AFR 2023 Community Update for the End of Controlled Burn Season
The Ashland Forest Resiliency Project Partners (AFR) wrapped-up controlled burn season late last month. In total, AFR completed 178 acres of pile burning during the wettest weather, and another 260 acres of prescribed fire understory burning during mild spring weather.
Increased Need for Controlled Burning to Reduced Community Risk Over the past 13 years, partners have nearly completed all ecological thinning and pile burning as part of AFR, with 13,500 acres of treatment to date. While AFR has 175 acres to pile burn next season and; partners are exploring treatments on additional sites, we are largely transitioning to a maintenance phase. Prescribed understory burning is the most cost effective and ecologically beneficial tool for maintaining forest restoration treatments, and we will need to significantly increase underburning to maintain treatments into the future. Underburning is proven to reduce wildfire intensity and supports safe and effective wildfire response. This spring AFR conducted a second round of underburning on 150-acres initially underburned in 2018, marking a significant step forward!
Challenges Wet and snowy weather limited access for meeting pile burn objectives. Kit Colbenson, Assistant Fire Management Officer, described the challenges:
“Our weather went from too dry to too wet and snowy in a matter of weeks. We tried repeatedly to access burn units but too much snow on the roads and on top of the burn piles hindered progress. Even if we got up the mountain, we couldn’t get piles to burn.”
Prolonged winter weather also delayed and thus shortened the underburning season. The lower elevation burn areas were simply too green and could not be burned to meet planned burn objectives.
Planning for Smoke Impacts AFR partners and the community are vigilant and concerned about air quality. AFR carefully manages burning to minimize smoke impacts on the community. When wind conditions did not meet needs for desired smoke dispersion, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) reduced burning. While smoke could be seen in the distance or the scent of smoke detected in the air, the air quality data showed that most days during the burn season were “at the green level” or good condition for air quality. On a few evenings and mornings, smoke flowed downhill with cool air, noticeably degrading air quality. While the local monitoring stations detected and recorded the smoke, at no time during the season did the levels exceed regulated concentrations.
The City and AFR partners use a notification system for sharing information and updates with the community and vulnerable populations in advance of air quality impacts. Visit SmokewiseAshland.org to learn what measures to take when there is smoke and, sign-up for controlled burn notifications at AshlandWatershed.org
Prescribed Fire Training This spring, AFR and the fire management leadership of the RRSNF hosted participants of the Rogue Basin Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (RBTREX) on several burn days. See fire crews meeting in the morning for a debrief before controlled burn operations in the photo above.
Young adults from Lomakatsi’s Tribal Youth Ecological Forestry Training Program and tribal members of the Cultural Fire Management Council from northern California were integrated in the burn organization, receiving training to increase their experience and fire qualifications.
The City of Ashland, Nature Conservancy, Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest and Lomakatsi Restoration Project thank the prescribed fire professionals, forest workers and community who helped make this controlled burn season a success. Our burning includes proactive fire planning to maximize firefighter safety and wildfire suppression opportunities. Learn more about AFR, our history and the work we do in articles by the Christian Science Monitor and Grist, and more about proactive fire management on the AFR website here.
AFR frequently holds tours in the watershed. In the photo above, community members are touring a controlled burn maintenance area, viewing the ground conditions and learning more about how planned burns are managed. To stay informed of controlled burning, AFR events and tours – text the word WATERSHED to recipient 888777 or signup for emails at ashlandwatershed.org. Now that burn season has ended, please call 911 and report any visible smoke.