Face-to-Face FAC Learning in Ashland, Oregon
Authors: Anne Mottek
From a community wildfire resilience perspective, the similarities between Flagstaff, Arizona and Ashland, Oregon are striking. Each place has strong leadership from their municipal fire department, and each department has a Forest, or Wildland Division led by a Division Chief. Both communities have experienced wildfire’s negative effects within the past five years, and have a history of proactive work within the community to conduct fuels reduction and restoration efforts on a variety of public and private lands in the cities as well as in their adjacent municipal watersheds. Federal planning efforts in each location have produced landscape-scale projects–even with similar names (AWPP and FWPP).
FAC Net members from both cities decided that in-person learning exchanges would be the best way to capitalize on their commonalities. Anne Mottek and Paul Summerfelt (members of the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership) visited Ashland in October to meet with Chris Chambers and Alison Lerch (Ashland Fire and Rescue (AFR) / Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project).
Anne and Paul spent a day visiting Ashland’s fire station, toured Ashland’s Firewise Communities, and the watershed (The Forest Resiliency Project). Discussions focused on how the two cities are tackling similar problems with different approaches such as, the complexities of helicopter logging and critical outreach strategies that maintain public support.
Below are some reflections from Anne and Paul:
Witnessing firsthand what Ashland is up against was eye-opening. AFR FAC coordinator, Alison Lerch, toured us through some of their “upscale” neighborhoods, and we realized the urgency of their situation. They lost 11 homes in a wildfire in 2010, and there is potential for many more losses. Not only were these homes million dollar investments, but the neighborhood is tucked away on exceptionally steep slopes (>40 percent) and surrounded by a heavily forested area. The situation is further exacerbated by one-way, narrow streets that markedly limit ingress/egress. What was impressive was the neighborhood Firewise program AFR has helped develop. Since 2011, 23 neighborhoods have received Firewise Communities USA designation, with 80 percent of the residents participating.
From a forest management perspective, we were struck by the suite of challenges: rapid regrowth of underbrush, steep terrain and sensitive soils that cannot support ground-based thinning operations above a 20 percent slope (as outlined in their project’s Environment Impact Statement). These factors limit the majority of harvesting in the steep terrain to helicopter logging, an expensive alternative. Notably, the collaborative group that oversees the project works with the Forest Service and: 1) administers site prep, 2) reviews contractors’ Requests for Proposals, 3) oversees all surface and ladder fuel reduction, and 4) conducts all community outreach and education. This stems from a collaborative effort shepherded by the Ashland Forest Lands Commission as the community’s “alternative to the Proposed Action” in the Environmental Impact Statement. This work is spelled out in their 2004 Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
A contentious issue that has plagued both Ashland and Flagstaff is large tree (30 inches diameter at breast height) removal. Instead of using strict diameter caps, AFR conducts field reviews, takes photographs and prepares rationales for removal and distributes these to interested parties along with regular public field tours. They also tally every marked tree to show that bigger trees are actually a very small percent of the overall number of trees marked, which average only 13 inches diameter.
Here are some observations from Chris and Alison:
While visiting with Paul and Anne (and previously with Mark Brehl at FAC Net meetings), we heard accounts that would help refine our approach in Ashland. Flagstaff’s cost avoidance study is a model for not only Ashland, but for all communities that need to justify the motivation and funds for community and watershed protection. Flagstaff’s education efforts are excellent, both in bringing the story of forest restoration to children and conveying Firewise to the community in unique ways. There is comfort in knowing that you have colleagues you can talk with who are experiencing your same issues and might have insights that would be a breakthrough for your efforts. We look forward to visiting Flagstaff to see firsthand what they are doing, and dig deeper into their knowledge and experiences in their landscape and community context.
We will focus on the following areas to help advance our local FAC efforts:
- Helicopter thinning – methods, costs and public outreach;
- Large tree removal monitoring and accountability systems;
- Successful FAC activities/tactics (e.g., Firewise landscaping contest, harvesting methods workshop and fact sheets);
- Recent reports: Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) Cost Avoidance Study, FWPP – Creating Solutions Through Community Partnerships and the upcoming Ashland CWPP update and 2016 Ashland Forest Plan;
- Firewise signage; and
- Project-specific promotional materials and outreach strategies (brochures, etc.).