Agencies Team-Up to Ensure Resiliency of Medford Water Source

The High Cascade Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (U.S. Forest Service) is proposing the Snowy Butte Landscape Restoration Project, a vegetation and watershed restoration project located within the Big and Little Butte Springs Watersheds and near the Fish Lake Recreation Area.

The Forest Service is working in collaboration with the Medford Watershed Commission (MWC) to ensure proposed treatments support fire resiliency and forest health to sustain the spring-fed water supply of the Big Butte Springs Municipal Watershed, which supplies the municipal water for 140,000 people in the Rogue Valley.

Combined, the MWC and the Forest Service administer 44,700 acres of the 57,000-acre Big Butte Springs Municipal Watershed. The Forest Service administers 75% of the acres in this watershed and is proposing treatments on over 27,000 acres for this project.

“There is a strong need to conduct forest management treatments that will promote fire resiliency, reduce fuel loading, and increase strategic fire attack capabilities,” said High Cascades District Ranger Dave Palmer.

“The South Obenchain Fire (2020) came within 3 miles of the MWC’s Big Butte Springs collection and treatment facilities. If a wildfire damaged this infrastructure, it could disrupt the main supply of water for the valley. Of equal importance, the Snowy Butte Project will protect this pristine source of drinking water, and could lead to increased spring flows,” added Craig Harper, Watershed Administrator of the Medford Water Commission.

This vulnerability assessment and adaptation tool was developed by the Southwest Oregon Adaptation Partnership, a science-management partnership with the Forest Service (Rogue River-Siskiyou and Umpqua National Forests, Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain Research Stations, and Pacific Northwest Region), Bureau of Land Management (Medford and Roseburg Districts), National Park Service (Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve), and University of Washington.

The SWOAP climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation project identified specific elements of national climate change strategies for federal agencies, providing a new scientific context for resource management, planning, and ecological restoration in southwest Oregon. The primary adaptation options for forests are to create resilience by thinning dry forests to reduce competition and fuel ladders, removing surface fuels to prevent high-intensity wildfires, and managing the timing and location of harvests.

In addition to non-commercial and commercial (18 MMBF) proposed fuels treatments, this project also proposes to thin the area around Robinson Lookout, improve the habitat for beaver and other species on 225 acres, restore 125 acres of meadow, and install two new toilets at Whiskey Springs Campground and one new toilet at Willow Prairie Horse Camp to better support recreation use and protect water quality.

The Forest Service is currently in the public scoping phase for this project. Scoping is the process by which the Forest Service requests input from the public on the potential issues, impacts, and alternatives that should be considered for the analysis and design of the project.

Courtesy of US Forest Service & MWC