Brice Creek Waterfalls, Wildflowers & Big Trees By George Sexton
Nestled into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains thirty miles east of Cottage Grove Oregon is one of the most spectacular hidden jewels in the Pacific Northwest. The Brice Creek watershed represents much of what is so special about living in Oregon. Every season offers something breathtaking: from crystal clear summer swimming pools, to unparalleled fall mushroom hunting, to low-elevation winter hiking in the old growth forests, to world-class displays of spring wildflowers.
One cannot help but be touched by the magnificent natural beauty of Brice Creek and its tributaries.
Everyone loves Brice Creek. Everyone, that is, except the timber sale planners in the Cottage Grove Ranger District. If they have their way the US Forest Service will log more than 600 acres of native forest from the headwaters of Brice Creek.
Behind the Beauty Strip While the streamside forest trails along Brice Creek give you the impression of being in a vast unspoiled wilderness, a short drive up any of the ubiquitous logging roads paints quite a different picture. Currently over 13,000 acres of native forest in the watershed have been clearcut and converted into fiber plantations, with over 200 miles of logging roads constructed to facilitate the liquidation of these public forests. These shocking numbers contrast sharply with the paltry 28 miles of hiking trails along Brice Creek at which the Forest Service expects visitors to cough-up a $5 trail fee in order to enjoy the trees that have yet to be sold to the timber industry.
Forests and Water Despite the widespread public distaste for continued old growth logging on public lands, the Cottage Grove Ranger District is pushing ahead with plans to cut the rare ancient forests surrounding Brice Creek. These old growth forests currently help to reduce flooding and moderate “peak flow” events by retaining water during the wet season and slowly releasing it during the dry season. The massive canopy of these old Douglas-Fir and Incense Cedar works to capture snow and create a warmer micro-climate near the forest floor. This is an especially important ecosystem function in the Brice Creek watershed because it helps avoid “rain on snow events.” Rain on snow events occur frequently during the wet winter months when the freezing level is rising and falling rapidly. Folks who remember the massive flooding of 1996 may recall that much of the devastation was brought about by warm rain falling on a large snow pack. Nothing helps moderate the rain-on-snow phenomena more than an intact old growth canopy.
Abusing the Land, Ignoring the People I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to many readers, but the fact is that the Forest Service likes to cut big, old trees on public lands and they don’t particularly care what the public thinks about it. A recent poll by Davis and Hibbitts Inc. found that 75% of Oregon and Washington residents oppose further destruction of publicly owned old growth forests. This number held true for both urban and rural residents.
In the case of Brice Creek, the Cottage Grove Ranger District has received scores of letters from the public testifying to their love of the watershed and its forests. The special nature of Brice Creek has inspired many forest lovers to push for its protection from the chainsaws. Unfortunately the Forest Service is not an agency that lets the desire of the public get in the way of some good ol’ fashion old growth logging.
A Clearcut By Any Other Name The Forest Service is very sensitive about the word “clearcut.” So they don’t say it much. They prefer the euphemism "regeneration.” As in, “lets“regenerate (clearcut) this 400 year-old forest and plant a monoculture of Douglas-Fir!” Unfortunately the timber industry has already regenerated 37% of the old growth forests in the Brice Creek Watershed. Despite this damage, 18 pairs of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl still make their homes in the remaining ancient forests of Brice Creek.
Many of these Owls will be impacted by two timber sales designed by the Forest Service to regnerate centuries-old forest stands.
Wyatt Timber Sale: Goodbye Ancient Forest Perhaps the most beautiful of all of the small tributaries to Brice Creek is the little-known and seldom-seen Wyatt Creek. Wyatt Creek is otherworldly. It flows out of an intact ancient forest grove just over 1,000 acres in size, an extremely rare find in the heavily cut-over Umpqua National Forest. It also provides some of the coldest and cleanest water for the resident cutthroat trout population in Brice Creek.
Currently the Forest Service is hoping to log up to 8 “units” of ancient forest along Wyatt Creek totaling over 200 acres. Over 100 acres of the timber sale would be”regenerated in the lexicon of the Forest Service.
I have visited scores of timber sales throughout Oregon, and I believe that the forests targeted for logging in the Wyatt timber sale are among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Do yourself a favor and visit them before they are gone.
Blodgett Timber Sale: Old Growth For Second Growth If your neighbors offered to trade you their parcel of second growth straight-up for your parcel of old growth, you might question their sanity. Economically, recreationally, and ecologically the old growth is worth far more. But not according to the Forest Service.
In the Blodgett timber sale, the Cottage Grove District is hoping to provide the Scott Timber Company with old growth from the Brice Creek watershed in exchange for second growth in the Siuslaw National Forest. The story is that several years ago the Forest Service proposed a number of illegal timber sales in some second growth forests in the Coast Range, and the sales were stopped due to violations of the Endangered Species Act. Rather than simply “give up” the volume contained in the illegal Coast Range sales, the timber industry convinced Congress to pass a law allowing the Forest Service to offer the timber companies replacement volume of "like kind” to what was canceled.
Now to you or me, “like kind” would indicate the Forest Service’s intention to find similar second growth timber sales to replace the canceled sales. But incredibly, the Forest Service saw an opportunity to log yet more old growth. In the case of the Blodgett Timber Sale, the Umpqua National Forest is proposing to give Scott Timber 100 acres of old growth along Brice Creek.
Like the rest of the ancient forests in the Brice Creek watershed, the old growth stands in the Blodgett timber sale are truly a national treasure. They provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities that are simply world class.
Visit Paradise You can see the waterfalls and big trees of Brice Creek with your own eyes any time of year. To reach Brice Creek take I5 to the Cottage Grove exit. Then take the Row River Road East out of town for about 45 minutes following signs for Brice Creek. The trail from the Lund Park Campground to Trestle Falls is particularly nice. Feel free to contact me for maps to the proposed timber sales.
People Who Need to Hear From You If you like what you see at Brice Creek (and I bet you do!) write a letter to folks who should be working to protect it.
George Sexton is the Watershed Coordinator for the American Lands Alliance. For the past five years he has worked to protect the watersheds and ancient forests of the Cascade Mountain Range. George is a fifth generation Oregonian and loves to hike whenever possible. He never pays trail fees.