By Vickie Aldous
for the Mail Tribune
With the scent of freshly cut Douglas fir and madrone heavy in the air, James Esqueda stacked newly cut branches and brush in a pile for burning in the fall.
While the assistant crew supervisor for the nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project mounded his dark green piles in Ashland’s forested Siskiyou Mountain Park, piles stacked this spring on U.S. Forest Service land less than 100 yards away were drying out and turning orange.
Esqueda said that thinning wildfire fuels across the forest — regardless of who owns the land — is the most intelligent way to protect the woods.
Treating Forest Service land, for example, but then not treating city and privately owned land nearby would not be as effective, he said.
“If a fire should come through, you will lose the entire area,” Esqueda said.
Work that is going on now around Ashland is being held up as one of six national models for cross-boundary wildfire fuels reduction work.
The Forest Service has funneled $300,000 through The Nature Conservancy to pay for the Ashland cross-boundary work.
Nationwide, the Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy have distributed $1.6 million to help pay for high-priority projects on property that borders federal land, said Darren Borgias, southwest Oregon program manager for The Nature Conservancy.
Crews from Lomakatsi — who already have extensive experience treating Forest Service land through the 7,600-acre, multiyear Ashland Forest Resiliency Project — are using the grant funding to thin fuels on city-owned land.
Grayback Forestry workers are tackling a thick growth of manzanita brush and madrone tree sprouts that are choking parts of 1,900 acres owned by Alec Hoffmann’s family on Ashland’s western outskirts.
Before the family owned the property, much of it was scarred by a 3,800-acre wildfire that burned in 1959.
While dark green evergreens dominate most of the forested hills above Ashland, the fire’s path is marked by giant swaths of lighter green from leaved trees and brush, including madrone, oak and manzanita that regrew after the fire.
Hoffmann said that his family has been working for years with the city of Ashland, the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and other entities to use grants and pitch in significant family contributions to thin, thickly grown madrone trees and manzanita brush on the property.
With repeated treatments, the family hopes that large conifers will have room to grow and eventually shade out the dense, scrubby madrone and manzanita, Hoffmann said.
“It’s not just about thinning to reduce fire danger. The overall goal is to increase forest health, create a mixed stand, and improve the canopy,” he said.
The property borders private land with houses, as well as city, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, Hoffmann said.
“Our property is a buffer. We can keep a fire out of the watershed,” he said.
The family’s property is a key piece in protecting homes and the Ashland watershed from wildfire, fire officials said.
“The burden of maintaining all that vegetation can be quite significant,” said Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Division Chief Chris Chambers, who has worked with the Hoffmann family on thinning projects for several years. “This is the highest-priority private property for the watershed and community protection.”
In total, the $300,000 grant from the Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy has helped fund the thinning on the Hoffmann property and in Siskiyou Mountain Park, as well as helicopter thinning on the city’s Winburn Parcel deep in the Ashland watershed and controlled burns on city-owned land, Chamber said.
“Because fire knows no boundaries, we should know no boundaries,” he said.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.