Chiiloquin ranger district




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What does the soil currently produce? How does this differ from the reference period?

Timber harvest and grazing have tended to reduce soil productivity as a result of soil compaction. Fire

exclusion has been purported to increase productivity, specifically tree diameter growth, due to

(assumed) increases in the L, F, and 0 horizons of the forest floor (and associated microbial nutrient

mineralization). However, there is also evidence displaying increases in soil productivity due to fire

applications.

The fire-soil productivity controversy cannot be resolved without further research. We do know that fire

exclusion leads to changes in stand replacement event frequency (See Chapter III, Stand Replacement

Frequency). Increased stand replacement frequency certainly offsets any soil productivity gains that

might have accrued through fire exclusion.

Current forest conditions influence soil productivity through gradual accumulation of ecosystem nutrients

in organic form. Most organic residues are deposited much faster than they decompose in the cold, dry

climate of the Klamath Basin. Some organic forms of nutrients take literally thousands of years to

decompose without fire. Under reference era fire regimes, organic residues were mineralized on a regular

basis by frequent, low intensity/severity wildfire. Most of the overstory remained alive and capable of

utilizing this natural flush of nutrients. Currently, the high intensity/severity wildfires mineralize nutrients

in much larger quantities and kill most of the overstory in the process. Much of the available nutrients are

then lost to the ecosystem from volatilization and leaching before revegetation can utilize them.

Management activities that compact the soil beyond threshold levels tend to cause reduced productivity.

Heavy equipment operations, as well as grazing, have been identified as causes of compaction which

result in reduced productivity. Examples of the expected reduction in growth on compacted soils in SOS

are not readily apparent. More research is needed in this area.

Except for the Badlands and Devils Garden, multiple harvest entries have occurred on nearly every acre

of SOS (see Appendix M, Summary of Harvest Related Activities from Available Information). Most of

the soils in SOS are easily compacted, and though compaction surveys have not been done, the belief is

that most of the soils in SOS are compacted to some degree. Studies in other areas with similar soils

have shown reduced soil productivity due to compaction. The extent of reduced productivity in SOS,

and how much of the compaction is actually detrimental, is unknown.

Soil productivity declines have a tendency to favor weedy species (many of them exotics) such as bull

thistle and cheatgrass. Without intervention, these species tend to sequester more and more ecosystem

resources at the expense of many of the other species. Soil compaction and lack of fire discriminates

against grasses and forbs, especially annuals. This results in less on-site competition for conifers, leading

to the assumption that increased conifer growth rates display increased soil productivity.

B. Can a change in productivity (fertility?) be attributed to management activities?

It is currently unknown whether present compaction in SOS soils is detrimental, or how long it persists.

Ripping and subsoiling are mitigation measures that have shown effectiveness in some locations.

However, one must recognize that avoiding or limiting the extent of compaction are the best alternatives

for conserving soil productivity.

SOS Watershed Assessment 39


C. Has localized soil loss, such as has occurred in the near bank area of some riparian areas,

resulted in a reduction in productivity?

Localized soil loss from stream banks causes a definite loss in productivity on those specific lands.

Assuming that four feet of bank width has been lost (a generous estimate) along every mile of existing

channel in SOS, the area lost to riparian vegetation would be approximately 160 acres out of a total

estimated riparian acreage of nearly 6,500. Along sections of channel that have down cut and

abandonded their flood plain, riparian vegetation width has been reduced 5-20 feet, and dry land species

have moved in to occupy the area. Soil loss in upland areas has not been quantified, and there have been

no local attempts to determine any effect this loss may have on the productivity of these lands.

SOS Watershed Assessment 40


I

7. How does the cost of maintaining high stocking levels in conifer stands differ from

the cost of maintaining historic stocking levels in those stands?

A. Is the conifer stocking level higher now than in the reference period? If so, to what extent is

stocking higher?

Stands are dynamic, and grow within a range of stocking levels. This question can only be answered with

a combination of historic and current references, data, and professional judgment as to the actual range of

stocking levels involved.

Reference fir type

These stands followed a stand replacement scenario, carrying relatively high stocking levels and volumes

(1920 cruise). These stands have always developed to a conifer dominated climax stand condition that

was limited by insects, disease, fire, or a combination of same. The overall conifer stocking is probably

not significantly higher now than it was in the past.

Fire suppression might reduce the amount of this type that is in a seral condition, however the 1920

cruise showed all of the type in a climax condition.

Reference Ponderosa pine type

This type includes much of the current mixed conifer type. Previously, approximately 90% of the

watershed was maintained in this type (excluding stand replacement fires and young plantations in

clearcuts).

Current stocking ranges from 2-7 times higher than reference stands. The highest percent

increase is present only on the higher elevation/higher moisture regime sites. A 2-3 fold increase in

stocking is common for most stands which have had some recent partial cut activity, but not clearcut.

For approximately 5% of the acres, (stand replacement fire and up to 15 year old clearcuts), conifer

stocking is less than most of the reference period. The reference period showed evidence of 1-2% of the

acres in a stand replacement situation. Within ten years or less, the stocking on these acres will be

equivalent to or exceed the reference period. The size and structure of the stands is totally different, with

far more stems per acre than reference stands, and the saplings and poles are much smaller.

B. Has biodiversity been reduced as a result of higher conifer and brush stocking levels?

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the variety of all living organisms on the earth. It encompasses

at least three levels of biological organization: Genetic (individual), species, and ecosystem. Species

diversity is assessed by distribution and abundance across the landscape.

The most common factor within the analysis area is continual disturbance through human activities such

as timber harvesting, grazing, non-native plant introduction (musk thistle, noxious weed; cheatgrass,

exotic plant), road construction, mineral extraction (rock and cinder pits), and fire suppression activities.

Various plant communities are at stages where major fire events are imminent. Mid-sized fires have

occurred recently (1980 Cherry Peak fire, 2000 acres; 1987 Cowboy Fire, 4000 acres). Following these

fires, salvage logging, reforestation, road construction, and other associated activities have taken place.

This has changed the structure and composition of plant communities, and consequently the distribution

of animal species using these areas.

SOS Watershed Assessment 41


Conifer and brush stocking levels have increased over time with fire suppression. This increased

stocking, along with less open-grown old growth across the landscape and a general lowering of water

tables in the analysis area, has affected timing and quantity of water flows. This has decreased the

wetland shrub component, in turn decreasing the diversity of native plants that grow in such areas,

altering their usability by wildlife.

Plant communities prior to 1900 were composed of more fire climax species. Plants that were capable of

resprouting, regenerating, and/or fire resistant tended to dominate the landscape. Ross's sedge, mountain

brome, red fescue, Balsamroot, waterleaf, needlegrass, birchleaf and true mahogany, ponderosa pine,

ceanothus, manzanita, aspen, cottonwood, alder, and willow were present at different water zones,

elevations, aspects, and slopes. These plant species are present today, but except for ponderosa pine, are

at reduced densities, primarily due to fire suppression.

Fire suppression and management activities, along with lowered. water tables, have resulted in the

establishment of more white fir, bitterbrush, curlleaf mountain mahogany, big sagebrush, low sagebrush,

rabbitbrush, musk thistle, bull thistle, and introduced grasses (pubescent wheatgrass, orchard grass, and

smooth brome). This has occurred in Crystal (207), Copperfield (2081), Dockney (208H), Rock Creek

(Orphan), and Whiskey Creek (Orphan) subsheds. Native species dependent on lentic environments are

not as prevalent as they were prior to increased brush and conifer stocking levels:

Historic ponderosa pine tree cover was less than 50%.

plants dependent on fire to maintain their presence are currently at lower densities.

Habitat changes have resulted in more generalist (species whose requirements are not specific to one

habitat) and exotic wildlife dominating the available habitats today. Species which focus on areas of

higher conifer plant densities and upland brush are more prominent ( mule deer, elk antelope, flickers,

starlings, house sparrows, etc). Interior forest species such as goshawks, American marten, and

whiteheaded and pileated woodpeckers occur in only minor amounts within the SOS area. Chinook

salmon, bull trout, fisher, California wolverine, and the western pond turtle are not present today.

Beaver, red-band rainbow trout, waterfowl, amphibians, and neotropical birds dependent on hardwood

communities are present, but at lower populations than in the reference period. Historic accounts

regarding the fire regime, as well as occurrence of cottonwoods, aspen, and alder indicate there were

more areas available for these species historically (see Appendix L, Occurrence).

No stream or drainage within the analysis area has been exempt from man's activities. The most obvious

signs are both current and past road systems and, together with other activities, their combined effects on

drainages and riparian communities. Mule deer are the primary focus species in the analysis area, but

Bald Eagles and some other late seral dependent species also receive attention. Overall, management

approach has focused on improving habitat through timber harvesting and improvement projects. These

projects include forage seeding, water developments, and underburning.

Effects of roads have not been corrected. Roads continue be the major source of accelerated runoff,

resulting in lower water tables, slowly reducing the overall extent of riparian communities. This in turn

has reduced the abundance and distribution of riparian plant and animal species. Specific examples

include roads 5813210 and 5813360 in Copperfield Draw; 5810 and other roads that intersect Crystal

Castle Drainage; 1119226 on Dams Meadow and Rock Creek; 5850 and 2228500 on Trout Creek; and

4083 on Whiskey Creek (see Appendix N, Ro 4d Treatment Recommendations).

SOS Watershed Assessment 42


For the reasons stated above, biodiversity has changed within the area, along with the number and

diversity of species. There are probably more plants and animals today, but due to the cumulative effects

of management, both outside and inside the analysis area, there is less abundance of riparian obligate and

fire climax species. Those species dependent on fire are not as well-distributed across the landscape, but

are still present. The extent and frequency of occurrence are not quantified at this time, and the time

frames for this assessment do not allow for such information to be gathered; so this is an assumption

based on limited field and site visits.

Whether one feels that biodiversity has been reduced depends on perspective. If one includes all species

(general habitat users and occupiers along with introduced exotic species), the answer is probably no.

If one looks at historic ranges of both native plants and animals dependent on fire and higher water tables

(and less human manipulation), the answer is probably yes.

Other Factors to Consider:

Some determination of biodiversity change may be made by breaking down the communities present

during different time periods (pre-1900, 1900 to present), and then determining the total acres of

disturbance caused by human management activities for each time frame. Those areas not substantially

influenced by human activities may then be used for comparison to determine the extent of biodiversity

loss or gain within the areas being analyzed.

If biodiversity changes, does that equate to loss?

If connectivity between communities is changed, does that equal loss?

Another method for determining change in biodiversity is to derive the total miles (or meters) of

community edges created by man's activities. These activities tend to create more habitat for species

which utilize such areas (edge), such as mule deer, elk, antelope, flickers, starlings, bullfrogs, and house

sparrows; and less habitat for interior forest species such as goshawks, America marten, and whiteheaded

and pileated woodpeckers.

This leads to several other questions:

How much edge habitat was in the analysis area prior to 1900?

How much has been created since then?

Are interior forest patches isolated?

Does this equate to conifer/brush stocking levels?

How do conifer/brush stocking levels fit into the edge measurements, or is there any correlation?

One hypothesis to consider is that biodiversity has been influenced more in areas closer to water than

areas more removed. This may prove to be valid assumption for the period up until the early 1950's.

SOS Watershed Assessment 43


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