A Model of Collaboration
Oregon is known for its expansive forests and beautiful trees. They are indeed breathtaking. However, because of fire suppression for the last 100 years, Oregon’s dry forests have grown out of balance.
Healthy forests depend on low, ground-hugging fires to remove underbrush, create habitat for animals and reseed trees, ferns, flowers and other plants. After suppressing even the mildest fires, our forests have grown unnaturally crowded and dense—oftentimes with more than four times the number of trees that existed just 70 years ago.
This overabundance of young trees, underbrush and fire-ready materials creates a tremendous risk for fires to resist control and become disastrous. In Ashland, such a fire would be catastrophic for the city, the water supply and even the world famous Shakespeare Festival. Here, and in other dry forests across the state, Conservancy scientists are bringing an innovative and collaborative approach to restore these iconic landscapes to their historic density and balance.
We're using aerial photographs from the 1930s, 3D modeling and core samples from trees to better understand these forests: what did they look like and how did fire move through them? We're using these tools with partners to develop acre-by-acre blueprints for the restoration needed to return forests to a healthy balance of small and large trees, and open and more dense forests.
By working hand-in-hand with partners across the state, the City of Ashland, the U.S. Forest Service and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project in the Ashland watershed, we're seeing the work pay tremendous dividends. Our collaborative work here is part of a developing trend that could redefine the future of forest management across Oregon and the United States.
This partnership in Ashland brings everyone to the table to create progress. Some people may think we're "freaks" for working with city officials, federal government, the timber industry and the local Shakespeare Festival. That's fine by us. We're focused on results and transforming forest management, and if it takes being a "freak" to accomplish that, we will. We hope you'll support us.
4000 ACRESAmount of forest restored in Ashland
Board feet created from byproduct timber thinned during restoration efforts in Ashland
Public funds received to continue public and private forest work in Ashland this year
Low intensity, ground-hugging fires like this one are crucial to maintain the health of Ashland’s incredible forests. These fires keep fuels such as fallen branches and leaves and needles to a minimum and clear out many younger, smaller trees. The suppression of natural wildfires allows growth of too many of the smaller trees and shrubs that fuel potentially catastrophic fires.
The City of Ashland
The Nature Conservancy is working with many partners in Ashland, Oregon, to restore 15,000 acres in the forested watershed and protect the city’s drinking water supply. Ashland is a unique community in the center of a thriving forest and home to more than 20,000 people.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Allen Elizabeth Theatre is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is home to the largest resident acting company in America and takes place every year in Ashland. Surrounded by forest, this theatre is at risk of forest fires if the surrounding forest is not kept healthy. In 2015, six shows were cancelled at a cost of $65,000 per sold-out show.
With this unique partnership, the City of Ashland is helping reduce fire risk, even on US Forest Service land. We’re working hand in hand with the Ashland Fire and Rescue Department, whose main concern is keeping the community safe.
The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Ecologist Kerry Metlen, Ph.D. , is a critical part of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, where the Conservancy, the City of Ashland, Lomakatsi Restoration Project and U.S. Forest Service are coming together to protect Ashland’s forests. Kerry is working with 3-D technologies to locate open and denser forests that should be taken into account when thinning and planning low-intensity forest fires for habitat restoration.
Marko Bey, Lomakatsi Restoration Project
The Nature Conservancy works with land managers to develop effective fuel reduction treatments. These treatments usually include the sequence of thinning, followed by planned, controlled burns. "Our approach is different. Trees removed here are a by-product of our fire abatement and restoration work. We're still removing trees that are going to the mills. We're providing jobs. We're making forest products. But, they’re smaller trees around the larger trees. We’re trying to set the clock back to before fire suppression." Marko Bey, Lomakatsi Restoration Project.