Solutions To Our Smoky Skies

Alan DeBoer

Hello Friends,

Oregonians have watched in dismay over the past several weeks as catastrophic wildfires burned from one end of our state to another. These environmentally hazardous conditions have prompted many to ask what it is that we should be doing differently to keep these kinds of situations from recurring.

There are a couple of existing models already in place that can help show the way towards better policies for the public lands and forests that we all love so much.

I was fortunate as Mayor of Ashland to implement the first phase of former Mayor Cathy Shaw’s Ashland Forest Resilience Stewardship Project. That inclusive process places an emphasis on collaboration between the community, government officials, non-governmental organizations, scientists and others.

The Project is a partnership between four organizations—the City of Ashland, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. It’s a ten-year effort that is aimed at reducing wildfire risk in the watershed that residents rely on to provide safe, cleaning drinking water.

Aside from protecting older forests, the Project emphasizes thinning out crowded trees, funds restoration work and protects the community from the dangers of fires that can spread out of control and burn private and public lands.

One of the tools used through the Project is the use of low-intensity controlled burns. Another is landowner grants to encourage citizens to do work on their property. That is done after Lomakatsi performs assessments to those landowners, free of charge.

The Ashland Forest All-lands Restoration does thinning, fuel reductions and underburning on private property. These efforts are funded with the support of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and matching funds provided by the federal, state and local governments. Taking this approach also allows for the preservation of wildlife habitat and the protection of unstable slopes and erodible soils.

This science-based approach calls for 7600 acres of work to be completed over the course of ten years. It has thus far lead to the creation of 17 permanent local forestry jobs. More than 200 people have been trained to do this work through the program, and around 150 seasonal jobs are created every year.

Another tool that can be useful moving forward is the Good Neighbor Authority that was included in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. It allows the U.S. Forest Service to enter into cooperative agreements or contracts for state watershed restoration and forest management services on lands managed by that agency.

Governor Brown signed a Good Neighbor Agreement in March 2016 with the Forest Service that was also signed by the state forester, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife director and the USFS Regional Forester.

The stated purpose of that agreement was to enhance opportunities to work across private and public lands, advance partnerships, reduce hazardous fuels, address insect infestation and increase forest resilience. A key component is the collaborative approach that allows projects to move forward without being stalled by lawsuits that are both costly and time-consuming. If done properly, the agreements can allow the state to help local officials address the growing backlog of deferred maintenance on the federal lands that surround their jurisdictions.

As you can see, solutions to these problems are possible. But like anything, they require that people and entities work together in good faith to achieve common goals. I will continue to try and find such solutions so we can all enjoy the public lands we are so lucky to have in such abundance in our wonderful state.

Yours truly,

Sen. Alan DeBoer

Senate District 3

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, S-421, Salem, Oregon 97301