gulch to China Gulch Saddle. Numerous unauthorized, user-created trails have also been developed. A large, dry meadow in upper China Gulch has been turned into a "play area," where OHV tracks and user-created trails riddle the meadow with deep, compacted ruts. Trails wind back and forth across the meadow, the gulch, and up hill climbs adjacent to the meadow system. Impacts are significant and growing, while the BLM simply looks the other way. If this meadow system and the adjacent user-created trails are to be closed, the public must pressure the BLM to act. 

The meadow is located within the boundaries of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area and LWC, yet is also within the proposed boundaries of the John's Peak/Timber Mountain OHV Area. Protection of this meadow and the area's wilderness characteristics should be a high priority and would necessitate removal of the upper China Gulch area from the John's Peak Timber Mountain OHV Area. It would also necessitate aggressive OHV closure and meaningful enforcement of that closure. Noxious weed removal, meadow restoration, soil stabilization and active route decommissioning would also be necessary. 

On the flip side, public access and enjoyment of the area could be facilitated by developing a non-motorized trail. The trail could be created by simply using the existing decommissioned roadbed as a link to the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART), a non-motorized trail system proposed by the Applegate Trails Association (ATA) that would connect Grants Pass to Jacksonville, Oregon across the high ridgeline divide between the Rogue and Applegate Rivers. This would provide appropriate public access and also a public presence to make sure OHV traffic does not again dominate and degrade this important landscape.

This is a recent Google Earth image of the meadows at the top of China Gulch. The area is within an area identified as having wilderness characteristics, yet unauthorized, user-created OHV trails are severely impacting wilderness characteristics, native plant communities, hydrology, water quality, soils, wildlife habitat, the area's scenic nature, and the potential enjoyment of the area by other, more low impact visitors. The meadow badly needs a permanent OHV closure and meadow restoration; it should be managed for non-motorized recreation and designated as a portion of the Applegate Ridge Trail.

OHV ruts up to 4' deep on the ridgeline above China Gulch.
Another area within the Wellington Butte Roadless Area that is currently subjected to unauthorized and inappropriate OHV use is the high ridgeline dividing Long Gulch and the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek from Forest Creek. This high divide creates much of the roadless area's northern eastern boundary. OHV trails have penetrated the area, traveling roughly four miles across the ridgeline from the spectacular headwaters of the Balls Branch, over Long Gulch Saddle, to China Gulch Saddle. The route includes long stretches in open, grassy terrain very susceptible to cross country travel. This OHV route has damaged riparian areas in the upper portions of the Balls Branch of Humbug Creek, and it has very steep erosive sections that are rutted up to 4' deep, impacting hydrology and soil stability on the ridgeline above China Gulch. This long ridgeline route overlaps very closely with the proposed Applegate Ridge Trail. The ART would provide for public access and recreation that is more consistent with the region's ecological values and the area's beautiful wilderness character. The current OHV route should be closed to all motorized use and a new, more sustainable non-motorized trail should be designated and built across the high ridgeline as a vital link in the Applegate Ridge Trail system.
A view from the Wellington Mine Road.

OHV users have also taken to driving the long abandoned Wellington Mine Road, known to local hikers as the "Heart Trail," because it cuts straight through the heart of the Wellington Butte Roadless Area. This road was developed to provide access to a long defunct hard rock mine in the lower Humbug Creek drainage.  

On October 31, 2012, the road was "closed" to motorized use by BLM District Manager John Gerritsma. With broad-based community support, the local non-profit, Applegate Trails Association (ATA) raised funds to install two road closure devices and decommission the associated user-created trail leading into the Wellington Butte Roadless Area.  Work was completed on November 8, 2012 by volunteers facilitated through ATA. 

By November 26, 2012, District Manager John Gerritsma could not enforce or support the closure of the Wellington Mine Road because he had not followed proper road closure procedures, did not contact the Medford Motorcycle Riders Association (MRA) or the Association of O&C Counties regarding the closure, and had not provided an adequate alternative route for exclusive motorcycle use in exchange for the closure. He had also been receiving complaints from MRA members who wanted to ride OHVs through the wildlands. 

The BLM moved one of the road closure devices in December of 2012, opening the road to OHVs but not full sized vehicles. In August 2014, the remaining road closure barriers were physically moved without authorization by OHV enthusiasts, effectively reopening the Wellington Mine Road to all motorized traffic. This has left the "road" open by default and the issue has steadily become a major point of contention between motorized and non-motorized users in the area. 

The Wellington Mine Road is wide and erosive. In some places it is badly incised; soils have been compacted by dirt bike tires and washed with runoff into deep ruts. OHV related road runoff has also triggered a small landslide above numerous homes on lower Humbug Creek. The road travels through the heart of the wildland beneath forests of fir, ridges of chaparral and clearings of mountain mahogany. A few rare plant sites are also found adjacent to the road; one a rare orchid, Cypripedium fasciculatum, and the other the endemic Gentner's fritillaria, a bright reddish-purple lily found only in southwestern Oregon. The Wellington Mine Road should be closed to motorized use and designated as a hiking trail in the upcoming revisions to Western Oregon's Resource Management Plan. 

An OHV related landslide triggered by drainage, run-off, and over-saturation issues at the end of the Wellington Mine Road.

Please consider contacting the following BLM officials and voicing your concerns about OHV use in the Applegate Valley and the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, as well as the proposed creation of OHV Recreation Management Areas in the foothills of the Applegate Valley. In the revised West Oregon Resource Management Plan, eight separate Recreational Management Areas with allowances for OHV use are being considered in the Applegate Valley. This would codify and officially designate these areas for OHV use. It would also "grandfather" existing OHV routes for a period of up to five years while management plans and environmental analysis are prepared. The agency is taking comment on recreation and forest management in Western Oregon until July 23, 2015. Please speak out on behalf of southern Oregon's wild places.

Email comments for the RMP:

Local BLM officials:
Dayne Barron, District Manager
 John Gerritsma, Field Manager
Jerome Perez, State Director

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project fully funded!

OHV damage in the Dakubetede Roadless Area on Goat Cabin Ridge. I surveyed this area on June 4th, the day after fully funding my Kickstarter campaign. This was the first of many field days for the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project. Thanks to the supporters of my Kickstarter, OHV routes throughout the Applegate Valley will be surveyed for environmental impacts and proposed for closure. 
On May 13, I initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project, a comprehensive monitoring program to document the impacts of OHV use in the Applegate Valley, and advocate for ecological values, non-motorized recreation, wildlife, wildlands, and native plant communities. 

On June 3, I reached my funding goal and am now 123% funded. The outpouring of support speaks to the need for OHV monitoring and ecological advocacy. I believe that with these funds I can survey most of the heavily impacted OHV areas in the foothills of the Applegate Valley and portions of the Rogue Valley. To that end I have begun the project by getting out on the ground surveying OHV routes in the Little Applegate Valley and Forest Creek areas. 

I now have six days left to raise additional funds through kickstarter and have announced that all additional funds raised will support expansion of the project into other areas in need of attention. 

The area of highest priority is Hinkle Lake, a high elevation lake adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness, and one of the region's most spectacular landscapes. The region is a protected Botanical Area and proposed addition to the Red Buttes Wilderness. It is, unfortunately, also one of the region's most heavily impacted OHV areas. The region has been damaged by illegal OHV use, despite being officially closed to OHVs for thirty years. Throughout the years the official closure has been neglected and much damage has been done. In recent years environmentalists have successfully encouraged the Forest Service to implement and enforce the OHV closure; however, recently the gate protecting this area has been vandalized and off-roaders have mired the area's magnificent wet meadows with muddy tire tracks and deep, irreparable ruts.

Hinkle Lake, a wild botanical treasure that should not be subjected to OHV abuse.
If I receive additional funds I will be able to monitor the area throughout the summer and document violations of the motor vehicle closure and/or vandalism to gates and other infrastructure designed to eliminate illegal and ecologically damaging OHV use in the area. I will work collaboratively with local non-profits, private citizens, and the Forest Service to see that Hinkle Lake is protected for future generations. Please consider supporting this project or forwarding the links to my Kickstarter and this blogpost to potentially supportive individuals. Help me expand the project—let's protect Hinkle Lake too!

OHV damage in the Hinkle Lake basin.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

KICKSTARTER: Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project

Through the Siskiyou Crest Blog I have initiated a Kickstarter Campaign to fund a comprehensive OHV monitoring project in the foothills of the Applegate Valley, called the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project. This project will document the impacts of unmanaged OHV use, publicize the findings, and create a detailed monitoring report to inform the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the local community about the impacts of unauthorized and unmanaged OHV use, as well as identify solutions and management recommendations that will protect ecological and societal values.

Unmanaged and unauthorized OHV use is common throughout BLM lands in southwest Oregon, including the Applegate Valley.

The Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project will focus on the remaining wildland habitats of the Applegate Foothills, including the Dakubetede Roadless Area, the Wellington Butte Roadless Area, the Anderson Butte region, and the John's Peak/Forest Creek region. The project will document and identify the impacts of OHV use in these special regions.

The Wellington Butte Roadless Area has been identified by the BLM as an area supporting wilderness characteristics, including intact oak woodlands, conifer forests, chaparral, and beautiful grasslands. The area is also directly adjacent the the BLM's John's Peak OHV Area. Use from the adjacent unmanaged OHV area is beginning to encroach upon this beautiful wildland. 

The project will coincide with the comment period for the BLM's Resource Management Plan (RMP). The RMP includes language that could officially approve and codify OHV use in the Applegate Valley without specific environmental review and analysis. The RMP's approach would be very similar to the current situation at John's Peak, where the BLM announced the declaration of the area as an OHV Emphasis Area, but 20 years later has yet to subject the area's vast network of user-created trails to environmental analysis. 

The agency designated John's Peak as an OHV area in 1995, but did not identify OHV routes or trails available for motorized use. Since this time over 90 miles of user-created OHV trails have been carved into the forest and slopes of the area with no official environmental analysis, agency oversight, or engineering whatsoever. The situation has been a complete free-for-all due to agency neglect and indifference. The BLM has proposed a "categorical exclusion," meaning they are trying to circumvent environmental analysis and public scrutiny by claiming that the over 90 miles of unauthorized OHV trails have little to no environmental impact. 

Let's not let the BLM get away with more favors to the OHV industry, especially in the Applegate Valley's last wild places. Support the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project by making a donation to my Kickstarter Campaign. Together we can make a difference in the Siskiyou Mountains.

The Dakubetede Roadless Area is located in the Little Applegate watershed and is well known to local hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and trail runners as the location of the Sterling Ditch Trail and the future location of the Jack-Ash Trail, which would extend from Ashland to Jacksonville, Oregon. The area is one of the most intact ecosystems in the Applegate foothills and one of the most heavily utilized non-motorized recreation areas on the Medford District BLM. The Dakubetede is also being increasingly impacted by unauthorized OHV use, severely impacting scenic values, ecological values, botanical values, and non-motorized recreational opportunities. With the increase in OHV use comes an increase in trash and illegal dumping, erosion, noxious weed spread, and noise pollution. OHV use is likely the largest threat to many of the Applegate Valley's wild and beautiful places. 

Support the Applegate Valley OHV Monitoring Project
Click here to view my Kickstarter