The Oregon Department of Forestry has given $100,000 to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) for forest restoration work that will reduce catastrophic wildfire risk on 20,000 acres of the Big Butte Springs watershed, which is the year-round source of water for Medford and surrounding communities.
The award is under the Planning Assistance and Categorical Exclusion or PACE funds administered by ODF’s Federal Forest Restoration (FFR) Program.
Kyle Sullivan, who leads ODF’s FFR Program, said “PACE investments provide contracting opportunities that assist federal forest managers to expand and accelerate planning efforts for forest restoration treatments. The Snowy Butte Forest Restoration Project will reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire risk in the watershed supplying Medford and communities near it with drinking water.”
Sullivan said ODF received 18 project proposals for PACE funds for this year, totaling $1,085,480. Through a competitive selection process, ODF was able to award a total of $622,895 to the nine top projects.
“These will help the Forest Service plan faster, for more acres, and/or for more complex projects,” said Sullivan. “These PACE investments work to alleviate a key bottleneck to forest restoration efforts in Oregon: the National Environmental Policy Act planning process.”
The highest scored proposal was submitted by the High Cascades Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The project rated high due to strong partnerships and matching funds contributed through the non-profit Blue Forest Conservation and the Medford Water Commission (MWC). The awarded funds ($100,000) will be used to conduct 2,000 acres of heritage surveys, thus increasing the project footprint.
“We’re very excited to receive the additional funding from ODF for this project,” said USDA Forest Service District Ranger Dave Palmer. “The project area provides drinking water to 140,000 people in the Rogue Valley, so there’s an immediate need to reduce wildfire risk as soon as possible.”
The goal of the project is to treat approximately 20,000 acres, which amounts to one-third of the watershed. The work includes non-commercial fuels reduction, habitat restoration, silviculture treatments, and fuel breaks, which are designed to reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire, protect drinking water quality, and promote resilience against stressors such as drought and insects. The project on this scale is necessary to achieving the level of widespread resilience necessary for sustaining and protecting this critical watershed.
Given the importance of the watershed as a drinking water source, the project has enjoyed widespread support and significant engagement from local partners including:
- Medford Water Commission
- Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC)
- The Nature Conservancy
- Lomakatsi Restoration
- Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
- American Forest Resource Council.
The watershed is identified as a priority area in the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy, published by the collaborative in 2017.