Our forest farm is situated astraddle a narrow box canyon in the rugged Siskyou Mountains of Southern Oregon and sits less than a mile downstream from the headwaters of the creek that flows down our little canyon towards the mighty Rogue River. Our watershed covers about 400 acres of what used to be heavily forested steep terrain. When we first bought our land nearly a quarter century ago, we were shocked to see the clearcut logging that had occurred in the 1970's on the National Forest land around us. It was like walking into a moonscape when you stepped from under the tall forest of the canyon onto the denuded upper slope of the clearcut National Forest land. Although we could see that creek flows had been severely impacted by this logging where its headwaters lay, the creek ran rear-round and provided spawning grounds for steelhead, a consistent source of fresh water for many species of wildlife and a steady supply of water for our water right. In Southern Oregon, water is life and our creek brought life to this beautiful green canyon whose slopes were densely populated with tall Firs, Cedars and Sugar Pines interspersed with huge Oaks and Madrones that hadn't seen heavy logging since the late 1920's. It was our Eden and we worked hard over the years to improve and protect the riparian area along the creek, the wetland areas created by the many springs, and the health of our forest.
But we soon had a rude awakening when one of the three upstream private properties was purchased and heavily logged by timber speculators, leaving one face of the canyon denuded and damaged from running heavy equipment to drag the logs out. A slope that was once a shaded garden of ferns, vine maple, dogwoods and a plethora of native shrubs fed by numerous springs was left bare to scorch in the hot sun of Southern Oregon. The springs dried up, the shrubs and damaged residual trees withered and died and the slope became a desert with only the hardiest of Oaks surviving in an environment ten degrees warmer on a cloudy day- far more in the long weeks of direct summer sun. Our creek was clogged with sediment from erosion runoff in winter for several years and.it's flow dropped by at least twenty percent in summer and never returned to past levels
In 1992, another timber company removed all of the large trees, then came back in during 1999 to take all remaining merchantable trees on the opposite canyon slope, leaving nothing more than spindly trees with little value. That winter, we once again saw a great deal of erosion off the barren slopes sending large amounts of sediments that clogged our irrigation system and a large decrease in creek flows the following summer. Springs that once flowed to the creek ceased producing water or were impeded by large cut/fills made for the wide logging roads. Temperatures rose even further, the character of the land changed from green conifer forest to dry woodland and the creek for the first time dried to a trickle in summer with only puddles dispersed along its length. So much for our water right... there was no water to have a right to from August until winter rains came and that it never recovered.
The final nail in the coffin came a few years ago, when yet another timber company bought and logged the last piece of private land located at the uppermost slopes of the steep box canyon adjacent to National Forest land, just below where the headwaters of the creek lay. Once again the treed canopy of each of the three slopes was removed and worse still, a huge twenty foot fill was placed across the entire canyon for a roadway up and out of the box canyon to National Forest lands above. A culvert was indeed installed at the bottom of the fill to enable the main creek flow to pass, but the fill created a dam which stopped the flow of the many springs which contributed to the formation of the creek. Again we saw the same scenario- increased temperatures and desertification of the remaining piece of a once lush forested watershed. The sediments buried our irrigation intake in four feet of gravel and silt that first winter and the following summer the creek ceased to flow by the 4th of July. It was heartbreaking to see deer snuffling for water in the dry creek bed and sad to see the riparian area that we have worked so hard to enhance, withering away and turning brown. The creek now rarely lasts past the 4th of July.
Our land is still an emerald tree covered island in a bleak landscape. It surprises us sometimes how cool our green canopy keeps the earth below when a short distance away is a blast furnace without protection by a treed cover. Our springs provide respite for wildlife who travel here knowing that they can still find life-giving water, and enable us to capture some water for our own use. But it is a bittersweet victory knowing that our land management has protected us somewhat from the fate of adjacent lands.
We once enjoyed the warm days of summer, falling asleep to the sound of the creek gurgling over the rocks and the scent of mockorange in bloom along its banks, but it is now with dread that we watch the days become hotter, baking the life force out of every living thing. I wince when I hear people say that global warming is not real and that excessive logging does not produce a change in the basic character of the land. We live it. It is real. Unfortunately this forested watershed, that we have spent our lives trying to protect and nurture our portion of, is altered forever. More unfortunate still- this is only one of hundreds of watersheds in Southern Oregon being irreversibly changed by land management that gives no consideration to the fact that it is creating hot, dry deserts where there were once moist, cool forests.