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Golden proposes wildfire task force

State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has proposed a statewide task force to address wildfires and forest health.

Golden and the nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project will announce the proposal at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at a press conference in Ashland during a site cleanup at Strawberry Park. This event is for the media only and is not open to the public.

The proposed Forest Health Enhancement Task Force is intended to be a collaborative effort between organizations across Oregon to protect the state from wildfires in the face of climate change, while simultaneously creating living-wage jobs and training for youth and adults, according to a news release.

“This task force will provide a vital element in the larger effort to reduce the risk of wildfires,” Golden said in a press release. “Climate change in Oregon compels us to find new ways to reduce fuel levels in our forests across a huge area.

“We must explore new avenues and partnerships and find ways to support and expand the local organizations that are already doing this critical work,” he said. “Our task force will bring together experts on this subject to develop widespread, cost-efficient solutions and opportunities.”

Lomakatsi is a partner in the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, which reduces fuels in the Ashland watershed and surrounding hills to create forest resiliency, while also educating the community.

One of the many factors creating these longer seasons of intense wildfires and smoke is the poor condition of forestlands. Many forests are choked with brush that burns quickly after many years of fire suppression.

Lomakatsi is working to reduce these fuels and return the forests to a more natural state. The organizations create jobs and use science-based best practices to engage youth and restore forests, resulting in fire-adapted landscapes.

It’s Golden’s belief that Lomakatsi, which has conducted this type of work for 24 years, can inspire a larger collaborative effort to develop a statewide strategy to improve forest health, conduct preventative maintenance, and provide educational and training opportunities in the face of climate change.

“We work to restore fire-prone ecosystems across thousands of acres of public and private lands by thinning forests and carefully applying prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads, creating fire-safe communities,” said Marko Bey, Lomakatsi executive director. “We do this while hiring youth and adults in rural, forest-based communities, creating longterm employment and career opportunities.”

Lomakatsi Public Affairs Manager Julie Akins said the task force idea would meld with the Oregon Wildfire Response Council created by Gov. Kate Brown this year to examine the efficacy of the state’s response to wildfire.

Golden Communications Director Adam Lohman said the driving force behind the project was the recognition that the state needs to reduce forest fuels on a much larger scale, and that a youth force needs to be developed in the process. Educating future generations who will take over these jobs, and creating the jobs in the first place, is a major priority, according to Lohman.

The task force would determine what works best and then implement those practices on a larger scale, Lohman said. The team hopes the bill for the task force will be approved before the next legislative session.

Other organizations working closely with the project include the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps and the Northwest Youth Corps.

Akins said Strawberry Park offers a great example of work that needs to be done because it is a large area that abuts Lithia Park and residential neighborhoods. The city of Ashland is a prime example for this type of work because of its proximity to forestlands.

“I think Ashland is one of those good examples, because it’s in the wildland-urban interface,” Akins said. “It’s this little town nestled in the forest, so it’s important to do this work as we face climate change.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

A Lomakatsi crew conducts a controlled burn at Strawberry Park. Courtesy photo