National monument proposal summary focuses on ‘natural treasures’

 

March 9, 2016

SUNSHINE DRIFTS through a stand of old-growth Douglas firs in Crabtree Valley. Photos by Scott Swanson

The 24-page proposal for the Douglas Fir National Monument describes a plan to establish a process of returning nearly half a million acres of timberland, most of it in the Willamette National Forest, to old-growth forest.

The proposal is described by its authors, Stephen Sharnoff of Berkeley, Calif. and Andy Kerr of Ashland, who state that it is “intended to provoke discussion.”

“In order to preserve, protect, honor and conserve one of America’s greatest natural treasures, the coast Douglas-fir forest ecosystem in a portion of the Western Cascades, it is proposed to create a Douglas Fir National Monument in the upper Santiam River watershed of Oregon for the benefit of this and future generations,” they write.

They argue that such forests would create balanced eco-systems necessary for healthy animal and plant populations, that they would “make a major contribution” to combatting global warming, that would be a “natural, cultural and economic resource for the region and the world.”


The proposal describes a 487,491-acre (nearly 762 square miles) reserve stretching from the Opal Creek Recreation Area and Bull of the Woods Wilderness on the north end, east to Cascade crest and the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and south to the hydrologic divide between the South Santiam and McKenzie river watersheds, east to the Cascade crest, and west to what is roughly the boundary of the Willamette National Forest, but including Bureau of Land Management land in the Quartzville Creek Wild and Scenic River and Crabtree Valley, “home to the oldest known Douglas firs in Oregon.”

It would also include a 191-acre BLM parcel along the Middle Santiam River above Green Peter Reservoir, “an exceptional remnant of magnificent, low-elevation, old-growth Douglas fir forest.”

Sharnoff told The New Era that the boundaries were drawn by Kerr, “with some input from a few others who know the area well.”

The proposal, a slick, professional 24-page document replete with scenic photos, most taken by Sharnoff, a well-known botanical photographer, argues that the Douglas fir deserves the same level of national-monument protection that the Joshua trees of the Mojave Desert, the saguaro and organ pipe cacti of the Sonoran Desert, the bald cypress in Florida and the giant sequoia and coast redwood have received.

The authors state that the monument would conserve and restore “vast stands” of Douglas fir and other coniferous forests, as well as protect “numerous objects of historic, geologic, hydrologic and/or ecologic interest, would help reduce global warming, preserve “magnificent views” and encourage forms of “compatible” recreation.


Singled out in the proposal as desired components of the proposed monument are Crabtree Valley, northeast of Green Peter Reservoir, “an island of pristine forest surrounded by a sea of industrial clearcuts,” Gordon Meadows, Iron Mountain, Jumpoff Joe and Moose Creek.

Further, it proposes that all of the above except Moose Creek, and a dozen other areas, totaling some 80,000 acres, could qualify for wilderness designation.

It also recommends that the Middle and South Santiam rivers and Crabtree Creek and Upper Quartzville Creek be included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which protects against “dams and other water diversions.”

The proposed monument could be administered by the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service.

Forestry would be limited to previously logged lands as a means of re-establishing “natural ecosystem and watershed dynamics.” Salvage logging would not be allowed. No new mining claims would be allowed.

The reason for the “far larger” proposed size than other monuments in the state is because the authors’ goal is to “restore ecological and hydrological integrity to a region that has undergone profound alteration since large-scale industrial logging began after World War II.”

They say “careful” logging would be necessary to thin “successful” Douglas fir plantations in which the trees are generally the same age, spacing and species.

“They are closer to biological deserts than real trees,” the authors state. “Judicious ecological restoration thinning of such stands can accelerate the onset of late-successional (older forest) characteristics, putting these stands on a fast track to again becoming old-growth forests.”

Roads deemed “unnecessary” would be allowed to “to revert to nature.” Those necessary for “public travel” and that are “wildlife- and watershed-friendly” would be maintained.

Forest fires would be allowed to burn “as a general rule, naturally until they run out of fuel or the rains come,” the authors state.

“Natural wild fire is either the rebirth or the continuation of a forest.”

Benefits listed by the authors include:

n “Landscape conservation and restoration of the Douglas-fir ecosystem” in an area they say is home to 322 regularly occurring species of vertebrates (187 birds, 74 mammals, 18 amphibians and 12 reptiles) as well as more than 7,000 species of arthropods (insects, spiders, etc.) and thousands of species of plants, fungi and lichens – the latter a particular interest of Sharnoff.

n “More and better fish and wildlife habitat.” The authors say conditions would “improve enormously” for wildlife such as northern spotted owls, pileated woodpeckers, northern goshawks, many amphibians and mollusks, and mammals such as the wolverine, fisher and marten.

“An exciting mid-term possibility is that wolves may return to this area and – in the longer term – grizzly bears. They note that “recent research” has indicated that ecosystems lacking such predators are “out of balance, leading to overpopulations of ungulates such as deer and elk, and impoverished vegetation.”

Streams and watersheds, they say, would be protected from “the effects of logging” and road building, and the monument would provide a “refuge” for wildlife from global warming.

n “Watershed conservation and restoration for nature and people.” All of the communities downstream from the proposed monument, they say, including Sweet Home, would see reduced filtration costs due to enhanced water quality.

n “Helping the climate: carbon storage.” “Mature forests provide one of the most effective mechanism of carbon storage in existence, and mature moist forests on public lands in Oregon and Washington store the equivalent of nearly 130 times the states’ annual greenhouse gases.”

Generally, they say, “deforestation contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation industry,” and “logging releases large amounts of (stored) carbon to the atmosphere.”

n The proposed monument would also provide opportunities for advanced scientific study , outdoor recreation and “spiritual renewal.”

The monument, they say, would “preserve the best of what is left of the original forest, provide for the long-term ecological and hydrological restoration and at the same time give honor and recognition to the tree which is at the heart of this unique ecosystem.”

The proposal predicts that the proposed monument would attract outdoor recreation, which will replace the timber industry in local economies.

“The trees of the national forest will still be providing economic value to local communities, but they won’t have to give their lives to do so,” the authors conclude.

CRABTREE LAKE lies nestled among tall firs on an autumn day. The lake, located in the large orange section to the left on the map below, is frequently mentioned in the proposal.

 
 

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