The right strategy for fire management

Fire ecologist Jay Lininger and I have filed a legal challenge in federal court over elements of the fire reduction project in the Ashland watershed referred to as the Ashland Forest Resiliency project.

Protection from fire and the health of our municipal watershed are critical issues of concern for all of us in Ashland. Both Jay and I share these concerns and fully agree with the need for a fire management strategy that limits risks, ensures homes are protected and secures the water supply.

The Ashland Creek watershed is especially sensitive to fire and the type of fire management proposed. Soils are very erosive and terrain is often steep. Sedimentation to Reeder Reservoir is a serious problem that has been extremely costly to the City of Ashland. Studies have shown that roads, road use, and logging have been the largest contributors to this problem. An engineering consultant recently estimated the cost of removing the current sediment load will exceed $2 million. Raising the level of the dam is another, but even more costly suggestion. Therefore it is imperative that our fire management strategy is both effective and sensitive.

The current Forest Service proposal fails to consider the sensitive nature of the Ashland watershed by relying too heavily on logging, road use, and helicopter pad construction. The U.S. Parks Service and the City of Portland have shown there are a variety of effective means to reduce fuels while limiting the severe impacts of logging and the infrastructure it necessitates. Noncommercial pretreatments and the careful application of fire through underburning have proven to be very effective. This is the type of plan one would expect in a critical municipal watershed.

Instead, the Forest Service has proposed a plan that will require thousands of log truck loads to be hauled through our fragile road system; the utilization of 32 helicopter pads, a third to be constructed and another third to be expanded; and significant logging including large diameter trees and and areas within riparian zones.

The effectiveness of this type of fire management strategy is also questionable. There is a body of scientific evidence that has shown that canopy thinning as proposed in this project can increase the potential for fire. Sites are opened to sunlight and become dryer; flashy, small diameter fuels increase; and mortality from sun shock in existing trees is common.

We support aspects of the project and agree there is a critical need for fire management. We do not intend to file for an injunction to stop the project but feel we have an ethical obligation to challenge elements that are not upheld by solid science and fail to consider the sensitivity of the site.

We have been receiving numerous emails and letters in support of our position and encourage you to continue to publicly express your support; we thank all of you.

Eric Navickas is an Ashland city councilor.

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