Ragged Ruby Action Alert

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project Action Alert: Scoping Comments

Due by April 24th on the Ragged Ruby Project (timber sale)

Summary: The Ragged Ruby area has been heavily logged already but still has stunning large creeks supporting Bull trout, Steelhead trout, and Redband trout, habitat for Columbia Spotted frogs, potential Long-toed salamanders, and a high number of documented martens (a vulnerable-ranked species in the weasel family). The Ragged Ruby area contains some of the last unlogged old growth moist mixed conifer forest in the project area.

The forest badly needs a break from logging, yet the Forest Service is planning to log about 5,930 acres commercially, plus some commercial logging in Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas (the beautiful areas by the creeks) and unquantified heavy equipment use and treefelling and tipping for large wood placement in up to 35 to 56 miles of creeks. The Forest Service also includes some planned improvements in trail systems for hikers, Mountain bikers, and horseback riders in and around the Dixie Butte and Greenhorn Mountain Inventoried Roadless Areas, but also some unspecified tree felling around Western White pine and Whitebark pine, prescribed burning in the roadless areas, and some “scabland” lithosol habitat “enhancement” through felling juniper and Ponderosa pine in the Dixie Butte Roadless Area.

The Forest Service is also planning highly destructive Forest Plan amendments to allow violation of existing Forest Plan standards in order to allow logging of large trees over 21” diameter at breast height, logging in old growth forest, and reduction of forest cover for elk and deer to below Forest Plan standards. We oppose these unnecessary Forest Plan amendments and the heavy extensive logging and over-management planned in the Ragged Ruby area.

Please see the following more detailed information about the Ragged Ruby Project and how to send in comments. Thank you for helping us show opposition to excessive logging and over-management!

Ragged Ruby is a very diverse forest area just south and north of the Middle Fork of the John Day River, extending southeast to include part of the Dixie Butte Inventoried Roadless Area, and to the northeast to include part of the Greenhorn Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. Much of the forest there has already been heavily logged in the past,with extensive conversion into Ponderosa pine plantations that are mostly now young trees. However the areas buffering the creeks (Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas–RHCAs) are beautiful, with some areas never logged before, with old growth mixed conifer forest with large firs, Western larch, Ponderosa pine, and in some cases, large Western White pine, Englemann spruce, and Yew. The larger creeks also tend to have hardwood trees and shrubs such as alders, Rocky Mountain maple, willows, and Red Osier dogwood. There is also Big leaf huckleberry and Mountain ash, creating beautiful fall colors.

The Forest Service is planning about 5,930 acres of commercial logging in the Ragged Ruby project area, and is considering the use of three Forest Plan amendments that would violate the existing Forest Plan standards by allowing: the removal of large trees greater than or equal to 21” diameter at breast height (dbh), logging within late and old structure stands (old growth habitat) and reduction of satisfactory (thermal) and total forest cover for deer and elk below Malheur Forest Plan standards in big game summer range and/or big game winter range.

We are strongly opposed to these Forest Plan amendments, as the based on our field surveying, the Ragged Ruby project area has no “excess” mature or large trees and old growth habitat, nor does it have any unneeded cover for elk and deer except for very small trees in some areas, due to past heavy logging of the area and creation of many wide open Ponderosa pine plantations.

We are also strongly opposed to planned commercial logging within the Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas and are concerned by the unquantified amount of heavy equipment use, tree felling, and tree tipping for aquatic restoration over 35 to 56 miles of streams, as we don’t want loss of stream shading and streambank stability and too much fine sediment entering the streams, adversely affecting listed fish species, Sensitive Columbia spotted frogs, and salamanders, as well as Sensitive and rare riparian plants that may be there.

We ask the Forest Service to scrap existing plans for commercial logging in the Ragged Ruby area, and to use only non-commercial size thinning up to 9 inches dbh, prescribed burning in drier forest types only, and restoration measures such as road closures and decommissioning, removal of log weirs and berms, culvert replacements, and full protection of unique habitats and RHCAs from management impacts, with no “temporary” road construction. Don’t fell any mature or large trees or use prescribed burning within the Dixie Butte and Greenhorn Mountain Inventoried Roadless Areas, as roadless areas are important wildlife habitat refuges and some of the last unmanaged forest areas for scientific reference conditions by which to compare the effects of management elsewhere. Further, these roadless areas rise to high peaks that were likely historically subject to infrequent stand replacement fire unlike the frequent, low severity fire that prescribed fire is intended to mimic. Don’t re-open closed roads that are already over-grown or effectively blocked or that were closed to prevent ecological damage and wildlife disturbance. The Forest Service should shift gears and adopt a restoration only alternative for the Ragged Ruby area.

The Forest Service found many martens in the RHCA habitat through trail cameras, and we saw a marten in one of the RHCA timber sale units last fall when we started field surveying this sale. Martens are now ranked as “vulnerable” by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the state of Oregon, and are considered vulnerable on the Malheur National Forest, where the Ragged Ruby timber sale is located. Martens are in the weasel family and depend on abundant down logs to create foraging habitat for prey under the snow in the winter and on large snags for denning, often in large cavities created by Pileated woodpeckers, who also inhabit the Ragged Ruby area. The Ragged Ruby area likely also has important fish spawning creeks for Steelhead trout, Redband trout, and possible Bull trout and West Slope cutthroat trout. There is also downstream habitat for Chinook salmon in the John Day River.We found Long-toed salamanders in a small pool in a boggy area with yews. Ragged Ruby is also a popular hunting area for deer, including Columbia White-tailed deer, and elk. Based on our field surveying, including wildlife sign and sightings, there are also Black bears, bobcats, coyotes, rabbits, Douglas squirrels, Yellow pine chipmunks, Cottontail rabbits, Williamson’s sapsucker and Northern flickers, and a variety of other birds, including Clark’s nutcracker, Blue grouse, Steller’s jay, Solitary vireo, nuthatches, chickadees, ravens, and Red-tailed hawk. We are concerned that proposed heavy and intensive logging of the area will destroy the diverse habitat niches for many resident species, especially those dependent on denser forest such as elk and deer; those reliant on large trees for perches, nesting, and down log forging, such as Pileated woodpecker, American marten, and Northern goshawk; and those depending on aquatic and riparian (creek-side) habitat, including Threatened listed and Management Indicator fish species, Columbia spotted frogs, Long-toed salamanders, and moisture- and shade-dependent plant species, including Sensitive and rare plants.

Planned logging: Unfortunately the Forest Service answer to all forest conditions they encounter as they systematically move across the landscape is to log more, re-open closed roads, build “temporary roads”, do prescribed burning, and throw in some recreational improvements and aquatic restoration to make it palatable to the larger public. The Ragged Ruby Project is very much a “cookie-cutter” timber sale very similar in its plans and flawed rationales to surrounding and adjacent timber sales, including the Camp Lick sale to the west, the Magone sale to the southwest, and the Big Mosquito sale to the northwest.

We are concerned that the Forest Service is planning back to back timber sales in such close proximity to each other over a large block of wildlife habitat on the Blue Mountain District, with implementation of these sales expected to overlap over only 13 years. This would create huge cumulative losses of habitat for wildlife species dependent on denser forest cover, mature and large tree structure, and more intact riparian conditions since these sales propose extensive heavy removal of forest cover, removal of mature trees, logging and other heavy equipment use in moist riparian areas, and in the case of Camp Lick, Big Mosquito, and possibly Ragged Ruby, removal of large trees equal to or greater than 21” diameter at breast height through Forest Plan amendments.

Please send in your comments by April 24th!

You can mail your comments to: Blue Mountain Ranger District, c/o Sasha Fertig, 431 Patterson Bridge Road/P.O. Box 909, John Day, OR 97845. Or fax to: (541) 575-3319. Or email to: comments-pacificnorthwest-malheur-bluemountain@fs.fed.us

Your comments must include: your name, address, telephone number (if possible), organization represented or private citizen, title of the document on which the comments are submitted– “Ragged Ruby Scoping Package”,specific facts or comments along with supporting reasons that you believe the responsible official should consider in reaching a decision, and your signature (for objection eligibility—you can use an email scanned signature.)

The Ragged Ruby Scoping Package is available at the Malheur National Forest website at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49392 For more information contact Sasha Fertig at (541) 575-3061 or by email at: sashafertig@fs.fed.us

Thank you for sending comments! Come volunteer with us this summer! Call (541) 385-9167