Undiscovered America #3: Ancient Forest

April 17, 2017

Anyone interested in the outdoors knows that California has an embarrassment of natural riches, but even amongst avid hikers and campers there remains places like these that are rarely explored. This underutilized area is located within the forests of northern California and southern Oregon, known by some as the Ancient Forest. Due to the density and scale of the region it has long been the centerpiece of the Bigfoot legend as it’s the only plausible setting left for a large creature to exist without fear of being seen.

The forest is more commonly known as the Klamath Mountains but recent efforts are trying to change that. A handful of conservationists have set their sights on establishing an Ancient Forest National Park from the strained public lands the encompass the mountains. Although local opposition from the few people who live in the Ancient Forest region has been fierce, the campaigns website ancientforestnationalpark.org explains the necessity of their cause, “We can avoid the cumulative impacts of human activity by preserving an area that is big enough to manage for real wildlife, fish and plant habitat protection. If one area burns, another area will allow species to continue surviving into the future until the area that was burned regrows. If an animal or plant is stressed in one area, maybe there will be an area miles away where it can still thrive. We are entering an era of unprecedented climate change, not only in the United States, but in the world. Part of being ready for that change is the creation of Ancient Forest National Park.”

Several different federal agencies offer marginal levels of protection for large sections of these forested mountains, but differing management styles have increased the impact of forest fires. Some of the land, mostly the areas managed by the US Forest Service, allow extensive logging of this ancient grove of trees. Despite the perception that the USFS is an exemplary steward of public lands, it is a much more complicated situation. The USFS is not tasked with protecting land like the National Park Service, instead they are tasked with managing the land. While the difference between protecting/managing land may sound like semantics, it is not. Protection means the environment must remain in its natural state, reflecting a world before there were humans altering the landscape. Management means the lands open to be drilled, mined, and logged as it is kept it at a sustainable level.

The USFS strategy often results in the establishment of hidden roads built to facilitate oil extraction and logging out of view of the public. There are precious few old-growth forests in the Forest Service because they don’t let the trees live that long. They log their lands on a cycle. Once one area is logged, the next parcel of trees is logged. After many years of cycling through the forest they eventually arrive back where they started and begin the process again.

This is what makes the Ancient Forest so special. Due to the remoteness and jaggedness of the peaks in the region, the forest here is old and mostly safe from logging. Unsurprisingly however, new logging roads and technology are making it easier to reach these untouched tracts of old-growth forest. Time is ticking until this old forested range loses its important standing as a piece of unaltered California.

Ancient Forests of the Klamath Siskiyou

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