The Ashland Forest Resiliency partners, as members of this community, hear when concerns are brought forward. We appreciate the importance of community insight in open discussion around the natural places we all know and love.
AFR has worked in the forest adjacent to Ashland for ten years, treating nearly a quarter of this landscape with holistic fuel reduction and forest thinning designed to reduce wildfire risks while also enhancing wildlife habitat for many species. All along the way, we’ve worked closely with community members through workshops, tours, online and social media, and text alerts to make our work and progress transparent.
In a recent instance at Siskiyou Mountain Park, AFR’s work to protect the landscape and community lacked further community outreach and discussion, and for that we apologize. We strive to alert the public in advance of work in frequently used areas, to prepare people for change, and to clarify the purpose, need, and planned approach for the work. In this case, our outreach effort fell short.
The AFR partners recognize that clearing the manzanita shrubs along the Siskiyou Mountain Park entrance driveway for fire safety and fuels reduction resulted in an abrupt loss of aesthetic value. Lacking direct prior notice, it alarmed people who regularly walk here to enjoy nature, and it inspired dialogue about the balance between meeting the needs of both nature and people. We want to assure you that our decision to remove the shrubs from the driveway was not taken lightly and followed careful consideration and planning.
Balancing Competing Needs
Caring for a landscape is complicated. We weigh tradeoffs among many objectives, including wildlife habitat, protection of human lives and homes, natural aesthetics, recreational opportunities, and other community values. This often means making difficult decisions. As restoration practitioners and natural resource manages, we recognize that manzanita and other shrubs play important ecological—and aesthetic—roles in our local landscapes. In our fuels reduction treatments, we often retain patches of manzanita and other important species, especially larger individuals, for the habitat value they provide. In certain areas, manzanita and other valued species also challenge safe access under emergency response, wildfire suppression, and planned fire management situations. This was the primary concern along the entrance driveway at Siskiyou Mountain Park, which also serves as an important evacuation route for nearby residents.
We can’t always achieve all objectives on every acre. The treatment plan for Siskiyou Mountain Park identified 1.4 acres of cutting along the driveway, and purposefully left intact over 30 acres of manzanita chaparral habitat in areas further from residences, where evacuation and firefighter access is a lower priority. These retained areas include tunnels and smaller patches of manzanita along trails for recreational, aesthetic and habitat values.
Ample research shows that these strategically located treatments can serve as effective fuel breaks under most weather conditions and could make a difference in the safety of firefighters and residents. AFR partners believe that such science-based protective measures—like others on Hald-Strawberry Park, along Hitt Road in the Acid Castle Park, or along the Alice in Wonderland trails—is warranted and important for community fire safety. Such work becomes even more important in the emerging reality of climate change, which is increasing the likelihood of fires and increasing danger to people in our valley.
While we recognize that these treatments are not a fail safe under severe fire conditions, research shows that this work improves both community safety and fire management options under most conditions, and is therefore a high priority, especially in areas where residences are located in and adjacent to forest lands.
The community has played a key role in AFR over the past decade, and we value the continued involvement and input of those who frequent these beloved landscapes. Surveys show that since AFR’s inception, community understanding has increased, people say they feel safer, and support for our work and related forest restoration in the region has swelled. We recognize our lapse in providing advance notice and explanation to long-time users of the driveway at Siskiyou Mountain Park. Moving forward, we will strive to provide advanced notice and opportunities to hear and consider specific suggestions.
We’re always open to conversation. AFR partners can be reached via our website at www.ashlandwatershed.org, on Facebook, and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.