Last year, we had 300,000 acres on fire on and near the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. We welcomed 15,000 firefighters from all over the country, and actually from New Zealand and Australia as well, to come here, to help keep you safe. I spent over 200 million dollars last year, making sure that we got these fires out. In the past 2 years on the Rogue River -Siskiyou National Forest, 500,000 acres have burned.
So, what’s changed? Has it always been this way?
Merv George, forest supervisor for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, joined Chris Chambers, city forestland manager, author of the Ashland Community Wildfire Protection Plan, Jackson County Integrated Fire Plan, and creator of Ashland, Ore’s FireWise Communities and Fire Adapted Communities programs, to present a 20-minute talk at TEDxAshland in May. A video of their presentation was posted to YouTube last month.
The city and federal officials teamed up to explain why wildland fires have become landscape-scale challenge in many U.S> communities, and how the City of Ashland and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest are answering that challenge by collaborating with each other and their entire community on creative solutions that have been demonstrated to reduce risk and save homes (and possibly lives), right in their own backyard.
You can view the complete presentation on YouTube, or watch it below.
CORVALLIS, Ore. (July 2, 2019) — New findings show that old-growth forests, a critical nesting habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, are less likely to experience high-severity fire than young-growth forests during wildfires.
This suggests that old-growth forest could be leveraged to provide valuable fire refuges that support forest biodiversity and buffer the extreme effects of climate change on fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest.
A recent study published in the journal Ecosphere examined the impact of the Douglas Complex and Big Windy fires, which burned in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Oregon during July 2013, a drought year.
The fires burned through a long-term study area for northern spotted owls.
Using information on forest vegetation before and after the fires, along with known spotted owl nesting areas, researchers had an unprecedented chance to compare the impact of wildfire on critical old-growth nesting habitat.
“On federally managed lands, spotted owl nesting habitat is largely protected from timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan, but wildfire is still a primary threat to the old-growth forest that spotted owls rely on for nesting habitat,” Damon Lesmeister, a research wildlife biologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, said. “The loss of spotted owl nesting habitat as a result of severe fire damage could have significant negative impacts on the remaining spotted owl populations as well as a large number of other wildlife species that rely on these old forests.”
Old-growth forests have more vegetation than younger forests. Researchers expected that this meant more fuel would be available for wildfires, increasing the susceptibility of old-growth forests to severe fire, high tree mortality, and resulting loss of critical spotted owl nesting habitat.
However, the data suggested a different effect.
Lesmeister and his colleagues classified fire severity based on the percentage of trees lost in a fire, considering forest that lost less than 20% of its trees to fire as subject to low-severity fire and those with more than 90% tree loss as subject to high-severity fire.
They found that old-growth forest was up to three times more likely to burn at low severity — a level that avoided loss of spotted owl nesting habitat and is generally considered to be part of a healthy forest ecosystem.
“Somewhat to our surprise, we found that, compared to other forest types within the burned area, old-growth forests burned on average much cooler than younger forests, which were more likely to experience high-severity fire. How this actually plays out during a mixed-severity wildfire makes sense when you consider the qualities of old-growth forest that can limit severe wildfire ignitions and burn temperatures, like shading from multilayer canopies, cooler temperatures, moist air and soil as well as larger, hardier trees,” Lesmeister said.
Because old-growth forests may be refuges for low-severity fire on a landscape that experiences moderate to high-severity fires frequently, they could be integral as biodiversity refuges in an increasingly fire-prone region.
Leveraging the potential of old-growth forests to act as refuges may be an effective tool for forest managers as they deal with worsening fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest.
The study was a collaboration between
researchers Damon Lesmeister and David Bell, USDA Forest Service, Pacific
Northwest Research Station; Stan Sovern and Matthew Gregory, Oregon State
University; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region; and
Jody Vogeler, Colorado State University.
The Granite Gulch fire, a lightning-caused fire currently burning on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in eastern Oregon, offers an excellent example of a naturally-caused fire being managed for ecological benefits.
Located deep within the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the fire is currently small and located many miles from the working forest or developed communities.
In the East Oregonian article, Nathan Goodrich, a fire management officer for the forest, explains that managing fire means monitoring the fire and the surrounding conditions closely.
The fire’s effects could help fend off encroachment from sub-albine firs and improve conditions for species like Clark’s nutcracker as well as the whitebark pines that they help propagate, Goodrich said.
If conditions remain favorable (cooler temperatures, low winds, and high moisture content in soil and surrounding plants), Forest Service fire managers hope the fire will continue it’s movement through the wilderness so more of the forest can reap these environmental benefits.
BAKER CITY, Ore.(July 25, 2019) — The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has determined that a temporary closure to camping is needed in a small area of the forest due to ongoing resource damage.
This damage is the result of long-term occupancy of the area, and the closure is intended to allow vegetation in the damaged areas time to become reestablished.
Multiple complaints were received from multiple sources. On further investigation, a number of issues, including septic holes, discarded litter and personal belongings, deep ruts in meadows and wetlands, and other forms of abuse from un-managed long term camping, were documented by Forest Service employees.
The Huckleberry Creek Area Closure affects approximately 240 acres of the Whitman Ranger District, located south of Sumpter along Forest Road 1090, and prohibits overnight camping in the area until July 24, 2021, unless rescinded earlier.
ROSEBURG, Ore. (July 28, 2019) — The Umpqua National Forest has implemented a 14-day limit on overnight camping in several areas that had previously been available for longer-term camping on the Tiller Ranger District.
Several other areas of the forest are also closed to long-term camping due to increased visitation or environmental damage from long-term camping; long-term camping limits were adopted for several sites on the Cottage Grove District by a closure order issued last year, and several locations on the North Umpqua District are also closed to long-term camping.
Long-term camping at both developed and non-developed (dispersed) campsites that are easily-accessible and in locations that are popular with visitors has increased significantly in recent years, limiting opportunities for other campers seeking to use these sites and increasing the risk of damage to surrounding natural resources from irresponsible recreation practices, according to a press release from the forest to announced the changes.
“Some of these sites are very popular with visitors, and there aren’t a lot of places suitable for camping, so it really limited access,” Lance Sargent, recreation manager for the Tiller Ranger District, said.
Areas of Tiller Ranger District subject to the new long-term camping closure order include the Forest Service Road 28 and South Umpqua Road corridor, the Forest Service Road 2823 corridor, and the Forest Service Road 29 / Jackson Creek Road corridors.
The Devils Flat, Threehorn, Three C Rock, Black Canyon, Skookum Pond and Falcon Creek campgrounds, and the Cow Creek Trailhead, area also affected by the long-term camping closure order.
The new long-term stay limits have been enacted in an effort to protect Forest resources and visitor health and safety, said Kathy Minor, Tiller District Ranger, said.
“Visitors and Forest staff are experiencing an increase in health and safety risks, as well as the potential for unsafe water quality,” Minor said. “By limiting camping to 14 days, all forest visitors will also have a fair and equitable opportunity to visit and enjoy the Umpqua National Forest.”
The areas affected don’t have running water, toilets, or other facilities sufficient for their use as long-term campsites, as longer stays increase the likelihood of negative impacts to natural resources, including removal of vegetation from areas, user-created trails, improper disposal of human waste and other refuse, and damage to soils as a result of long-term camping when such facilities or other management and oversight isn’t present to monitor their use, according to the forest’s press release.
PORTLAND, Ore. (July 20, 2019) —The Environmental Protection
Agency recognized the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional
fisheries biologist and regional Aquatic
and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan program lead for
their contributions as part of a multi-agency federal team that established a
now four-year-old partnership to encourage and fund watershed improvement
James Capurso, Pacific Northwest regional fisheries biologist for the USDA Forest Service, and Christine Hirsch, Pacific Northwest Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Plan (AREMP) Program Lead, were among six federal employees honored at the 2018 EPA National Honors awards July 10 for Outstanding Leadership in Collaborative Problem Solving, in recognition of their contributions as the Forest Service representatives to the Drinking Water Providers Partnership, of which the EPA and Bureau of Land Management are also members.
“I think this is the
first time we’ve had a funding partnership which also includes state funding in
the mix. This particular partnership also includes non-profits that have been
instrumental in reaching out to the municipal water providers,” Hirsch said.
“Traditionally, the Forest Service hasn’t partnered very frequently with water
providers so this is bringing new partners into the fold to accomplish key
The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a regional
interagency program that protects and restores drinking water quality and
native fish habitat within municipal watersheds, benefiting the towns depending
upon them for clean, pure water. A
component of the partnership pools agency financial resources to fund
restoration projects and outreach efforts within municipal watersheds.
Mike Brown and Scott Lightcap, from the Bureau of Land
Management, and Teresa Kubo and Michelle Tucker, from EPA Region 10, were also
recognized as members of the federal team.
The Partnership provides a mechanism for federal, state, local,
and several non-government partners to collaboratively evaluate projects and
distribute pooled funds towards projects benefiting municipal watersheds,
including those reducing erosion and
sedimentation, improving aquatic organism passage, increasing the complexity of
habitats in streams and floodplains, addressing contamination or other issues
related to legacy mining projects, performing vegetation management, and
conducting public outreach and education efforts.
Local partners create the projects and pool resources for action – but if they need additional resources to complete the work, they submit applications for regional funding.
“When we were establishing this partnership, we literally went
door to door visiting city and town water providers in the Cascade Mountains
and Coast Range,” Capurso said. “Everywhere we went, from the ‘one traffic
light towns to the larger cities, water providers were supportive, even
excited, about the partnership.”
During its first four years, the Drinking Water Providers
partnership has awarded more than $2.3 million in federal, state, and private
funding towards watershed restoration, protection and improvement projects in
Oregon and Washington.
straightforward; like everyone puts their money in, then we pick the projects
and write checks. But there are so many rules and limitations on what we use
the money for among the various agencies and partners… that’s where a lot of
the creative problem-solving comes in.
We rank the projects and determine whose funding can legally be used to
support it,” Hirsch said.
Projects on seven national forests, including the Willamette,
Umpqua, Wallowa-Whitman, Olympic, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Siuslaw, Gifford Pinchot,
and Umatilla National Forests, to protect or improve drinking water supplies in
more than a dozen communities (including Walla Walla, Cashmere, Leavenworth,
Port Townsend Wash. and Glide, Eugene, Langlois, Cave Junction, Myrtle Point,
Lincoln City, and Yachats, Ore.) received funds from partnership in 2019.
In addition to traditional projects, such as infrastructure
repair, vegetation planting, and returning large wood to restore water current
complexity to streams, some of the 2019 awards funded conservation education
The Umatilla National Forest and City of Walla Walla received
funds for a documentary film on the Mill Creek Municipal Watershed as a
drinking water source and how it serves as important wildlife habitat which
will be used for education and outreach in the surrounding community.
Cascadia Conservation District partnered with Okanogan-Wenatchee
National Forest on a project to education farmers, tree-fruit growers and
viticulturalists in the Wenatchee watershed about best practices for protecting
water quality and potentially achieving the Salmon-Safe certification for their
And the Olympic National Forest and City of Port Townsend will
use some of the funds awarded for protecting the Big and Little Quilcene Rivers
through improved sanitation facilities for managing human waste at recreation
areas, and signage and even field ranger outreach to inform the public about
proper human waste disposal and the dangers presented by fecal contamination of
the city’s drinking water supply.
Other funds are allocated for research towards future water
quality improvement and watershed protection opportunities.
The partnership awarded a 2019 grant to Trout Unlimited towards developing a GIS model that uses existing data to identify high-impact opportunities for beaver location on the Upper Columbia River. The McKenzie River Trust received funds to research into potential land protection opportunities to protect the drinking water source watershed for the City of Yachats.
Gallery: The Drinking Water Providers Partnership is a collaboration of the USDA Forest Service Region 6, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management OR/WA Office, the Geos Institute, and WildEarth Guardians. The floodplain enhancement work on the lower South Fork of the McKenzie River, located on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, pictured here, was funded in part through funds allocated by the partnership; approximately one third of the funds awarded were from non-Forest Service partners.
Source information: USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region (staff report)
In recent years, recreation visits have steadily increased on national forests… and the problem of discarded trash sometimes seems to have increased exponentially with the increase in visitors.
KMTR-TV 16 helped staff remind western and central Oregon communities. that trash dumping isn’t welcome on the Willamette National Forest or any other public lands.
The story aired a few days before Independence Day holiday, an especially busy time for recreational visits to National Forests all around the country.
Many forest visitors have heard frequent admonitions from federal, state and local agencies – as well as environmental advocates – to “leave no trace.” But many still fail to realize that discarded trash isn’t just a nuisance; it can be an environmental hazard, threaten wildlife health and safety, and even have adverse impacts on human health.
Phosphorous-heavy soaps and detergents can foster algae and microbe growth – which can result in algae blooms that irritate eyes and skin for humans and wildlife, or other algae growth that trap oxygen needed by fish when it decomposes in the lakes and streams where they live.
Pet waste may carry parasites or microbes that are deadly to wildlife.
And while all trash litters the natural landscapes others come to the forest to enjoy, some creates health and safety hazards for those who encounter it – while also creating many hours of work for volunteers and federal land managers who must train for, plan, and conduct a safe and thorough clean-up of the affected area when such dumping occurs.
REEDSPORT, Ore. (July 19, 2019)— The Fivemile-Bell Watershed Restoration project has been selected for the 2019 Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS) Riparian Challenge Award in the USDA Forest Service category.
The project is located on the Siuslaw National Forest, approximately 10 miles south of Florence, Ore., on the Central Coast Ranger District.
WDAFS presents this award to managers and resource specialists to recognize their efforts in maintaining, restoring, and improving riparian and watershed ecosystems.
The Fivemile-Bell restoration project is a decade-long innovative project that covers about 5,000 acres of national forest land working to restore a critical floodplain to dramatically improve habitat for Oregon Coast Coho salmon, which is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and other aquatic and terrestrial animals.
The project, a joint effort by the Siuslaw National Forest and numerous partner organizations and agencies, uses new research to guide the re-establishment of historic stream and floodplain interactions, and restore a native riparian plant community on land formerly used for farming.
This cooperative effort is improving and creating habitat in one of the most productive stream systems in Oregon.
Additionally, the restoration accelerates the development of late-successional and old-growth characteristics in surrounding forest and uplands, benefiting a variety of species – such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, which are also federally listed under the ESA, creating a more sustainable and resilient landscape.
“This is a representation of all the hard work that has occurred over the last decade” Paul Burns, the Forest Service project lead, said. “We share this recognition with the many partners that have worked on this project.”
Additional partners on the project include Siuslaw Watershed Council, Siuslaw Institute, Elkton Community Education Center, Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, Ecotrust, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Western Rivers Conservancy.
“The Fivemile Bell project showcases the incredible social and ecological outcomes that result when diverse project partners work together” Eli Tome, executive director of the Siuslaw Watershed Council, said. “Partners have invested over $1 million in this innovative restoration project over the past decade. Research indicates this investment has supported over 15 local jobs which is critical in our rural community. Restoring this area is supporting one of the strongest runs of threatened Coho salmon on the Oregon Coast. This project is an investment in our community, economy and environment today, and for future generations.”
The Siuslaw Watershed Council supports sound economic, social and environmental uses of natural and human resources in the Siuslaw River Basin. The Council encourages cooperation among public and private watershed entities to promote awareness and understanding of watershed functions by adopting and implementing a total watershed approach to natural resource management and production.
The cave is home to Townsend’s big-eared bat, which is listed as a sensitive species in Washington and Oregon.
Bats are susceptible to White Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease triggered by a fungal infection that can kill entire bat colonies by disrupting their winter hibernation.
A USDA Forest Service interpreter will be on site at Boulder Cave to provide information about the cave and explain the White Nose Syndrome prevention protocol visitors must follow as they enter the cave., which include brushing and scraping off the soles of their shoes when entering and leaving the cave.
We’re all about providing great recreation on public lands while minimizing harmful impacts to wildlife,” Joan St. Hilaire, a USDA Forest Service wildlife biologist, said. “To help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, visitors are asked to brush off and scrape their shoes on an astro turf carpet prior to entering and leaving the cave.”
Cave visitors are also encouraged to wash clothing, outerwear, and gear between visits to different caves or other places bats congregate.
When visiting Boulder Cave, all visitors are required to carry a flashlight. A good pair of walking shoes and layered clothing are also recommended. Pets are not allowed.
“We can all do our part by limiting all noise, staying on the trail, not touching cave walls, and keeping lights off the ceiling (to avoid disturbing the bats),” St. Hilaire said.
The cave is closed annually from September through May to provide a secure refuge during the bats’ hibernation period.
Source information: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (press release)
Public lands are open to all, but research shows not everyone feels equally at home in them. That’s a problem for our national forests, which are managed by public resources that won’t be made available if the public doesn’t understand their needs. And it’s a missed opportunity for Americans who are not aware of, not encouraged to, or who don’t feel empowered to enjoy the incredible recreation opportunities, inspiration, and personal health and well-being that can be found on public lands. That individual disparity adds up to effects on society as a whole, though less public awareness of rural and ecological issues and in less diversity among applications for forestry-related science programs and for natural resources jobs.
This New York Times article talks about the disparities that exist, and how members of some underrepresented communities are seeking to change it.