2024 Forestland Climate Adaptation Project

4/20/24 UPDATE: Operations were limited yesterday due to a mechanical issue that's been fixed. Work is ongoing every day at Siskiyou Mountain Park along with log truck traffic on weekdays. See maps of the log truck travel routes. 

The White Rabbit Trail, Queen of Hearts, and Mike Uhtoff Trail in the western portion of Siskiyou Mountain Park are closed. Please avoid all closed trails and areas on the trails map

OPEN TRAILS: The Ashland Loop Road (2060) to the White Rabbit Trailhead is temporarily open for access to Four Corners, Lizard, Catwalk, and Caterpillar. Wonder and Wasabi trails are also open at this time, though will close as operations shift from Siskiyou Mountain Park to the Lower Ashland Watershed later next week. 

Please View our latest news release for details on closures now in effect.

Dead trees in Siskiyou Mountain Park
Dead and dying trees just above town

What is the Climate Adaptation Project? 
Years of drought coupled with extreme temperatures indicative of climate change have stressed our local forests, causing unprecedented tree die-off, an increase in fire risk to our community, and hundreds of dead trees around trails, roads, and the City's water treatment plant. 

The first phase of work to help forests transition and adapt to the changing climate is reducing wildfire fuels that threaten our community and the forest's ecological integrity. Phase 1 will utilize a helicopter to remove dead, dying, and crowded trees from Siskiyou Mountain Park and City-owned land in the lower Ashland Watershed. Helicopters have been used extensively in the Ashland Watershed over the past 20 years due to their low impact on resources. Phase II, expected to last several years, will involve replanting with species adapted to drought, heat, and frequent fire, along with ongoing use of prescribed fire for wildfire safety and ecosystem benefit. 

Why Now? 
There are many factors coinciding that make this spring the only time to accomplish this project before summer fire season: 
  • Fire danger is spiking as trees die. In the first few years after trees die, and until they lose their needles and limbs, fire danger increases significantly. The threat isn't just for those who live near the forests; embers can travel miles from burning forests and ignite buildings in the community. Reducing exposure honors citizen input that said reducing wildfire risk is the City's top budget priority.  
  • A contractor is available. Helicopter companies are typically booked out many months to years in advance and we have a willing contractor who is already working in the Applegate Valley.
  • Wood value is declining quickly as trees rot and check. Selling trees (fuels, in this case) to a mill helps underwrite a very expensive project that wasn't budgeted for. While the primary goals are public safety and ecological integrity, we also have to be fiscally responsible. Waiting until fall would increase the price tag by hundreds of thousands of dollars and expose the us to high risk this summer.
  • Hazard trees along trails and roads are a liability. The sooner they're removed, the less risk people face when recreating and we maintain safer access for firefighters come summer.
  • We owe it to firefighters. Dead trees are a serious hazard to wildland firefighter safety. While we are leaving behind sufficient dead trees and logs for habitat and soils, we are also making strategic areas safer for firefighters by removing dead trees.  
Helicopter logging in the Ashland Watershed
A helicopter was used on City forestlands in 2004 to remove dead, dying and overly dense trees. A project in spring 2024 will again use a helicopter to remove unhealthy trees while avoiding soil disturbance.  

Is there a Plan? 
The Phase 1 Project Plan2023 Climate Change Addendum to the Ashland Forest Plan, and the 2016 Ashland Forest Plan set out policy, goals, objectives, and actions for work on City and APRC forestlands.  

Why are so Many Trees Dying? The Douglas-fir Decline Spiral
An aerial survey of our community forests summarized the extent of dead and dying Douglas-fir, a species poorly adapted to extreme heat and drought. The report shows over 20% of Doug-fir are dead or dying from an insect called Douglas-fir flatheaded borer, in what researchers call a “decline spiral”. Data collected by local scientists suggests that ongoing insect attacks on Doug-fir may be affecting an additional 25% or more of trees that appear to be green and healthy now. 
Acres with Douglas-fir mortality
This figure shows the magnitude of the ongoing Douglas-fir die-off (mortality) both in the number of acres and the intensity of mortality per acre.Source:  Oregon State University

“The fuel impacts of large-scale forest mortality suggest this could lead to a greater incidence of mass fire behavior. Mass fires strongly contrast with historical fire regimes in frequent fire forests, are not predictable by fire models, and risks are poorly understood. Thus, fire departments, communities, and forest managers likely will underestimate the wildfire threat posed to people, homes, and natural resources following severe tree mortality in forests adapted to frequent fire.”

-Dr. Scott Stephens, U.C. Berkeley (2018 publication)

What Will Happen in the Forest? 
Research clearly shows the need for proactive stewardship to avoid severe wildfires that have a myriad of negative impacts on communities and ecosystems. Specific activities under this plan include selective thinning of dead, dying, and green trees likely to die in the near future. Crowded green trees will be thinned to promote forest health where possible. Trees with economic value will be removed by helicopter and sold to local mills, offsetting a portion of the project cost. Trained crews will pile and safely burn branches and smaller wood as conditions allow...a critical step to reducing fire danger. 

Some dead trees (called “snags”) will be retained for habitat in places where they’ll be safer for firefighters, trail users, and nearby homes. All drought tolerant species will be left, and some areas will be planted with species more resilient to impacts of climate change and to accelerate reforestation.  

“In southwestern Oregon, forest management that steers toward oaks, pines and other more drought-tolerant species may be warranted in places with less than about 40 inches of average precipitation a year,” retired Oregon State University Extension Forester Max Bennett said. “But some individual trees and patches of Douglas-fir will likely persist on these dry sites at least for a time, so it’s important not to use an all or nothing approach.”

Rainfall does not exceed 40 inches annually on municipal forestlands close to the city. 

Adapting our forests to the changing climate is a huge task that demands we act quickly not only to curb developing fire danger, but to do everything we can to keep forests intact for as long as possible. Some areas of the west are already losing forests for good due to tree die-off and severe fire, and we can avoid that if we are proactive,” said Chris Chambers, The City's Forestry Officer.

Work to mitigate increasing fire risk from dead trees has been underway for years, with projects co-managed by Ashland Parks and Recreation and Ashland Fire & Rescue on the Lithia Park hillside, Hald-Strawberry Park, and at the Red Queen Trailhead...all inside the city. Trees have been cut for road, trail, and fire safety in these projects, with the Red Queen project resulting in five log trucks of dead trees removed in the spring of 2022. 

“The forest we see and know is not the same forest we’ll see in five to ten years, and certainly not in 25 years. We want to maintain intact forests through periods of intense heat, drought, and fire and embracing change is critical. Guiding our forests through challenging times is critical to public safety and ecosystem resilience,” Chambers concluded. A guide about climate adaptation and restoration for the public and forest landowners was recently published by Oregon State University Extension Service.

What is the Process and Timeline? 

In December 2023, the City Council approved a contract with long-time AFR Project partner Lomakatsi Restoration Project to mark trees that need to be removed, following the City’s detailed plans that take into account fire, tree health, habitat, erosion, and recreation. Tree marking wrapped up in early March. All trees to be removed were tallied by size, species, and live or dead status.

Some live trees need to be selectively thinned where they are showing signs of insect attack, forests are too dense, and in fire suppression emphasis areas. The tally is being used for budgeting and laying out work timelines. By-product logs from this work will be sent to Timber Products mill in Yreka, CA. Making money is not a goal of our forest management; a healthy forest, watershed, and safe community are the driving factors...though the work has to be financially feasible as well. 

Public Engagement 
On the heels of the most intense wave of tree mortality that occurred this past spring, coupled with the results of the aerial survey done in July, City staff and volunteers from the City Forestland Committee collected public sentiment and values that were taken into account during planning. In March 2023, the City Council approved a Climate Change Addendum to the Ashland Forest Plan, a process that involved public field trips, public review of the document, and opportunities for testimony. There were further comment opportunities, two more field trips, and a weekly booth at the Farmer’s Market this past fall to provide additional opportunities for the public to learn about the project and provide input. The vast majority of feedback was in favor of the project proposal and there was some helpful input that improved the plan. Additional public comment was also received during presentations at the City Council. 

What to Expect
If you frequent our local forests, you’ll see trees with blue paint on them until cutting begins in late March. Blue flags on trees are boundary markers, not trees to be cut. Helicopter operations are scheduled to start in mid-April and last through mid-May. Exact schedules with locations will be published as soon as possible.  

Once tree falling starts near trails and roads, they will have to close for public safety, and stay closed until the helicopter removes felled trees. Cut trees will likely end up blocking trails, leaning up against other trees, and with branches hanging in the canopy…known as “widow makers” by loggers (creating unstable and unsafe conditions). There are almost 1,000 dead and dying trees within 100 feet of trails! Trail safety is important, so more trees will have to be cut around trails, an unfortunate trade-off to have safe recreation access.

PLEASE adhere to closed areas! Falling trees can seriously injure or even kill people inside closed areas. Closures will be strictly enforced.     

Noise and traffic will be noticeable from both the helicopter and log trucks. Log trucks will be using Granite Street through downtown, North Main, upper Walker Avenue, Siskiyou Boulevard, Pinecrest Terrace, and Timberline Terrace. Please drive slowly around log trucks and give them space. Helicopter operating hours will be limited to 7AM start per the City's noise ordinance, though most of the community will not be impacted directly by noise. 

Trail Closures
We will try to avoid as much disruption to recreation as possible. The busiest trails are the priority for staying open and being re-opened. That includes BTI, Jabberwocky, Alice in Wonderland, Bandersnatch, Red Queen, and Snark…among others in that general area. During some of the operation, the Ashland Loop Road to White Rabbit Trailhead will also close due to trees being cut on the roadsides and the helicopter removing cut logs. Though trails downhill and west from White Rabbit Trailhead will be closed, traffic going uphill to Lizard, Caterpillar, and further south will be open when the Loop Road is open at the gate just above Morton Street, and as accessed from Four Corners and Toothpick Trail. 

Trails in Siskiyou Mountain Park will also close, including White Rabbit, Mike Uhtoff, and Queen of Hearts until work is completed and all trails are inspected for safety. 

The closure period will last as long as the work is ongoing, which is subject to weather and operations. Plan on trails being closed for 3-6 weeks, depending on the trail. Updates will be posted regularly on this website and on the Trails Map. 


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