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As It Was: Ashland, Ore., Forest Plan Reduces Wildfire Danger

Ashland, Ore, has been trying for years to avoid major fires in the watershed above town.  Until settlers began arriving in the 1850s, the indigenous people used low-intensity fire to herd deer, reducing fuel content in the watershed.  As settlers pushed aside the Indians, the forest thickened, becoming susceptible to wildfires.
Several fires ravished the watershed in the early 1900s and a human-caused fire in August 1959 engulfed nearly 5,000 acres and threatened the city’s famed Lithia Park. 

Wildfire danger in Southern Oregon and Northern California continues today, as demonstrated by last year’s conflagration that burned down the Ashland-sized Northern California town of Paradise, leaving at least 86 dead and nearly 14,000 homes destroyed.

Ashland created its first Forest Plan in 1982, designed to reduce fire danger by tree salvage, thinning, and controlled burns.  Updated in 2016, it includes non-commercial forest thinning, dead tree salvage, and commercial logging of small-diameter trees.

The 2016 Ashland Forest Plan acknowledges that despite a reduction of fire danger, the forest surrounding Ashland remains, an “over-burdened system that is increasingly due for an uncharacteristic, large-scale, high-intensity disturbance.”  


Source: 2016 Ashland Forest Plan. City of Ashland, Ore., 2016, www.ashland.or.us/Files/2016%20Ashland%20Forest%20Plan.pdf. Accessed 17 June 2019.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.