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Jacksonville readies for first prescribed burn

Jacksonville officials are planning to do a controlled burn to remove flammable fuels on seven acres in the Jacksonville Woodlands. [Mail Tribune/file photo]

A prescribed burn on city-owned land in Jacksonville could occur this winter. About seven acres managed by the Jacksonville Woodlands Association are being eyed for fuel-reduction treatments.

Prescribed burns at low intensity attempt to prevent overgrowth of brush and other ground-level flammable materials, while leaving trees largely unharmed. Many woodlands experienced an increase in vegetation as the result of a century of fire suppression, leading to larger blazes when fires start.

JWA board members Bob Budesa and Chris Johnson briefed Jacksonville City Council Nov. 2 on fuel reduction for the lands, which offer numerous hiking trails. The council had approved a fuel-reduction program earlier, but City Administrator Jeff Alvis placed it on the agenda to raise awareness of the upcoming work and so residents would know why they may see smoke in the woodlands.

“There are so many factors we have to follow to make this work. You only have a small chance to get it right and get it burned,” said Alvis. Among the considerations is rain coming after a burn is conducted, he said.

The prescribed burn would take place around the Britt Canyon Trail and near city streets, including South First Street, Steeple View Drive and Graham Street. Houses are near the proposed burn area. A city water reservoir is located north of the burn area.

“We had some interest from the landowners up there that were concerned with the conditions around the forest. Their interests and our interests joined forces,” said Budesa, in an interview after the meeting. In some cases, the burns could be as close as 25 feet from structures, but that should not present problems, he said.

“We don’t know how much and what is going to be done in any year. It really depends on the weather and manpower,” said Budesa. Grayback Forestry has been contracted for the burn work, and the city and JWA will share the $8,800 cost

“It’s Grayback’s decision. We hope to do it this winter,” said Budesa. “They make the call. The project was first laid out in 2018 and 2019, but circumstances haven’t been right to allow a burn.”

Besides the prescribed burn, mechanized fuel-reduction work will continue in an area southwest of the burn area around the Rich Gulch and Oregon trails below the Panorama Point Loop near South Oregon Street. Work to reduce fuels there was conducted over the last two years.

The work is in a more open area with concentrations of manzanita and buck brush. Those are highly flammable and cannot be easily treated with prescribed burns, said Budesa. Because the area includes Bureau of Land Management acreage, the agency must first make sure that the work complies with federal environmental rules before it can proceed.

About 20 years ago a large amount of fuel-reduction work was done in the Britt Woods, said Budesa. The results of that work are still evident today, he said. The work included removing lots of the limbs and ladder fuels. Those were placed in piles and burned.

Overall, the woodlands are rated in good condition, according to information attached to the City Council agenda. Past efforts have been made at thinning and fuel reduction, but brush field treatment and regular maintenance are needed, according to the statements.

“Following the fires we had in Phoenix and Talent and in California, the public is really interested and passionate in getting these fuels up there reduced,” said Budesa. “There’s not much we can do about the weather and the topography, but there is something we can do about the vegetation.”

A rotation of prescribed burns, with the procedure being repeated in perhaps eight to 10 years on treated tracts, would be a goal, said Budesa, who is retired from 38 years with the Forest Service and BLM, where he was a wildland firefighting supervisor and a range management specialist.

Budesa said he hopes the burn will lead to other prescribed burns in the rural-urban interface around Jacksonville, both on JWA lands and other areas. He is also chair of the town’s Community Emergency Response Team and is working with fire Chief Wayne Painter to secure grants for fuel-reduction treatments elsewhere around the town.

JWA formed in 1989 to acquire and preserve woodlands and establish trail systems with partners. It manages parcels owned by the city and BLM.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.