SOFRC Public Meeting Notes
October 24, 2018
The Southwest Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative’s (SOFRC) recent meeting with partners and members of the restoration community was well attended and included three short presentations. There was an opportunity for all to share information about recent activities and shared interests.
Terry Fairbanks, SOFRC board president, recalled how SOFRC started in 2005 through the “knitting circle,” and has been active since then in a variety of projects including Pilot Joe, climate change assessment and the development of the Rogue Basin Strategy.
Max Bennett, OSU Extension Service, Vicky Sturtevant, Southern Oregon University professor emeritus, and Jena Volpe, Bureau of Land Management, shared 5-year monitoring results from the Pilot Joe Project, noting that multi-party monitoring has been a good way to connect with the community about past projects and outcomes.
Kerry Metlen, The Nature Conservancy, presented the results from his recent paper, “Regional and Local Controls on Historical Fire Regimes of Dry Forests and Woodlands in the Rogue River Basin.” Notable was his description of the seasonality of fire scars; a surprising amount of fire occurred in the spring and fall in the Rogue Basin.
Other highlights included a description of projects around the basin:
Craig Harper, Watershed Administrator, told us about the small scale thinning began by the Medford Water Commission in Big Butte Springs.
Anna Trapanese, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, described the planning for the 20,000 acres in the Stella project on the High Cascades Ranger District (look for the Facebook video).
Chris Chambers, new Rogue Valley Fire Chief’s representative to SOFRC board, mentioned the backlog of pile burning, in particular in the Ashland watershed where 3500 acres, that need to be burned.
Jena Volpe, BLM fire ecologist, mentioned that the Integrated Vegetation Fuels Management environmental assessment had expired and was being rewritten. Also, she noted that there is policy that requires monitoring of treatments affected by wildfire and that she has been involved in the monitoring.
Nick Hale, Oregon Department of Forestry, described the fuels work going on in the Greensprings area supported in part by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Sean Hendrix, Grayback Forestry told the group about restoration activities in the Illinois Valley.
Erin Kurtz, Natural Resources Conservation Service, described how NRCS was active in the treatment of 8500 acres of private ground around Ashland and the Seven Basins, as well as Greensprings.
Greg Weber and Eugene Weir, Rogue Basin Partnership, noted the common membership between those in attendance and their interest in integrating aquatic and upland projects.
Clint Emerson, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Natural Resource Staff Officer, noted that 400,000 acres of the 1.8 million acre Rogue River-Siskiyou Nation Forest burned in the last two years.
Bill Kuhn, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Area Ecologist. told the group that LiDAR is to be flown on the forest in the near future.
John O’Connor, Oregon Department of Forestry, described his work with local landowners and partnerships working to accomplish restoration.
The next meeting will be held Nov. 28, 1:00 pm, at the USDA Service Center, 89 Alder Street, Central Point.
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?