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Make your voice heard to protect the Greenway

The Bear Creek Greenway is a treasure, extending for 20 miles through the heart of our valley, from Ashland to Talent to Phoenix to Medford to Central Point. It offers a much-loved continuous path for walkers and bikers and protects the most developed stretch of Bear Creek, a critical spawning stream for salmon and steelhead.

Right now, the future of the Greenway is being decided, guided by the Envision Bear Creek project. An online survey is currently available at https://envisionbearcreek.com/, closing Sept. 18. We urge all lovers of the Greenway to take the survey and advocate for the environmental and wildlife values of this irreplaceable green space.

Two years ago, our valley changed forever when the Almeda Fire ignited near the southern end of the Greenway. Fanned by hot winds and fueled by dense stands of non-native Himalayan blackberries, it spread into nearby neighborhoods of Talent and Phoenix, causing devastating damage. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed and many large cottonwood and Oregon ash trees that provided crucial shade for Bear Creek were killed. In the aftermath of the fire, hundreds of snags near the Greenway path have been removed in the name of public safety. Many native plants have resprouted, and some replanting of native shrubs and trees has been accomplished.

Recognizing that this is a critical time for the Greenway, the Envision Bear Creek project was launched, a joint effort of the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford and Central Point, along with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Rogue Valley Council of Governments. Envision Bear Creek has held public meetings and conducted a first online survey earlier this year to gather input on public priorities for the Greenway.

Responses to that survey, as reported in the Mail Tribune, indicated strong community concerns over public safety. The follow-up survey, now available, understandably emphasizes ways to address those concerns. However, it is important that the wildlife values of the Greenway also be recognized, valued and protected. This is especially relevant in the more “rural” stretches of the Greenway, between Ashland and Talent and north of Central Point. In these areas, significant riparian habitat can be preserved and restored to provide homes for wildlife and to shade and protect Bear Creek.

Please consider advocating for the following key points while participating in the Greenway survey, and in communication with the cities along the Greenway, Jackson County Parks, and the various committees developing plans at this time. Because of the structure of the survey, it may be necessary to add these as recommendations in the comments sections. These points are all consistent with human safety and reducing fire risk:

n Replant, retain and promote native vegetation while controlling noxious weeds. Noxious weed management remains a significant opportunity in the fire footprint.

n Preserve non-hazardous snags and downed wood for wildlife and salmon, thus helping regenerating vegetation and retaining moisture and shade.

n Require all property owners, both public and private, to follow local ordinances protecting riparian zones for fish and wildlife.

n Fuels reduction work should be done carefully, preserving native trees and shrubs, avoiding the introduction of new noxious weeds, and ideally conducted outside of bird-breeding season. Mowing with large machinery should be restricted to areas outside the riparian setback wherever possible.

n Recognize that while lighting may be appropriate along some urban stretches of the Greenway, it is not beneficial for wildlife, pollinators or seeing the night sky. If lighting is installed, only “dark sky certified” downward-directed lighting should be used.

n Prohibit camping in the riparian setback.

The Bear Creek Greenway is an irreplaceable public resource, used and treasured by valley residents for many different reasons. The Envision Bear Creek project must take all the Greenway’s diverse values into account as it develops a new management plan. To make sure that the environmental benefits of the Greenway are adequately recognized and protected, please make your voice heard by filling out the online survey today. Remember, the deadline is Sept. 18.

Pepper Trail is conservation co-chair of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society. Gretchen Vos is a member of the Siskiyou Chapter, Native Plant Society of Oregon.