Public walk-through tours and discussions planned
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
Rogue Siskiyou Contracting, the company working on the fuel reduction project on Ashland Loop Road above Morton Street, is explaining why the project has resulted in greater-than-expected timber harvesting.
“We’re adamant that it’s not a logging project,” said Joseph Powell, a forest and fire ecologist for Rogue Siskiyou Contracting, Inc. “We do need to help our forests.”
Powell said the project on 45 acres of private land outside the city of Ashland has resulted in more tree removal than planned, but defended it as necessary to prevent potentially catastrophic forest fires. “We all determined it was better to do a full treatment now rather than come back over the next several years.”
He said after examining the area, it was decided to remove 95% of the Douglas firs and other trees, with most showing signs of infestation. “There were trees that were there that would not survive another three years … If and when a fire gets into that kind of forest, we can’t stop it.”
Along with reducing the potential of large forest fires, Powell noted that rotting and dead trees have little or no economic value.
“It wasn’t our intention to log the land, it was to remove fuels that would create a problem,” Powell said of greater-than-anticipated tree removal.
The project has created opposition by groups who believe the tree removal has exceeded being a fuel reduction project and is actually a logging operation. The Ashland Loop Road crosses two properties on the way to the White Rabbit Trailhead and the Alice in Wonderland trail.
Powell said the contract work was complete April 7 and noted timber removal activities should be finalized this weekend.
“We might need a day or two the next week to finish trucking and removal of logging equipment from the site, but it should not go on much longer than that. We are getting close to the end of the closure,” Robert Sanchez, outreach coordinator, said on the Rogue Siskiyou website. “We’re doing our best to address people’s concerns, and invite you to join us on a weekend project tour. Dress for the weather, and expect a fun and lively conversation.”
Sanchez and Powell both encourage people to visit the website, ashland loop.info, to “share resources and updates and to give people a chance to comment.”
Rogue Siskiyou is also planning walk-through and discussion programs with registration possible through the website. Upcoming tours are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15; Sunday, April 23; Sunday, April 30; and Sunday, May 7. The tours are intended to encourage people to, “Come learn about this fire fuels reduction project and why we have chosen our methods. Learn about the decision-making process and long-term effects of our actions what it will take to maintain resilience to fire across the landscape.”
Rogue Siskiyou Contracting previously held walk-through and discussion programs on Forest Resiliency on the Ashland Loop earlier this month and in March. Powell said participants, including a vocal opponent, “walked away with a better understanding of what and why we did what we did.”
According to Sanchez, “Property owners on Ashland Loop Road, in consultation with ecology professionals, chose a more aggressive fuel reduction treatment than is commonly done. Removing declining trees in addition to those already dead created a drastic change in the look of the forest. Several areas of the project had severe canopy closure and very few pines or oaks. These areas were chosen for large gaps to meet the project’s restoration goals (canopy spacing, firebreak creation, meadow creation, and species composition shift). These decisions were not made lightly, but the lack of public outreach created an atmosphere of confusion and mistrust.”
In their release, Sanchez said, “Rogue Siskiyou Contracting recognizes the importance of public comment periods and educational outreach, and we hope to hear from everyone who feels that their concerns have not been heard.”
The city of Ashland’s website notes foot and bike traffic is now open on the Loop Road above Morton Street. It also says the project “is not part of our ongoing Ashland Forest Resiliency Project” and says “our forests and particularly in Douglas fir tree (and some pine) that is beyond anything we have experienced in Ashland’s history.” The statement also notes a “decline spiral” is “impacting our municipal and parks lands and is something we need to address further and budget for. Our forests are changing quickly though this isn’t commonly understood, and anticipating this change by cutting a number of green trees (in addition to dead and dying) came as a shock to many people.”
The statement also says the city is not paying for the logging and because the work is outside city limits “is not subject to City oversight or codes,” with oversight by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Forest Practices Act. It also notes the land owners “intend to replant more heavily cut areas with more drought-tolerant species this spring.”
The website includes responses to questions, with the questions in italics:
1. Why is the second property not thinned as much as the first property?
Conditions on the two sites were very different, so the finished look is also different. The northern property (the first one you get to going up the road) had many more large trees. It had also been thinned and had prescribed burning done 10-15 years ago, so the forest had all that time to regenerate. Oaks and madrones began to fill out almost immediately after being freed up from the deep shade.
The southern property (the first one treated) had not had any thinning that we know of except along the ridgeline where the Alice in Wonderland trail is. Several areas below the ridge had severe canopy closure and very few pines or oaks. These areas were chosen for large gaps to meet the project’s restoration goals (canopy spacing, firebreak creation, meadow creation, and species composition shift).
2. Does transporting infested logs to lumber mills spread the beetle infestation?
It can, but this is not really a concern. Many beetles are crushed during removal and processing before the logs leave the project site. Also, the beetles are pretty much everywhere in southwest Oregon already. Mountain pine beetle has moved into our area more recently; the other beetle species affecting the pines and Doug firs are native to the area. The beetle outbreak has two primary drivers: Cold snaps that kill them off in winter are becoming less frequent, and their rate of reproduction has increased because more food is available to them (water-stressed trees that can’t fight them off).
3. Are large trees being removed? Why? Aren’t large trees more fire resistant?
We realize that the removal of large trees is one of the most upsetting and confusing aspects of this project. We hope our answer is satisfactory: First, let’s get some context. We estimate that around 5% of trees greater than 20-inch DBH (diameter at breast height) were removed. If there were 500 trees of this size, 25 would be removed. Large trees are generally more fire resistant. But when they are growing close together they compete for water. Dense canopy also increases the risk of high severity fire. Clumps were reduced down to single trees in some areas. A few large trees were removed in order to meet the project’s restoration goals (canopy spacing, firebreak creation, meadow creation, and species composition shift). The decision was made to do a more aggressive treatment than many would have chosen to. Removing trees in decline in addition to some of those already dead has created a drastic change in the look of the forest. Overall forest health and fire risk reduction were given priority over esthetic concerns. This decision was not made lightly, but the lack of public outreach has created an atmosphere of confusion and mistrust. We hope answering these questions helps.
4. Are snags (standing dead trees) and large downed logs a fire risk?
Most anything will burn if exposed to sufficient heat, but snags and downed logs generally pose less risk than living trees once their needles and branches have fallen off. Individual snags are retained for their habitat and ecological value, but too many snags add to the fuel load.
5. Are pines, oaks, or madrones being removed? Why?
A few pines, oaks, and madrones were removed due to equipment access requirements. We used existing skid trails from prior logging, and some trees had to be taken because they were growing in the track. Some pines, madrones, and oaks were shade suppressed and in poor condition. These were removed to decrease canopy density and improve individual tree health. Some oaks and madrones were growing sideways, reaching across instead of up in their search for the sun. These were damaged when the surrounding trees came down and were cut back to the stump. These oaks and madrones are expected to sprout back from the roots, the same as they would after a fire, and will re-grow with a better growth structure.
6. What about brush growth after this project?
Without maintenance, brush will grow in. After 10-15 years it would be tall and dense. If a fire came through it would burn hot and fast. The owners know this, and are committed to ongoing maintenance. Fire regime data from our own Ashland watershed (sites at Horn gap, Coggins saddle/4-corners, and Winburn ridge) show that historic stand-level fire occurred every 5-8 years, so it’s expected that prescribed burning and other maintenance will be performed on a similar schedule.
7. Will herbicides be used to control brush growth after this project?
No. There are no plans to use herbicides to control vegetation. The owners are committed to using fire and hand-thinning to maintain their land.
8. Why is this different from what has previously been implemented in the rest of the watershed?
The short answer is logistics and ecology. Please read our post for the details.
9. Is there a lot of profit being made from the sale of the trees?
No. Most of the revenue from the sale of the logs will be used to pay for the project, for slash and debris treatment, and for renovating and maintaining the road.
10. Do restoration projects produce a profit by removing timber during fuel reduction?
In our experience, most projects hope to break even and cover the project cost. Even when there is a large commercial component, we don’t know of a forest restoration project that didn’t need additional funding to pay for treatment.
11. Do many Fire Fuel Reduction projects include timber removal?
Yes. Commercial and noncommercial timber removal is common. Trees killed by beetles or by fire lose much of their value, so removing trees in decline before they degrade creates more revenue to cover project costs.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.