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Wildfire

Helicopters Re-Seed Burned Areas Of Bear Creek Greenway

GreenwaySeeding_OCt19_2020.jpg
Jackson County and Oregon Department of Transportation
A helicopter conducts aerial seeding along the Bear Creek Greenway on Oct. 19.

Low-flying helicopters dropped tons of plant seeds in Jackson County Monday to restore vegetation that burned in the Almeda Drive Fire.

The fire burned through several miles of trees and blackberry brambles that lined the Bear Creek Greenway between Central Point and Ashland. It left behind a grim scene of twisted black trees and ash. Now Jackson County officials are worried that eroded soil could lead to flooding during winter rains.

“We want to keep soil out of the creek as much as we possibly can,” says Jackson County Parks Manager Steve Lambert. “So the biggest and most effective way that you can do that is to get some sort of vegetation back in place so that that vegetation will sprout and hopefully have enough time to grow some roots and keep dirt in place.”

The efficient way to spread those seeds is by helicopter, Lambert says, since the terrain along the greenway is difficult to access, even with an all-terrain vehicle. Aerial seeding is a common way to restore vegetation following a wildfire.

The county consulted with local botanists and restoration ecologists to find a seed mixture that would grow quickly. That mixture included barley and a handful of native plants called forbs. Barley is a fast-growing, annual grass that shouldn’t reseed itself to come back as potential wildfire fuel in future years.

The county purchased 41,000 pounds of seeds totaling about $75,000 from Pacific Northwest Natives. Lambert estimates that the entire process cost about $100,000 altogether, which local officials hope will be covered by federal disaster funds in the near future.

As for the burned trees that remain standing in the greenway, Lambert says the county has only removed or trimmed trees that pose a safety hazard. Trees that aren’t a threat to trail users won’t be cut down, since they can be useful habitat for some wildlife.

The county has a contract with Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration to help with other soil restoration projects, including placing “straw wattles” — long tubes of compressed straw — in areas that need more intensive erosion control.

“There's a lot of need and a lot of focus on getting dirt and the riparian area stabilized before winter rains come, then we'll start looking at the long-term restorations at a later date,” Lambert says.

The county is seeking volunteers to help place weed-free straw in areas along the greenway, which will provide mulch for the new seed. For more information, email Brooke Amposta at AmpostBA@JacksonCounty.org.