Natural resource tour aims toward a better understanding

{gallery}/10_05_10/trees{/gallery} Randy White, Manager with Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District believes we can work together to achieve common goals for both public and private lands within Jackson County.

White led a broad spectrum group on a tour of restored lands in parts of the county September 28.  Among them were politicians, students, media, ranchers and representatives of the general public.  The tour was sponsored by the District, by SOTIA, Small Woodlands Association, the Society of American Foresters, Jackson County Stockmen’s Association, by the County’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee, the Jackson County Farm Bureau and the Medford Water Commission.  Also included in the list were the JRL Ranch and the Kupillas Ranch, both of Butte Falls.


As the name implies, emphasis was on restoring lands that have gone through catastrophic change.  None was more devastating than the 27,000 acres of the Timbered Rock Fire on Elk Creek.  In 2002 that fire burned with incredible intensity, killing trees more than ¼ mile ahead of the racing flames.  The story of the fire is history; the emphasis now is on restoration and the future of the system. 

The lands that burned there were a mix of both public and private lands.  Representatives of the BLM were present on the tour as well as Regional Manager, Ken Cummings, of Forest Capital, Partners, who now own the nearly 9000 acres of Boise Cascade lands burned in the event.  Cummings said he had crews on the land as soon as seven days after the fire was declared out, salvaging and replanting.  The BLM also had planned salvage, but litigation tied up the process before that could be accomplished. 

Cummings detailed how private companies and public agencies differ in treatment, but also noted that treatment might vary depending on local conditions.  One notable difference is the use of herbicides on private lands while BLM is limited to using hand methods of controlling brush, which is much more labor intensive and therefore costs more.  It is the competing species that often stunt young seedlings, thereby requiring longer time periods for full restoration.  Forest Capital uses herbicides sparingly, and then until the trees are somewhat established.  After that, Cummings said “they’re on their own.” 
Cummings also said that his company works in cooperation with ranchers whose cattle graze lands within their boundaries.  Their experience has shown that cattle eat the grasses, break an occasional tree branch but have little impact on the land or the soils.  Cattle are considered one tool in preventing ground fires from reaching tree canopies, lessening the impact of fires on forest lands. 
The tour route took participants through lands showing varying degrees of treatments along the Medco A and Cobleigh Roads.  Some lands, both private and public, have been treated for brush removal and have been thinned.  Tour guides explained that thinning of the forest helps grow better trees associated with healthy forests.  Many small private land owners have taken this step to insure better tree growth and to prevent fires from becoming raging infernos.

The JRL Ranch of Butte Falls is a prime example of ranch managers taking run-down lands and restoring it to productive health.  Some twenty years of on-the-ground work has made the place a productive cattle ranch that also produces healthy trees and has improved stream quality. Their goals have been met by selective harvesting of trees and regular cattle rotation.  A good deal of the work there is done on horseback.  Owner Bob Lozano says “You don’t get into this because you like to wear ten gallon hats and wear high heel boots.”  Lifestyle is a tradeoff with making more money elsewhere.

Medford Water Commission has been supplying most of the Rogue Valley with sparkling clear and pure drinking water for the better part of a century.  That water comes from Big Butte Springs, after passing through unique soils, it passes through pipelines 33 miles to the cities of Eagle Point and Medford.  The commission recently undertook projects to insure quality and adequate quantity by performing thinning projects of forest trees surrounding the springs. These projects are mainly designed to prevent catastrophic events such as wildfire.  One of the components of their management is cattle grazing, though Bob Jones of Medford Water says none of the grazing or other activities lies within what they call protection zone one, or the “red zone”. 
Jones conceded that many uses have been ascribed to the watershed lands, including hunting, fishing, camping and cattle grazing.  None of the uses are undertaken if they were to have a detrimental effect on the land or the springs. 

In a discussion following the tour, several participants suggested additional tours with a broader range of people being represented and a broader perspective.  Most in attendance were thrilled to see the young students who took the time to learn first hand about our natural resources and how things we are doing affect them. It was agreed upon by all that more students should be encouraged to attend such events.  Conspicuous by their absence were members of environmental organizations.  The emphasis of this tour was to open a dialog between extreme sides in the ongoing debate on the proper uses of our lands.  White noted that communication is key to exploring both differences but also on things we agree upon.  He says, “Its  a step toward a better understanding.

By Ralph McKechnie
For the Independent

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