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New nature preserve offers double benefit

A local conservation organization and Jackson County Fire District 5 teamed up recently to prepare donated land for preservation by removing a house on the property, providing vital live-fire training for 20 firefighter recruits in the process.

The 55-acre property off Dead Indian Memorial Road was bequeathed to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy in the will of its owner, Harry Fischer, who built the house in 1976 and lived there until his death in 2020. His wife, Marilyn, died more than a decade earlier.

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the natural values of rural land by creating conservation easements in cooperation with local landowners who want to safeguard their land even after they no longer own it. The organization also acquires land through donations such as Harry Fischer’s.

Founded in 1978, the conservancy has worked to protect more than 12,400 acres of land across the Rogue Valley region. In some cases, the group later deeds properties to public entities for use as park land.

Public access natural areas with conservation easements include the Jacksonville Woodlands and Oreson-Todd Woods and Siskiyou Mountain Park on the south edge of Ashland.

The Fischer property, now known as the Harry & Marilyn Fisher Preserve at Pompadour Bluff, contains rare wildflowers and other plants, oak savanna with trees a century old and spectacular views of the valley below. The conservancy determined that the house required extensive repairs and the best course of action was to remove it to allow the land to return to its natural condition and avoid conflicts between public access and any future occupants.

In partnership with Fire District 5, the house became a “burn to learn” exercise, in which fire crews destroy a structure while training firefighters in techniques of battling a structure fire.

In this case, District 5 trained 20 new recruits, the district’s first since 2015, over a week, culminating in the burn training on Saturday. While training and retaining new firefighters has been difficult because of funding constraints, the Legislature responded to the devastating fires of 2020 with a new apprenticeship program. Federal money was appropriated as well, with grants available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The live-fire exercise comes at an ideal time, as the region braces for what is likely to be a hot, dry fire season. Thanks to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, local residents can enjoy a new nature preserve and a well-trained class of new firefighters.