Photo Credit: A snapshot of the FAC Net group from the learning exchange.
In June of 2015, around 80 natural resources and fire adapted communities practitioners congregated for the Fire Learning Network and Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) Workshop hosted in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This five-day workshop was held to share successes, challenges and offer the ability to network with others in the same profession. From the workshop emerged the opportunity for the Pacific Northwest (PNW) FAC Net members to begin conceptualizing the idea of a regional learning exchange.
After numerous planning discussions and collaboration between the PNW communities along with assistance from the FAC Net staff, the learning exchanges kicked off. Our first stop was in Bend, Oregon. Bend’s topography and weather are very similar to Ashland’s. Bend has taken great strides in creating a more fire-safe environment including: creating Firewise Communities, conducting TREX burns, applying and implementing FEMA funds for fuels reduction and establishing a community organization called Project Wildfire.
The second stop was in Leavenworth, Washington in mid-April to visit with our Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition partners. There, we were able to get a good grasp on what fire season looked like in Washington. One of the biggest takeaways was the impact that wildfire has on a tourist community and the businesses who rely on a small window of business throughout the year. Having the inability to open the businesses doors due to road closures and smoke impact proved to be detrimental in the small Bavarian town.
Last stop: Southern Oregon
The PNW regional group’s last stop was here in Southern Oregon. The four day workshop reached from Ashland to Eagle Point. The first day allowed participants the opportunity to participate in a tour of a recent TREX burn near Hyatt Lake (about 45 minutes south of Ashland). There George McKinley, FAC Net member in Jackson County, toured our small group through the 40 acres that were burned during the TREX in May. His wife joined us to share her initial concerns about putting live fire on the ground near her home and how her perspective changed throughout the process. It was very rewarding to see others reactions, share personal experiences and have a safe place to talk about goals and priorities of the project.
The next morning the group headed to Biomass One for a facility tour. The group had toured a smaller biomass plant in Bend and there was a lot of interest from the group on biomass facilities and how they worked. Biomass One provides the community with a mutually beneficial and environmentally preferable means of wood waste disposal, which would otherwise fill up scarce landfill resources or pollute the air-shed through open burning. The tour went well and sparked a lot of conversation within small groups.
The next stop took the group to an up and coming Firewise community in Eagle Point. Fire District 3 (FD3) and Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) partnered on a fuels reduction project on a portion of the 8,000 acres. The ODF representative talked about the 10-person hand crew he managed and the brush removal work they had completed along the only access road into and out of the community. The group also talked with a landowner to understand his perspective on why fuels reduction is essential in the area they live (steep terrain, dense fuels, and only having one way in/out). FD3 also received a $300k Western State grant to help mitigation efforts in the area that should be used this month.
After lunch at Touvelle State Park, the group headed into Ashland to meet up with the Firewise Champion of the Granite Street Firewise Community. Granite Street became a recognized Firewise Community in 2015 and is unique amongst the 23 other communities in Ashland. Granite Street is not governed by an HOA with the president/treasurer structure, but rather a group of motivated private landowners who are voluntarily taking the lead on keeping their neighborhood safer from wildfire. Granite Street is located in the current Wildfire Hazard Zone, where the fire weather, topography, natural fuels and fuels distribution are rated by ODF standards with a high hazard value. The community is bordered by city-owned forest lands and the Talent Irrigation Ditch, a popular walking path. While Granite Street has more work to do, they are actively participating in the Firewise program and reducing their fire risk each year.
The final leg of the tour took place in the Ashland Watershed where the regional group toured a TREX burn from May 2016 on private forested land. There was good conversation around the benefits of prescribed burning, as well as what types of prescribed burning are appropriate for specific areas in the forest.
The last stop was at the White Rabbit Trailhead on Forest Service land, where a great view of active forest management and untouched dry forest ecosystems are adjacent to each other. The group learned about the 7 year historical fire interval within the area as well as the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project (AFR). AFR is a unique project that holds a stewardship contract where the Forest Service, City of Ashland, The Nature Conservancy and Lomakatsi Restoration Project all work together to fulfill the goals of sustainable forest restoration.
The third day of events was broken out into longer discussions and short 25 minute “hot topic” sessions. The event brought close to 80 people from all around the region, including our Fire Learning Network partners. Topics included: fire science, community wildfire protection plans, traditional ecological knowledge, forest resiliency, and grassroots TREX and community programs. There was also an evening session held by the keynote speaker, Stephen Pyne on the history of wildfire.
On the final day of the workshop, a small group of FAC Net and FLN participants convened for breakfast and conversation. The group had a final discussion about communicating technical papers and information to all audiences. The final hours were spent reflecting on the three regional learning exchanges with an intimate round table discussion.
Overall, the PNW regional group felt the exchanges were extremely worthwhile and would like to continue sharing knowledge and conversation in the coming years. The small group dynamic of the learning exchange format is a perfect platform for honest, open discussion and on site learning. Southwest Oregon is grateful for the opportunity to participate and host a learning exchange and looks forward to future relationship building.
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