Healthy Watersheds, Resilient Forests

Forest poet John Muir famously observed that, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Some call his sentiment the First Law of Ecology. It neatly describes the idea that ecosystems are comprised of a myriad of processes that are interdependent, rather than a random collection of individual species in isolation.

Here in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, the diametric “opposites” of fire and water are two primary drivers of ecosystem health and two of the measuring sticks of how ecosystems respond to the stresses of climate change. The reality is that our forests need fire just as much as they need rain.

Ceanothus-over-klamath.jpg

Forests Born in Fire

We live in a dry forest region in which fire was a frequent and common occurrence prior to the “Smokey Bear” practice of fire suppression by the Forest Service. These forests evolved with, and require, fire to maintain their health and resilience.

Following decades of fire suppression and logging that created dense young forests, a return to ecosystem resiliency requires thinning second-growth plantations, retaining large trees and forest canopy, and returning the role of fire to these fire-dependent forests.

Watersheds Unraveling

While salmon and steelhead have been wiped out of much of Oregon and California, we in the Klamath-Siskiyou region are fortunate to still have the Klamath, Smith, and Rogue River Watersheds anchoring native fish populations. But the effects of logging, grazing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage are more and more evident on many of the public lands that provide the clean, cold streams that these rivers rely upon.

Towards Resiliency and Restoration

How do we hold on to the forest and watershed values of the Klamath-Siskiyou in the face of climate change? How do we retain the biodiversity and beauty that the region is known for? 

The Klamath-Siskiyou can continue to be a refuge for plants, animals, fish, and ecosystems if we tackle two challenges:

First, we need to stop deliberately weakening forest and watershed resiliency through logging, mining, grazing, and other practices that destroy (rather than restore) ecosystems. Land managers need to stop converting fire-resilient, old-growth forests into dense young timber plantations. Proposals to strip-mine the headwaters of salmon and steelhead streams need to be stopped and forests that shade streams and rivers must also be protected from logging and mining.

Volunteers construct a seasonal fence to protect a beautiful meadow from unchecked grazing. Alex Hole Restoration Project, 2017

Volunteers construct a seasonal fence to protect a beautiful meadow from unchecked grazing.

Alex Hole Restoration Project, 2017

Secondly, we must develop restoration projects that are geared towards recognizing natural processes that restore resiliency. This means we encourage public land managers to focus on thinning unnaturally dense timber plantations as a first step towards reintroducing fire. We must also roll up our sleeves and embrace projects that reduce the impacts of past road construction, grazing, and mining on riparian areas.

Change is Hard

Throughout their history, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have been in the business of commodity production through timber sales and mining that weaken forests and watersheds. While both agencies are slowly moving away from exploitation and towards restoration, too often the change is merely semantic. Clear-cutting is rebranded as “regeneration harvesting,” logging road construction is described as “transportation management,” and killing rare species is referred to as “incidental take.”

This is where you and KS Wild come in. Together we ground-truth public lands management proposals and make sure that true restoration is front and center and ensure that the BLM and Forest Service do what they say and say what they do. Together we advocate for the protection of stream-side forests, fire-resilient old-growth stands, and pristine watersheds; knowing that these special places provide the building blocks for ecosystems threatened by climate change and resource extraction.

Taking our cue from Muir, in the face of uncertainty we are trying to hold the universe together instead of ripping it apart.