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Upper Rogue forest plan unveiled

The Stella Landscape Restoration Project will tackle wildfire risks, stream health and wildlife habitat on 43,955 acres near Prospect
The upper Rogue River flows through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Natural Bridge. The area is included in the ambitious new Stella Landscape Restoration Project. [123RF.com]

PROSPECT — Federal forest managers have green-lighted an ambitious series of forest-restoration measures aimed at boosting overall forest habitat on a large swath of public land north of Prospect.

Nearly seven years in the making, the Stella Landscape Restoration Project will tackle wildfire risks, improvements to stream health and wildlife habitat largely on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Announced Monday, the plan calls for aggressive work within a 43,955-acre footprint that includes almost 2,500 acres within a sliver of the Umpqua National Forest in Douglas County.

The plans calls for about 21,000 acres of pre-commercial and commercial thinning, and introducing prescribed fire to 17,185 acres of often dense forest primed for potentially intense wildfires.

Also planned are 6,205 acres of habitat improvement to mountain meadows encroached upon by tree growth, and a special plan focusing on improving huckleberry bush areas deemed culturally important to local Native Americans, according to the plan.

Other projects will eye fish passage, with 15 culverts under Forest Service bridges to be replaced, the plan states.

The large-scale plan — instead of 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 a healthier landscape.

Named for nearby Stella Mountain, the project focuses on reversing years of suppressing wildfires without significant restoration.

“I think it’s addressing a lot of things the public has said they want us to do while matching what the science tells us is needed,” said Michelle Calvert, the forest’s environmental coordinator on the project.

The project is getting support from conservation groups such as the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, whose leaders welcome thinning of old plantations planted after logging in the 1940s to ’60s.

“That will put them on a better path than they are now,” said Joseph Vaile, KS Wild’s climate change director. “It will make them more resilient in the face of climate change and drought.”

Vaile said he was encouraged when the Forest Service took heed of conservationists’ concerns and pulled away some of the original commercial logging plans 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- and long-term monitoring to ensure the projects unfold as planned.

“We want to see this implemented in the right ways,” 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 shrinkage in some of the acreage eyed for some specific projects.

Perhaps the largest deviation is in the miles of forest roads tapped for decommissioning within one of the most densely roaded Forest Service properties in Western Oregon.

The draft plan called for decommissioning 40 miles of old roads, but the final plan dropped it to 10 miles.

The difference, Calvert said, came after feedback from local county commissioners and others to focus on roads tied to the most ecological damage and leave open those causing less damage, which could also help ferry firefighters in future wildfire attacks.

Forest roads are blamed for generating sediment that funnels into streams, thereby harming water quality and wild fish habitat.

The plan also calls for 42 miles of stream restoration and the replacement of 15 stream culverts under bridges.

The area contains a wide mix of natural habitats, including Ponderosa pine flats, slopes of mixed conifers and even the federally designated Scenic Section of the Wild and Scenic Upper Rogue River, which runs from Crater Lake National Park to the forest boundary near Prospect.

Added to the plan is the so-called Huckleberry Special Interest Area, which is of historical and cultural significance to the Cow Creek Band of Lower Umpqua Indians.

The plan’s final draft study notes the special-interest areas are key areas for Native Americans’ traditional uses, such as hunting, social events and personal ceremony activities.

The huckleberry patches within the Stella planning area are the only formally established traditional use sites associated with huckleberry picking in southwestern Oregon, the study states.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com.