Monday, September 1, 2014

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF WILDERNESS


Red Butte, the namesake of the Red Buttes Wilderness, is only nominally protected. Unfortunately, the entire roadless south slope of the mountain was precluded from the 1984 wilderness designation.

          September 3, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Lyndon B. Johnson signed this landmark conservation bill into law in 1964, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Initially the NWPS set aside 9.1 million acres of wilderness; however, with the support of the American public, Congress has added over 100 million acres over the past fifty years.
          The Wilderness Act of 1964 states, “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as "wilderness areas," and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.”
            Howard Zahniser, former Wilderness Society Executive Director, drafted the bill in 1956 with the intention of protecting the nation’s last remaining wildlands. Sadly, Zahniser died just months before it was signed into law, after drafting sixty-six versions of the bill and working for nearly a decade to ensure its passage. Although he never got to see his amazing and lasting legacy, the American people will benefit for generations to come.
            The NWPS system today includes more than 750 wilderness areas, 109,511,966 acres of protected wilderness, and a wilderness area in all but six U.S. states. Wilderness areas represent the nation’s highest form of land protection, allowing for natural processes to occur while prohibiting mechanization and damaging human activities such as logging, road building, OHV use and new mining claims. The preservation of wilderness areas throughout the country is, in my opinion, the most significant environmental achievement in the modern era. The protection of wilderness has safeguarded our natural legacy by protecting water quality in many of our cherished rivers and waterways, preserving the wild portions of the landscape for wildlife, and buffering intact forests, woodlands, grasslands, deserts and chaparral from the onslaught of industrialized land management.  Although much has been achieved, the preservation of wilderness in the United States is not complete. More areas of wilderness character should be included within the National Wilderness Preservation System, especially those areas that provide connectivity across broad landscapes.

Looking north from the Mount Jefferson Wilderness in the central Oregon Cascades. The Mount Jefferson Wilderness is one of twenty-three wilderness areas designated in the High Cascades that provide connectivity across the state of Oregon, ensuring clean water, quality wildlife habitat, primitive outdoor recreation and a beautiful natural legacy for generations to come. Much has been achieved in the Cascade Mountains, yet more areas must be added to the wilderness preservation system to begin piecing together connectivity between high and low elevation habitats.
             To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the wilderness act this summer, my wife and I hiked the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The Oregon section of the PCT follows the spine of the Cascade Mountains 500 miles from the Columbia River to its intersection with the Siskiyou Mountains near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument above Ashland, Oregon. The Cascade Mountains provide a north-south connectivity corridor across Oregon, dividing the dry east side of the state from the temperate forests to the west. While hiking the Cascade Crest I was often struck by the connectivity of wilderness habitat that allows for a healthy dispersal of wildlife species throughout the state and beyond. Despite a long history of resource extraction and development on the flanks of the Cascade Range, much of the high country remains an intact connectivity corridor due to the designation of twenty-three different wilderness areas.  New wilderness additions have further enhanced this connectivity in recent years, with additions to the Mt. Hood, Salmon-Huckleberry, Badger Creek, Bull of the Woods, and Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness Areas.
            In contrast, the connectivity provided by the Siskiyou Crest does not benefit from such an extensive network of official wilderness designation or other protected status. Today, only two designated wilderness areas can be found along the spine of the Siskiyou Crest—the Siskiyou Wilderness and the Red Buttes Wilderness—despite the presence of numerous roadless wildlands worthy of wilderness designation. Several of these wilderness-caliber areas could be made into new wilderness, and both the Siskiyou Wilderness and the Red Buttes Wilderness are in desperate need of additions.
           The Red Buttes Wilderness, located at the headwaters of the Applegate River, was designated wilderness in 1984, amid much controversy. Unfortunately, because of politics and pressure from extractive industries at the time, much of the roadless, wild terrain surrounding the Red Buttes was left out of the officially designated wilderness. The Red Buttes Wilderness is on the small side, only encompassing 20,250 acres. Extending from the forested flank of the Middle Fork of the Applegate River, and south to the Siskiyou Crest, the wilderness encompasses the Butte Fork drainage, the headwaters of Carberry Creek’s Steve Fork, and the dark forests of the Right Hand Fork of Sucker Creek.  Although richly endowed with ancient and diverse forests, the region is defined by the rugged summits of the Siskiyou Crest, including the area’s spectacular namesake, Red Butte.

Pictured above is the unprotected Fort Goff watershed in the California portion of the Kangaroo Roadless Area. Some 60,000 acres located above the Klamath River were precluded from wilderness designation in 1984. 

           
         Large sections of adjacent wilderness were excluded from the Red Buttes in 1984, including miles of ridgeline and large areas of ancient, uncut forest. At the time of wilderness designation, the entire Grayback Range—containing vast tracts of productive forest—was left conveniently unprotected, and was later impacted by Forest Service timber sales such as China Left and Sugarloaf. This area, known as the Oregon portion of the Kangaroo Roadless Area, or the Grayback Range, exists today as a 31,778-acre island of forest, meadow, high peak, and wild mountain stream. Also left unprotected were large portions—some 60,000 acres—of the Kangaroo Roadless Area in California, dropping to the banks of the Klamath River. During the initial push for wilderness designation much of the support for protection came from Southern Oregon, rather than Northern California. In 1984, the California timber industry lobby was able to preclude the entire California portion of the Kangaroo Roadless Area from wilderness protection, ensuring that all forested watersheds draining into the Klamath River would be open and available for logging into the future. To this day the California-Kangaroo remains unprotected and vulnerable to extractive industries. Thirty years after wilderness designation the need for further protection is still warranted, yet will only be possible if local citizens and conservationists organize and advocate for additions to the Red Buttes Wilderness.   
         In this era of seven billion people and climate change, it is more imperative than ever to protect native ecosystems. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act it is time to push for new additions to the Red Buttes Wilderness and further protect the roadless wildlands of the Applegate River watershed.

The forested ridge in the foreground of this photo is located within the unprotected Grayback Range Roadless Area, an area that should have been included in the Red Buttes Wilderness designation in 1984. The large cuts at the center of the photo are part of the China Left Timber Sale, logged despite citizen protest and direct action in the summer of 1997 and 1998. This large timber sale was eventually halted due to a court injunction on behalf of the endangered Coho salmon and Northern spotted owl, but only after much damage was done. A spirited and organized campaign for wilderness designation is needed to ensure that no more wilderness quality landscapes suffer the fate of China Left. Additions to the Red Buttes Wilderness are desperately needed before more land is impacted in ways that preclude them from wilderness designation. The choice is ours: either get proactive now or accept permanent losses to our cherished wildlands.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Nedsbar Timber Sale: A threat to wildlands in the Applegate Valley


The forested portions of Trillium Mountain in the Dakubetede Roadless Area are being proposed for logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. This photo was taken from the popular Sterling Ditch Trail where Trillium Mountain dominates the skyline for many miles. Commercial logging units in the Dakubetede Roadless Area should be canceled and the area protected for its scenic, recreational and ecological values.

The Medford District BLM has recently proposed a large timber sale in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon. This is the result of recent litigation won by Swanson-Superior Lumber based in Glendale, Oregon. The Medford District BLM has been given a court order, currently under appeal, to drastically increase timber production for corporate logging interests at the expense of regional wildlands, communities and wildlife. In response to the litigation the agency proposed the Nedsbar Timber Sale, encompassing 3,400 acres, or 5 square miles of proposed units spread across much of the Little Applegate Valley and a portion of the Upper Applegate Valley. 

Proposed project prescriptions  include regeneration logging (i.e. clearcut logging), disease management and new road construction. Regeneration prescriptions would require retention of only 16-25 trees per acre, while disease management prescriptions would require retention of only 6-8 trees per acre. These proposed forms of clearcut logging would remove large, fire-resistant trees and open up currently closed-canopy forests to encourage the "regeneration" of young trees in the understory.  

The BLM's Scoping Notice for the project identifies no objectives beyond timber management, leaving many public resources and important forest management objectives outside the purpose and need of the proposed project. The project does not contain management objectives that include a broad range of forest values, including the maintenance and recovery of threatened or endangered species, the retention of late successional characteristics, the management of fire/fuel hazards, or the maintenance and recovery of watershed values such as fisheries and water quality. The Little Applegate River is designated a  key watershed for salmon habitat. Given this, along with the large amount of Wildland Urban Interface located in the planning area, the region's high biodiversity, wildland values, and unique plant communities, this singular focus fails to serve the public interest.

Regeneration and Disease Management Logging
The Little Applegate River is the driest watershed west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Regeneration logging has often historically led to reforestation failures and heavy fuel loads due to an increase in highly flammable activity slash, the "regeneration" of young trees in the understory, and a vigorous shrub and hardwood response. Given the dry nature of the Little Applegate watershed, these issues associated with regeneration logging will only be compounded. The use of regeneration, disease management, and/or overstory removal prescriptions will have negative impacts to the region's fire/fuel hazard, forest health concerns, Endangered Species Act (ESA) habitat values, and late successional characteristics. These prescriptions will also lead to increased wind exposure, sun exposure, and thus decreased soil moisture, drought stress and increased fire risks. All forms of regeneration and disease management logging proposed in the Nedsbar Timber Sale should be canceled. 

New Road Construction
It appears that the BLM will be proposing new road construction to access commercial timber units for the Nedsbar Timber Sale. New road construction could impact the Boaz Mountain, Dakubetede and Buncom Roadless Areas. All new road construction should be opposed to retain wildland characteristics and reduce watershed impacts. 

A map of proposed units in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Light Blue units are proposed for helicopter logging. Purple units are proposed far cable logging, green units are tractor logging, and the brownish/pinkish units are proposed, non-commercial fuel reduction units.

Impact to wildland habitats, roadless areas, and proposed Primitive Areas
            The Nedsbar Timber Sale, if implemented, would log three important roadless areas in the Applegate Valley foothills, including the north slope of Trillium Mountain in the Dakubetede Roadless Area, Cinnabar Ridge in the Buncom Roadless Area, and the north slope of Boaz Mountain in the Boaz Mountain Roadless Area. Commercial logging units in these roadless wildlands should be canceled to preserve the region's pristine character, scenic values, and exceptional recreational opportunities. Both the Buncom and the Dakubetede Roadless Areas have been identified for protection in recent legislative proposals by Senator Wyden as the Dakubetede Primitive Area. All commercial units within the proposed Dakubetede Primitive Area should be canceled until appropriate management objectives are identified for these areas and a formal decision is made regarding their management.  These units should also be canceled due to the impact to scenic values and viewsheds on the Sterling Ditch Trail and the proposed Jack-Ash Trail, a trail that would connect the tourist economies of Ashland and Jacksonville, OR. Much of the local economy (vineyards, property values, recreation, etc) is based around the area's scenic values; industrial logging treatments such as overstory canopy removal, regeneration and disease management will impact this flourishing, localized economy by degrading this scenic, recreational resource.
         
Wildlife Impacts
The Little Applegate River area provides a narrow “pinch point” in connectivity for late successional species, providing habitat to and from the the Upper Applegate Valley and the Ashland watershed. This connectivity must be retained in any proposed action. The impact of proposed commercial timber extraction to habitat conditions for Pacific fisher and northern spotted owl is well documented, especially when regeneration and disease management logging are involved. Disease management logging is of special concern because documentation shows that 90% of all spotted owl nests in the Applegate drainage are found in dwarf mistletoe brooms in large Douglas fir trees. These are the very trees targeted for clearcut logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale. Simplified stand conditions and canopy reduction from logging activities have also been associated with downgrades in nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the spotted owl and should be avoided in the Nedsbar Planning Area.

Soil Impacts and Watershed Health:
            The Nedsbar Timber Sale is largely located within the Little Applegate River basin, a key watershed designated in the NW Forest Plan. The potential impact to soil and watershed health due to the Nedsbar Project could be significant, including new road construction, increased OHV use, skid trail development, increased road use due to hauling and timber sale implementation, tractor and cable yarding, regeneration logging, disease management logging, the loss of downed wood recruitment and habitat, soil compaction, etc. The impact of these activities has been shown to negatively effect fisheries resources, ESA habitat and recovery needs, turbidity, water temperature, water quality, water quantity, soil stability, peek flows, etc. These impacts should be avoided in the Little Applegate River watershed for the benefit of important anadromous fish species.


Public trust and Collaborative Efforts
            The project as outlined in the BLM's scoping notice is bound to generate significant amounts of local controversy and will only encourage mistrust between the BLM and local residents. After years of collaborative efforts the community expects more from the agency then irresponsible hand-outs to the timber industry.  If the BLM sees collaboration as a key to future forest management, then accountability is needed from the agency. Far to often the agency talks forest restoration and ecological management, then violates the public trust with disastrous timber proposals including heavy canopy removal, regeneration logging, disease management logging, and new road construction. If the agency does not want to step back into the timber war mentality, then new road construction, regeneration logging, disease management, and aggressive canopy removal should not be proposed in the Nedsbar Project. To include these prescriptions will only generate litigation, protest, mistrust, and public outrage. Trust is built when the BLM walks its talk. Hollow words and business as usual will only further polarize the debate. The wildlife habitat, streams, fisheries habitat, and significant regional biodiversity require a more holistic approach to land management. The current approach is singularly focused, irresponsible, and unacceptable. 

The forested portions of the ridge in the foreground would be logged in the Nedsbar Timber Sale.

An opportunity to get involved
A public meeting is being hosted by the BLM to discuss the Nedsbar Timber Sale with the local community. This is our opportunity to comment and raise concerns about the project and its proposed prescriptions. Please consider attending this important meeting and speaking on behalf of the recreational economy, forests, wildlands, and streams of the Applegate Valley.


Public Meeting: Nedsbar Timber Sale
Where: Jacksonville Public Library
When: July 22, 2014 5:00-7:00 PM


           

           




Friday, July 4, 2014

Monarch Butterflies in the Siskiyou Mountains

Got Milkweed?

Monarch butterflies that live east of the continental divide embark on a spectacular annual migration to winter roost sites in oyamel fir trees in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. They are the only butterflies to accomplish such a long, two-way migration each year, something more commonly associated with species like birds, wales, salmon or caribou. Unlike these other species, however, it takes three to four generations of monarchs to complete the annual migration. It is a multigenerational feat. Most monarchs only live a few weeks as adults during the migration, except for the last generation in the migratory process, the overwintering monarchs, which can live up to seven or eight months. Despite their seemingly fragile nature and their short lifespan, individual monarchs can travel hundreds to thousands of miles. Monarchs use the sun as their primary navigational tool, but according to a recently published paper in the journal Nature Communications, they are also capable of using an internal magnetic compass on cloudy days.  

It is less known that monarch butterflies that live west of the continental divide, including monarchs that migrate through the Siskiyou Mountains, overwinter in various groves of trees along the central and southern California coast where they are generally protected from freezing temperatures. Monarchs aggregate in more than 25 roosting sites along the California coast each winter, but their overwintering habitat is threatened by coastal development.

 According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "In the most recent migration, fewer of the orange- and red-winged monarchs made it to the end of the journey than ever before. The monarch butterfly population in Mexico was the lowest ever since 1993 (the year scientists started to monitor monarch butterfly colonies), according to research just released by the WWF-Telcel Alliance and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Office of the Mexican government. The research shows a 43.7% decrease (nearly three acres) in the total amount of forestland occupied by monarchs in and near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The research was conducted over several weeks in December 2013 and the decrease is in relation to December 2012 research."

The WWF lists the monarch butterfly as "near threatened," or a species that is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature calls the monarch migration an endangered biological phenomenon.
 
Graphic by Journey North
Population of monarchs at the overwintering grounds in Mexico 

Monarch population chart for monarchs living west of the continental divide that overwinter in California

In May, 2014 both Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon passed ballot initiatives that will ban the planting of GMO crops. The landslide victory in Jackson County shows that most people don't want GMO crops planted in Jackson County. The measure passed 65.9% Yes to 34.1% No. In Josephine County the results were 58% to 41%   These two measures will greatly improve the chances of monarch recovery in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Threats to Monarch Butterflies
  • Loss of milkweed
  • Logging of overwintering grounds in Mexico
  • Climate change
  • GMO crops
  • Pesticide use
  • Coastal development of overwintering grounds in California 




Photo essay: The lifecycle of monarch butterflies in the Siskiyou Mountains


On May 15, 2014 I spotted two monarch butterflies fluttering around two separate showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) patches that my wife, Suzie, planted nine years ago. One patch is in our vegetable garden and the other in a native rock garden on the side of the road. Previously we had only seen one tattered monarch scoping out our patches, so this was a hopeful sign. When Suzie got home from work that day I told her what I saw and she immediately inspected for eggs. Sure enough, there were about fifty eggs combined on both the patches of milkweed.  Research has shown that a female monarch typically lays about 700 eggs in its lifespan, so this was not a huge number of eggs.


Monarch caterpillar eggs on milkweed
Monarch caterpillar eggs are very small


Monarch caterpillars are tiny and vulnerable when they first emerge.

Around ten days later the eggs started to hatch and an estimated 15-20 tiny, little caterpillars emerged. They were hard to spot because they hid within the plants and it was hard to keep track of them and know for certain how many there were.

When small the caterpillars stayed within flower buds.

The caterpillars eat the milkweed plant and grow bigger.





The tiny caterpillars got bigger as they ate the milkweed plant, mostly staying within the protection of the flower buds. They never denuded the plants, but rather took little chunks out here and there, allowing for the viability and sustainability of their host plant.



As they get bigger they are easier to spot.
Sometimes they eat the flower buds.




Some small caterpillars died of mysterious causes.


Over the course of a few weeks a number of caterpillars disappeared, but those that remained got bigger and fatter. Monarchs have natural predators, parasitoids, and parasites that can harm monarch eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. It's a tough world for monarchs in their natural setting, and human impacts to habitat just compound the threats.

In just two weeks a caterpillar will grow and need to shed its skin five times. Each skin is called an instar. The stages of a caterpillar's life are referred to as the first instar, second instar, third instar, fourth instar, and the final fifth instar. We observed the caterpillars eating the skin after it was shed, as if it was a source of nutrition.
Hanging out on milkweed

Munching on milkweed

The caterpillars rested under the leaves
5th instar caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar hanging in "J" shape on June 23, 2014.

The caterpillar has attached itself with a cremaster and hangs in a "J" shape as it prepares to shed its old larval skin and begin the formation of the chrysalis.



Monarch in a chrysalis formed on June 24, 2014. 
The scientific name for the monarch butterfly is Danaus plexippus, a Greek term meaning "sleepy transformation." This reflects the species' metamorphosis.


Monarch on showy milkweed in May, 2014

 After its metamorphosis into a butterfly the monarch will eat, mate and lay eggs if it is a female. They will search out and find whatever milkweed they can. Monarchs will use any plant in the genus Asclepias, even cultivars of the native species.  The last generation in the migration will then head south to the California coast to overwinter and start the cycle anew as has happened for millennia.



Monarchs fall to the ground while mating. This photo was taken at the end of January at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in California.



Monarch butterflies cluster together for warmth as they overwinter at the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in California. This colony is one of the largest in the United States.

For further information visit the following:

Journey North

Monarch Watch


Sunday, June 22, 2014

WILDFLOWERS AND WILDFIRES ON THE SISKIYOU CREST

The diversity and color of wildflowers responding to the 2012 Goff Fire is truly staggering. Before the fire much of the Siskiyou Crest was carpeted in dense stands of montane chaparral. Throughout much of the area the fire burned in a natural mosaic of high severity fire, burning off the chaparral and encouraging a lush growth of wildflowers. In this section of the Siskiyou Crest it is clear that wildflowers need wildfire; in fact, to bloom in such spectacular profusion they may need periodic hot fires.
Rock penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) blooming at the margin of the Goff Fire near Rattlesnake Mountain. There were about five other species of penstemon in the fire area on the verge of blooming. If you get out there within the next few weeks the floral display will be diverse and impressive. You will see a mixture of what is pictured in this post, along with more species of penstemon, fireweed, and innumerable Washington lilies made more stout and vigorous in response to the fire.
Blue gilia (Gillia capitata) carpets the Boundary trail in the burn area. Typically, before the burn, blue gilia was only seen in the occasional rocky bald or opening in this section of the Siskiyou Crest. It is now abundant in many portions of trail.
Fire dependant Knobcone pine (Pinus attenuata) seedlings are abundant in the fire area.

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) and Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) bloom in abundance in the fire area; some areas are so thick with Oregon sunshine that you can see the golden yellow hue from miles away. Both species have responded positively to the Goff Fire with large, robust plants, a profusion of flowers, and both will likely produce large amounts of seed this summer. Wildflower communities throughout the fire area are thriving.

 The rare Siskiyou daisy (Erigeron cervinus) appears to respond positively to fire, blooming in moist, rocky areas adjacent to Lonesome Lake. This species is found only in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon and northern California. 

 
Parish's nightshade (Solanum parshii) blooming in the fire area on the Siskiyou Crest. This species is strongly fire adapted and often associated with chaparral habitat. Considered relatively rare in Oregon, this species is more abundant in California, found growing all the way south into Baja, California.

Chinese houses (Collinsia spp.) are found in dense masses on thin, rocky soils throughout the fire area. They are especially abundant in the area between Rattlesnake Mountain and Figurehead Mountain. In this photo it can be seen blooming amongst the burned remains of chaparral species. In many places a fire mediated community of wildflowers can be seen blooming at the base of old, woody shrubs. When the shrub is burned off a robust growth of flowering, herbaceous plants respond to the lack of shrubby competition, and often fire generated germination and seedling recruitment is increased. 

Tritelia crocea blooming in the fire area near Rattlesnake Mountain
Dwarf purple monkeyflower (Mimulus nanus) blooming near Goff Butte. Large, dense populations can be found blooming in rocky scree within the fire area.




This Phacelia species is perhaps the most abundant flowering plant in the Goff Fire area. Vast stands of montane chaparral consumed by high severity fire have been transformed into flower fields dominated by Phacelia.  


I visited the Goff Fire area over the weekend of June 13-15 and what I saw was simply a snapshot in time. A new and exciting community of wildflowers is now beginning to bloom in beauty and abundance across this section of the Siskiyou Crest. The seasonal procession of wildflowers has birthed new displays of color and diversity, one floral community melting into another, as the season turns from spring to summer to fall. The ridgeline has currently reached a fire-generated climax of floral dominance; a successional community responding to the combined influence of natural disturbance, climatic variation and geologic bedrock. While I walked the crestline I found myself wishing I could return a week or two later to enjoy the many species still to bloom. In my mind I can imagine the vast populations of Washington lily, penstemon, and fireweed blooming from the rocky, charcoal tinged slopes as I write this article. The bloom is on and renewed each day with the rising sun.









Friday, May 30, 2014

THE STUDHORSE INCENSE-CEDAR



                         The Studhorse incense-cedar in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area                              (See my head in between the two trunks?)





With its headwaters nestled in the eastern portion of the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area, Studhorse Creek flows north from the Siskiyou Crest. It is a land of dry meadows, corn lily fields, schist bedrock and spectacular ancient forest. The stream was named in 1855 following the Humbug War on the Klamath River. It was late July and a group of three Shasta Indians were visiting the community of Humbug Creek. During their visit the Indians had done some trading for a bottle of whiskey and proceeded to become intoxicated. As the Indians left the settlement a miner by the name of Peterson inquired as to how they had acquired the whiskey and attempted to take the bottle from the inebriated Indians. When the Indians refused, Mr. Peterson drew his revolver and shot one of them in the abdomen. The Indians responded by shooting and killing Mr. Peterson.

The next day a "volunteer regiment" organized to find the "guilty" Indians. They captured three Indians who refused to answer their questions and began forcibly taking them to Yreka for trial. Two of these Indians escaped from custody, while a third was brought to Yreka and released due to lack of evidence. The two escaped Indians, afraid of retaliation from the volunteers, returned to their tribe and formed a war party. That night they marched down the Klamath River from Little Humbug Creek to Horse Creek, killing eleven miners and burning many cabins before fleeing over the Siskiyou Crest.

In response the volunteer regiment indiscriminately killed twenty-five peaceful Indians along the Klamath River in retribution, including women, children, and elderly tribal members. The peaceful Indians were either shot, hung or thrown alive into mine shafts. Meanwhile, the fleeing war party, which had fled north, reached what is now called Donomore Meadows, atop the Siskiyou Crest, where they killed a Frenchmen named Donomore and a Portuguese miner named Silvee. Supposedly Silvee was at Donomore Meadows helping Mr. Donomore build a barn with the aid of Silvee's horse. The Indians attempted to take Silvee's stallion but apparently it could not keep up. They shot the horse with numerous arrows and left the horse for dead. A few days later local miners found the horse on the north slope of Condrey Mountain in a canyon they then referred to and named Studhorse Creek.


Studhorse Creek in the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area

Recently I made my way up to Studhorse Creek to explore the canyon and visit the Studhorse tree, a massive, old incense-cedar with the largest diameter in the world. Wallace Robinson and Loran Cooper identified the tree in 1947. It was officially measured by Oliver Matthews in 1954 and declared the largest diameter incense-cedar in the world. This enormous, old incense-cedar was later determined to be—or thought to be—two trees that fused at the base, rather than one stand-alone tree. This disqualified the tree from the champion tree register, but does not take away any of it majesty. Measuring nearly 13' Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) at its fused truck, the tree towers to over 140' tall. There are massive burls at the base of the tree and it forks into two very large trunks roughly 13' from the ground.

Enjoying the view from the Studhorse incense-cedar


Incense-cedar distribution extends from small, disjunct populations in northern Mexico at the southern extent of its range, to a stand on a rocky island in the Deschutes River at the northern extent of its range. Despite this vast distribution, the largest incense-cedar in the world are found in the Klamath-Siskiyou. Many large, old incense-cedar can be found in the Klamath-Siskiyou, including four of the five largest documented trees in the world, as well as the current champion tree found in Devils Canyon in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.

Measuring the Studhorse incense-cedar

Incense-cedar trees are extremely variable and can be found growing in harsh, rocky sites, in canyon bottoms or in meadow margins. Many of the largest trees are found in the little cirque basins atop each tributary of the Siskiyou Crest. The Siskiyous have many of these hidden gems that are relatively unknown and many yet to be found. Places like the Siskiyou Crest and the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area need permanent protection for many reasons, including some of the world's largest trees and most diverse conifer forests. The Studhorse tree and the forest that surrounds it should be protected from logging, road building and development as a portion of the Condrey Mountain Wilderness Area in the larger Siskiyou Crest National Monument. These proposed designations would preserve the connectivity of the west coast's most important land bridge: the Siskiyou Crest. Connecting the Coast Range to the Cascade Mountains, the Siskiyou Crest is a hotspot for biodiversity and a haven for wilderness habitat. For the wildlife and all the wild places in the Siskiyou Mountains, join us as we work towards permanent protection for this special place.  

Permanent protection is needed for the Condrey Mountain Roadless Area