High-level feds tour Ashland Forest Resiliency project area

By John Darling
For the Tidings

Posted Jul. 31, 2015 at 6:33 PM

Two high-level officials from the Interior and Agriculture Departments got a tour Wednesday of Ashland’s watershed and a tutorial on the Ashland Forest Resiliency project, which they deemed a pioneering model for a “cohesive wildfire strategy” that also restores forests and supports jobs and the environment.
The pair have learned that “Ashland has done as much as anyone to restore forests to their natural state and deal with wildfire,” said Under Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie, a senior advisor to Secretary Tom Vilsack. The Forest Service is in that department.
Bonnie noted that, for the past 100 years we’ve put out forest fires, radically changing the ecosystem, creating much higher fuel levels for fire and making the fire season 78 days longer than it was three decades ago.
The purpose of his visit here, he said, is to answer the question: “What can we do to restore forests in a more ecological way? When you take fire out of the ecosystem, you get a lot more trees and brush and, eventually, fires that are more catastrophic over more acres, because the forest has changed.”
Thinning of forests, done with the support of all concerned agencies and stakeholders, is the key to a more ecologically healthy watershed, he said, and will produce many jobs in the process — a major goal of his department.
Kris Sarri, a deputy assistant for policy, management and budget in the Department of Interior, lauded Ashland’s wildfire strategy and a “very impressive level of community engagement among stakeholders,” especially in the use of Youth Corps workers in the Lomakatsi Restoration Project.
The Bureau of Land Management is in her cabinet-level department and, she added, is very interested in both the forestry stewardship and job creation she saw here, as well as the ability to “get everyone at the table” on a common strategy.
The two officials are members of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, created in 2002 to coordinate federal fire management policy. It comprises an array of federal, state and local officials and “provides strategic oversight to ensure policy coordination, accountability, and effective implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and related long-term strategies to address wildfire preparedness and suppression, hazardous fuels reduction, landscape restoration and rehabilitation of the Nation’s wildlands, and assistance to communities,” according to www.forestsandrangelands.gov.
After consulting with the officials and other stakeholders at Ashland Hills Hotel, Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said it’s “utterly remarkable that people this high in the federal government are out here trooping through the woods and listening to 10 or 12 people from Ashland Fire (and Rescue Forest) Resiliency regarding national wildfire strategies.”
The job can’t be done, said Bonnie, unless forest restoration is carried out “on the front end,” with thinning, controlled burns and the “establishment of more ecologically sound conditions,” such as those viewed in Wednesday’s tour of the watershed.
Ashland, said Stromberg, is dealing with a difficult mix of steep, erosive slopes, old fuel buildups and other conditions, requiring creation of “a mosaic of micro-climates and forest vegetation that simulates what you see in nature.”
Bonnie said the evolving strategies call for post-burn salvage logging on a case-by-case basis, depending on slope and other factors, but a blanket ban on salvage is not supported by science. The Forest Service, he noted is “doing it with a community buy-in and support.”
The old polarized standoffs and fights over the spotted owl are becoming things of the past, as all parties move into a collaborative stance, balancing wildfire, environment and timber needs, said Bonnie.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said, as environmentalists get the need of a healthy timber industry and timber gets a balanced ecology, with all supporting forest restoration.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at [email protected].

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