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Fire resources to the rescue

You know the routine.

In spring we enjoy our idyllic little valley — small, walkable towns yet filled to the brim with music, art and cultural interest. Everything seems about perfect: just the right temperatures, beautiful flowers everywhere, and green hillsides. Our nerves are calm and we relax at the park, out on the trail, or even around a campfire.

Then, as spring gives way to summer, temperatures begin to climb. The gentle rains stop and the hillsides and our lawns turn to brown. We swear there is a faint, acrid smell of smoke off somewhere in the distance.

With record-breaking temperatures already in mid-June, we wonder ... when and where will that first fire start? Will it be lightening? A careless toss of a lit match? It’s only a matter of time.

Climate change is writing a new story for the Rogue Valley, but it is a similar story in much of western North America. Fire seasons are longer, they are damaging more communities, and they are more costly than they have been in modern history.

All is not lost. We have some real experts working hard on this issue, and they want to talk with us. This summer KS Wild is bringing fire experts to host a Fire Speaker Series in partnership with REI to talk about the role of fire in our region. All talks will be hosted at the Medford REI, 85 Rossanley Dr., in the back of the store.

During this series we will explore the inner and outer workings of fire in the era of climate change, and what we can do to protect our homes, manage our forests, and use the time-tested knowledge of local tribes to build a safer, more resilient relationship with fire.

The summer speaker series kicks off June 24 with Defensible Space — A Yearlong Commitment. Local fire professional Richard Fairbanks will speak about the importance of securing a perimeter and how creating and maintaining defensible space around homes is a year-long process.

Even in the summer when we won’t be doing controlled burns or running a chainsaw, there is much we can do to protect homes, communities and lives from fire. Rich lives in southwest Oregon and has over 40 years of experience in firefighting and forest management, including in our local Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The series then moves from what to do at home to how fire behaves in the woods. There are many types of forest practices that have an impact on fire severity. On July 26, in a talk called Fire Behavior Across a Mixed Ownership Landscape, fire researcher Christopher Dunn, an Oregon State University College of Forestry professor, is coming down to Ashland to talk about how fire behaves across the checkerboard landscape of public and private ownership in Southern Oregon. Dunn has published many studies using satellite imagery and local data to analyze the factors that drive fire severity.

The series then looks deeper into the role of fire on the land. On Aug. 29, in Fire and Climate Change, we will host Arielle Halpern to learn more about the role of fire in the era of climate change. Halpern completed her dissertation on prescribed fire and cultural plant resources of the Karuk and Yurok peoples of California, and is creating innovative new fire and forestry programs with broad community involvement.

Tribes, as sovereign entities with intellectual property rights, hold a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge born of generations tending these landscapes. Halpern is joining Southern Oregon University this summer.

Join KS Wild and fire experts to talk about the role of fire in our ecoregion. Please sign up as these events might fill up fast. See www.kswild.org to sign up and for more details.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

The sun sets behind smoke from the Taylor Creek fire in 2018, one in a series of smoky summers in the Rogue Valley. AP / file photo