The Stella Landscape Restoration Project will address wildfire risks, stream health and wildlife habitat on 43,955 acres near Prospect
The upper Rogue River crosses the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near the Natural Bridge. The area is included in Stella’s ambitious new landscape restoration project. [123RF.com]
PROSPECT – Federal forest managers have given the green light to an ambitious series of forest restoration measures aimed at increasing overall forest habitat on a large swath of public land north of Prospect.
For nearly seven years, Stella’s landscape restoration project will address wildfire risks, improve wildlife health and habitat across much of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Announced Monday, the plan calls for aggressive work on a 43,955-acre footprint that includes nearly 2,500 acres within a portion of the Umpqua National Forest in Douglas County.
The plans call for about 21,000 acres of pre-commercial and commercial thinning and the introduction of prescribed fire to 17,185 acres of often dense forest primed for potentially intense wildfires.
Habitat improvement of 6,205 acres in overgrown upland meadows and a special plan focused on improving areas of blueberry bushes considered culturally important to local Native Americans are also planned, according to the plan.
Other projects will include the fish passage, with 15 culverts under Forest Service bridges to be replaced, according to the plan.
The large-scale plan, rather than a series of smaller plans that historically did not always mesh with each other, is seen as a synergistic approach to forest management that creates some commercial timber to help pay for more landscape healthy
Named for nearby Stella Mountain, the project focuses on reversing years of wildfire suppression without significant restoration.
“I think it takes care of a lot of things that the public has said they want us to do while matching what the science tells us is needed,” said Michelle Calvert, the project’s forest environmental coordinator.
The project is being supported by conservation groups such as the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, whose leaders welcome the thinning of old-growth stands planted after logging in the 1940s to 1960s.
“This will put them on a better path than they are now,” said Joseph Vaile, KS Wild’s director of climate change. “It will make them more resilient to climate change and drought.”
Vaile said he was encouraged when the Forest Service heeded conservationists’ concerns and withdrew some of the original commercial logging plans that were deemed too close to fish-bearing streams.
But the devil will remain in the details.
Vaile said KS Wild and others want to see short-term and long-term monitoring to ensure the projects go ahead as planned.
“We want to see this implemented the right way,” Vaile said.
The project is largely the same as when the Forest Service first opened a draft plan to the public in 2018, with only a small contraction in some of the acreage targeted for some specific projects.
Perhaps the biggest deviation is in the miles of logging roads used for closure on one of the Forest Service properties with the most roads in western Oregon.
The draft plan called for the closure of 40 miles of old roads, but the final plan reduced that to 10 miles.
The difference, Calvert said, came after feedback from local county commissioners and others to focus on roads linked to the most ecological damage and leave open those that cause less damage, which could also help the firefighters to transport firefighters in future forest fire attacks.
Logging roads are guilty of generating sediment that gets bogged down in streams, harming water quality and wild fish habitat.
The plan also calls for the restoration of 42 miles of streams and the replacement of 15 culverts under bridges.
The area contains a wide mix of natural habitats, including ponderosa pine forests, mixed conifer slopes, and even the federally designated Wild and Scenic Upper Rogue River, which runs from the Crater Lake to the edge of the woods near Prospect.
The plan adds the so-called Huckleberry Area of Special Interest, which has historical and cultural significance to the Cow Creek Band of Lower Umpqua Indians.
The final draft of the plan study notes that areas of special interest are key areas for traditional Native American uses, such as hunting, social events and personal ceremonies.
Blueberry patches within the Stella planning area are the only formally established traditional use sites associated with blueberry gathering in southwestern Oregon, according to the study.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.