A Cohesive Strategy for Forest Restoration in the Rogue Basin
Natural fire is an essential element of a healthy forest and helps mitigate future fires by clearing fuels from the forest floor. Yet wildfires in the Western US have become more intense, burning hotter, longer and across more of the landscape, destroying communities, impacting livelihoods, and making the air dangerous to breathe.
The causes of more severe wildfires are climate change and outdated forest management practices. The Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, an array of leaders in conservation and forestry, is tackling these challenges with the Rogue Basin Strategy.
Following years of collaboration and technical development, the Rogue Basin Strategy is a comprehensive science-based roadmap for healthier forests and communities across 4.6 million acres of Southern Oregon.
Implementing the Strategy with 1.1 million acres of strategic thinning and controlled burning in 20 years will:
Reduce wildfire severity
Assist wildfire control
Reduce wildfire risk by up to 70%
Reduce wildfire risk to homes by up to 50%
Reduce wildfire risk to high quality old-growth forest for the Northern Spotted Owl by 47%
Enable better smoke management
Implement plans to restore old growth forest
Restore open forest where appropriate in the landscape
Protect riparian and stream habitat
Promote climate resilience in forests
Set the stage for controlled burning with prudent mechanical treatments
Embrace a proactive, restorative approach to active management that sustains jobs and economic activity
Employ site-specific collaboration and planning to support local values
Generate 1,700 jobs annually
Deliver 83 million board feet of federal timber to local mills annually
Based on the Best Forest Science
The forest science is clear: fire is critical for healthy forests, but certain overgrown forests need strategic thinning and controlled burning. There is scientific consensus around the tools that the Strategy recommends: We can reduce wildfire intensity, enable safe, effective fire suppression, and increase landscape resilience with strategic thinning followed by controlled burning.
Controlled burns create less smoke than wildfires and are conducted to minimize community impacts. Strategic, ecological thinning can expand the areas available for controlled burning, which provides communities and managers more options to reduce smoke impacts.
The Strategy relies on existing roads for forest thinning, and timber removal focuses on smaller trees that act as fuels and pose a threat to irreplaceable old-growth trees.
Built Through Transparent Community Engagement
The Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC) holds regular public meetings with partners whose input is integral to the strategy and its implementation. This work is shaped by diverse voices like forestry experts, elected and government officials, community leaders and landowners.
The Strategy depends on collaboration. Partners in the region implement the Strategy through site-specific projects informed by local knowledge.
A Collaborative with a Wide Network of Partners
SOFRC and its partners have begun implementing the Strategy in various forest and community projects. The Rogue Basin Strategy provides a framework for partners to implement shared stewardship through a common set of objectives. Already, the alllands scenario is built into the Rogue Valley Integrated Fire Plan for Jackson and Josephine Counties. Ongoing engagement will continue to incorporate stakeholder perspectives.
With our science-based and collaborative approach, we’re striving to reduce wildfire risk, better manage smoke, develop and protect complex forest habitats in the face of climate change and enhance the region’s economy.
Reduce Wildfire Smoke Through Forest Restoration
Southwest Oregon residents and visitors alike suffered through another summer of prolonged and severe wildfire smoke, with many negative impacts to our health, community safety, quality of life, and the local economy.
While there are no easy solutions, we can make things much better. Working together, agencies, landowners, and communities can begin to reduce the severity and duration of summer wildfires and the resulting smoke impacts through a targeted program of fuels reduction and restoring forest resilience. We need to greatly increase the pace and scale of tree thinning and controlled burning operations that reduce the over-abundance of fuel – excess suppressed trees and underbrush – that, along with increasingly long, hot, and dry summers, are the reason mega-fires are on the rise.
Ample evidence from scientific studies and recent experiences across the western US make it clear that tree thinning followed by controlled underburning significantly reduces fire severity and makes wildfires easier to put out.
To be sure, controlled burning generates smoke, but emissions per acre are far lower than in a wildfire, and controlled burns can be conducted fall through spring on days when desired winds disperse smoke. Under current, overly cautious smoke management rules, however, the days when prescribed burns can be conducted are too few. We are already working together to make needed changes in the rules to provide more flexibility and more burn days.
An expanded program of forest restoration and fire hazard reduction tree thinning will generate a significant volume of by-product commercial timber and put people to back to work in the woods. This can be done while leaving the healthiest, most fire resistant trees in place. But it still requires a large investment – $30 million or more annually. Current Forest Service and BLM budgets for fuels reduction are far below this level. While expensive, the price for forest restoration pales in comparison to the costs of suppressing and recovering from wildfires and the unrelenting smoke. It also does not take into account millions of dollars of ecosystem services, like drinking water, that freely flow from our forests.
The Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC) is a non-profit, community-based organization that promotes forest health and resiliency. Working with numerous partner organizations and agencies, we developed the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy (RBS). The strategy calls for fuels reduction and thinning where needed most, and controlled burning in key locations, while protecting critical and fragile habitats. The strategy reduces wildfire risks to homes and habitat by 70%.
While it is imperative that homes are made safer through better construction materials and targeted fuels reduction, the Rogue Valley Fire Chief’s Association has endorsed the Rogue Basin Strategy as a critical piece of the 2017 Rogue Valley Integrated Fire Plan that addresses wildfire safety across Jackson and Josephine Counties. The Fire Chief’s Association recognizes that fires often move from areas outside communities into the wildland urban interface, necessitating mass mobilizations of Rogue Valley firefighters that are costly and dangerous. By creating healthy forests, jobs, and reducing landscape fire risk, we’re winning on all fronts by simultaneously integrating community protection and landscape resilience.
We ask elected officials, citizens and business owners to join us in promoting the forest restoration strategy needed to make southwest Oregon a home with cleaner air and healthier forests.
— By Max Bennett, Terry Fairbanks and Blair Moody, board members, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative
When that dense smoke spreads regionally and covers large urban areas, millions of people are potentially affected. Satellite mapping shows that dense areas of smoke can span county, state and even continental scales — living in an area far removed from a forest is no longer a guarantee that you won’t have to deal with wildfire smoke. How has this come to pass, and what can we do about it?