Ashland, Ore. — A program to protect the Ashland watershed from wildfire just wrapped up.
Organizers say their efforts could protect land and resources. for a generation.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Ashland Forest All Lands Restoration project serves as a national model for successful collaborative forest management.
“Most people don’t know that these are still up here, and it’s been great through the thinning process to expose them,” Lomakatsi Program Director Shane Jimerfield said.
Shane Jimerfield is a part of the Ashland Forest All Lands Restoration project.
The project which started in 2010 aims to protect the city’s water, restore the forest, and reduce the risk of wildfire.
“Due to fire suppression – 100 years of fire suppression in the watershed – we’ve got an overly dense forest,” Jimerfield said.
In the past, it was believed fire always needed to be suppressed.
However, as we’ve seen in recent years, an overly dense forest leads to catastrophic fires that are even worse.
“What we’re trying to do is make this watershed resilient to fire beause it will come back,” Jimerfield said.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture allocated $6 million dollars to the project which handles federally managed national forests and adjacent private land.
“By being resilient to fire, it helps protect the community itself. The homes… ya know, this forest goes right down into Ashland,” Jimerfield said.
The U.S. Forest Service, City of Ashland, Nature Conservancy, Lomakatsi, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have all been working on the project together.
That collaboration has created education and employment to hundreds in the community.
“…scientists, to loggers, to truck drivers, and even youth,” Jimerfield said.
They maintain the landscapes by starting controlled burns and cutting down excessive trees.
The trees that are big enough for commercial value go to the local mills.
“So there’s a cascading effect that this project has been able to support,” Jimerfield said.
Jimerfield says the ultimate test of their work will come when the next wildfire hits the area, but their efforts will continue as they pass the torch to future generations.
“This is not purely a wild area. This is… this is our backyard, and we have to take care of it,” Jimerfield said.
While the project from the Joint Chiefs funding wrapped up last year, the same efforts from the collaborative group will continue with current funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.