Era of Megafires
Two presentations of “Era of Megafires” are scheduled in the Rogue Basin this week. Admission is free. The first presentation takes place June 19, 7:00 p.m., at the Smullin Health Education Center, 2825 East Barnett Rd. in Medford. The second is June 20, 7:00 p.m., at the Event Center at the Lodge at Riverside, 940 SE 7th St. in Grants Pass.
The “Era of Megafires” is a 60-minute, multi-media, traveling presentation hosted by Dr. Paul Hessburg, who has conducted fire and landscape ecology research for more than 27 years. The presented material comes in the form of fast-moving, short, topic-based talks interspersed with compelling video vignettes and features the work of wildfire photographer John Marshall. Think Ted X mixed with snappy documentary shorts and compelling photography. The videos are produced by award-winning documentary film company North 40 Productions, of Wenatchee, Wash.
The presentations are sponsored by the Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Cooperative, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Oregon Department of Forestry and Josephine County Firewise.
Rogue Forest Restoration Initiative
The Rogue Forest Restoration Initiative (RFRI) combines conservation activities and public engagement to begin implementing six cross-boundary, all-lands/all-hands projects across the Rogue Basin. The initiative launches the Rogue Basin Strategy (RBS)1, a collaboratively designed framework for identifying high priority areas in need of restoration and to reduce wildfire risk.
The RFRI partners work to restore dry-type forest, reduce wildfire risks to critical habitat for sensitive wildlife and to protect local communities and infrastructure from wildfire.
Improve landscape resilience by increasing the proportion of open-canopy dry-type forest with more widely spaced, large trees.
Reduce wildfire risk to dry-type forest, Northern Spotted Owl habitat and local communities through ecological thinning and controlled burning.
Improve community support for forest restoration and reintroduction of beneficial fire.
Improve socioeconomic conditions and workforce capacity in southwestern Oregon.
Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC) is a local leader in facilitating outreach and forest project monitoring, community dialogue and the integration of forest science and socioeconomic issues.
Lomakatsi Restoration Project (LRP), based in southern Oregon, is a leader throughout the West in restoring ecosystems and sustaining communities through ecosystem project design, implementation, community engagement, education and workforce development.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a world leader in conservation of lands and waters working with partners. TNC provided technical leadership and science support on the forest restoration framework for the Rogue Basin.
USDA Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) is a leader and principle funder for collaborative forestry for projects such as the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project.
USDI Bureau of Land Management, Medford (MBM) is a leader in developing ecological based, dry-forest prescriptions, fostering collaborative projects and providing a myriad of recreation opportunities, such as the Table Rocks.
OSU Extension, Jackson/Josephine County (FNR) is a leader in natural resource management and education, working with forest owners, natural resource managers, educators and forestry workers.
Oregon Department of Forestry, Southern Oregon (ODF) is the local leader in providing sustainable wildfire protection on over 1.8 million acres of private, county, state and BLM-managed lands in Southern Oregon and is dedicated to providing a more fire resilient forest and creating fire-adapted communities.
Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO), based in southern Oregon, is a leader in the conservation of birds and their habitats through science, education and partnerships.
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?