Siskiyou Wild Rivers: Threats
Mining remains one of the region’s most serious threats to unprotected areas. High densities of claims still remain. Wilderness designation is one of the most effective means of preventing new mining operations. A major issue in the area is the lack of enforcement of mining regulations. The massive area, home to thousands of often extremely secluded claims, allows for activities to continue out of sight of understaffed enforcement agencies.
Mining poses unparalleled risks to fresh water in terms of water quality for humans and for fish. Mining often causes severe erosion, adding harmful sediment to waterways, and contaminates water supplies as chemicals leach from tailings in the watershed. Mining operations generally entail major disturbance, moving earth, cutting riparian vegetation, and building roads. Mining activities also focus on the mineral rich serpentine areas, which are also home to the rarest endemic plants in the region.
The vast roadless areas east of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness are vulnerable to large scale nickel mines in an area of incredible botanical diversity. Strip mining for nickel would ruin wilderness character and pollute streams.
Suction dredges, a relatively common mining tool in the region, are essentially underwater vacuum cleaners that can damage salmon spawning beds and kill salmon eggs. Dredging also mixes toxic mercury into the environment.
Off-Road Vehicle Use
The majority of the roads across the wildlands of this region were built to access logging or mining operations. These roads open up pristine wilderness areas to motorized use that often leads to irreparable harm. Offroad vehicles (ORVs) damage sensitive plant communities, wildlife habitat and riparian areas through erosion, soil compaction, plant mortality, noise and pollution. A single reckless ORV rider can, in a single afternoon, destroy a rare wildflower community that may have existed in the same area for millions of years.
ORVs also carry non-native plants and plant diseases such as the exotic root-rot disease, Phytophthora lateralis, for Port Orford cedar populations. Use of motorized vehicles increases the risk that the pathogen will spread into unaffected areas, leading to a greater likelihood of infection and loss of an important native species.
With minimal agency budgets for regulation and enforcement, the growth of off-road vehicle use has resulted in a proliferation of illegal trails and a disregard for closures, creating impacts outside of designated offroad areas.
Sediment from the roads, which is greatly increased by motorized vehicle use, degrades water quality and salmon production as ORVs cross or even drive up streams (known as creeking) in prime salmon and steelhead spawning habitat.
Plant Disease and Invasive Species
Port Orford-cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), is of particular conservation interest in the Klamath-Siskiyou because of its ecological importance in the region, particularly in its contribution to streamside habitats, and its continuing decline due to the spreading infestation of the exotic root-rot disease, Phytophthora lateralis. Off-road vehicles pose a major threat to the area by tearing up sensitive habitat, and by spreading Port Orford cedar disease, threatening the existence of one of the most beautiful and ecologically important trees of the region.
Other pathogens threaten the biodiversity of Siskiyo Wild Rivers, including sudden oak death, white pine blister rust and Dwarf Misletoe. White pine blister rust kills sugar pine and western white pine. Sudden oak death disease kills tanoaks. Dwarf Mistletoe can harm old growth firs. Nearly all old growth firs in Caves National Monument parking lot area have been impacted by this. Ecosystem disturbance makes existing plant species less resilient and vulnerable to disease.
Weedy non-native plant species can displace native species and cause irreparable harm across landscapes and alter entire ecosystems.
As the habitat of the Spotted Owl has been decimated, it has opened up the region to Barred owls, a more generalist species, which threaten to displace spotted owls.
Road building for logging operations creates impacts that last indefinitely while also providing motorized access to remote places and previously intact ecosystems. Clearcut logging and road building contribute massive amounts of sediment to streams and rivers with considerable impact to spawning salmon and steelhead.
While much of the proposed wilderness area is classified as Late Successional Reserves, this does not ensure longterm protection of the region’s forest resources. Forests currently protected with the Northwest Forest Plan can be clearcut logged after they are burned, or under misguided thinning plans.
Logging decreases local wildlife populations and fragments the landscape into smaller or more isolated patches of habitat. Forest fragmentation negatively affects amphibians because of edge effects that lead to elevated temperatures and reduced humidity levels in stands. Timber harvest decreases aquatic amphibian populations by increasing water temperatures to lethal levels and by silting streambeds.
Clearcut logging fragments habitat for old growth dependent species such as the Northern spotted owl. Previously logged areas, often chocked with even-aged and extremely dense stands of single species, ignite easily and quickly, spreading into adjacent old growth areas with high intensity flames. Plantations and clearcut areas where natural systems have been completely altered dramatically increase the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires that threaten local communities.