- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) - Spiky clumps of Oregon grape are just beginning to emerge in a sea of brown needles, charred bark and blackened rock blanketing southwestern Klamath County.

“It burned hot,” said Andy Geissler, pointing to naked trees and gnarled shrubs that were scorched in the 35,000-acre Oregon Gulch Fire in August.

“I haven’t seen a green needle in a while.”

On Wednesday, Geissler, a Western Oregon field forester for the American Forest Resource Council, and a representative from Boise-Cascade toured a portion of the 17,000 acres blackened in Klamath County; roughly 5,000 of those acres are public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Before the Gulch Fire ignited on July 31, the land was covered with grassy flats, shrubs, oak woodland, pine and other conifer. Now, timber managers are scouring the area to find out what’s left and if it has any value.

“Timing is the key. These trees burned and they’ve got a shelf life,” Geissler said. “It’s kind of a risky venture to put bids in on salvage wood because you just don’t know what you’re getting into.”

According to BLM forester Shane Durant, salvage logging has already begun at the Gulch Fire site.

He said the agency met National Environmental Policy Act requirements with a special exclusion that allowed timber slated for harvest on an existing sale to be salvage logged.

Durant pointed out that much of the BLM land affected by the fire is designated as Oregon and California Railroad Act (O&C;) land.

He said the land was heavily logged about 100 years ago, but has since been managed as part of the O&C; program intended to provide money to counties through timber production. Of the 4,870 acres burned in Klamath County, only 818 acres are public domain. The rest is O&C; land.

“Half the money from those timber sales goes to the counties,” Durant said.

According to Dennis Lee, a forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Klamath-Lake District, depending on their diameter, burned trees are typically salvageable. He said timber value isn’t degraded until trees start rotting or they become infested with insects or “blue stain” fungus.

“If you get to a tree quickly, before the blue stain sets in, it’s still a good, viable log,” Lee said. “If the value goes down, it makes it harder to profit from harvesting the trees.”

Blue stain is caused by microscopic fungi that infects sapwood and causes discoloration in the shape of wedges, specks, spots, streaks or patches. Stains come in a variety of colors - not just blue including shades of yellow, orange, purple, and red. Blue stain fungi do not cause decay and do not impact the strength of the wood.

“We’re trying to error on the side of if they could live, we’ll leave them. If they die, they’ll just be another snag,” Durant said.

But eventually, dead trees will fall down, Lee said.

“And downed wood material is certainly good for the critters,” Lee said.

Jordan Beckett, a public lands advocate for K.S. Wild, agreed that dead snags can provide excellent habitat for wildlife. But, he said, as of now, K.S. Wild does not support salvage logging at the Gulch Fire site.

According to Beckett, K.S. Wild, an organization that advocates for forests, wildlife and waters of the Klamath and Rogue River basins, is concerned that BLM is not leaving enough large snags and downed wood for wildlife habitat.

“Large snags and downed wood left to naturally regenerate are unlikely to burn a second time, and they provide outstanding wildlife habitat,” Beckett said.

He said the organization also plans to monitor how many slash piles are created from logging activities.

“Post-fire logging increases fire hazard and fire severity if there are later unexpected fire events,” Beckett said.

Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild, said if resource managers want to generate complex old growth stands, complex young growth must precede it.

“Science has shown overwhelmingly that salvage logging is bad for ecosystems,” Heiken said.

According to Lee, fallen trees, whether scorched or not, provide food for bugs and birds, and create microsites for new tree growth by allowing moisture to accumulate and providing shade.

Lakeview BLM spokeswoman E. Lynn Burkett said the Gulch Fire burned hot and fast for a number of reasons. During the fire, conditions and fuels - like needles and the duff layer - were exceptionally dry.

Durant said fire has always been at play in this neck of the woods, but the stands of trees are not necessarily natural. He said 100 years ago, forests had less understory growth and were more open, meaning flames would be less concentrated in one area.

“You could run a fire through them without killing a lot of the trees,” Durant said.

The agency will probably start replanting this fall, he said.

“We’re leaving all the green trees. All the trees we think will survive.”

___

Information from: Herald and News, https://www.heraldandnews.com

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