Non-Profit (Forest Bridges) Calls for Active Conservation of Cascade-Siskiyou Monument

FOREST BRIDGES CALLS FOR ALL-LANDS ACTIVE CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT OF THE CASCADE-SISKIYOU NATIONAL MONUMENT

In light of increased catastrophic wildfires ravaging millions of acres of forests and habitats annually, including in Oregon, Forest Bridges: The O&C Habitat Project, Inc. has called upon the Bureau of Land Management to consider using its “All-Lands Active Conservation Management” approach as a management alternative to restoring and sustaining the uniquely diverse habitats of the recently expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in SW Oregon.

Based in Roseburg, Forest Bridges is a charitable nonprofit organization that formed in 2015 to bring consensus and trust among people of different perspectives and interests specifically on the management of the 2.9 million acres of O&C Lands located in 18 counties of western Oregon. The organization includes in its definition of the O&C Lands 2.1 million acres of BLM O&C lands, 75,000 acres of Coos Bay Wagon Road lands, 239,000 acres of Public Domain lands, and nearly 500,000 acres the Controverted Lands managed by the US Forest Service.

Forest Bridges’ public comments, in the form of a proposed Active Conservation Management alternative to restore and sustain the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, were submitted earlier this month in response to a joint BLM Oregon/Washington and California State Directors Notice of Intent to Prepare a Resource Management Plan for the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Forest Bridges full comments document, along with the organization’s collaboratively developed Principles of Agreement, can be found on its website: ForestBridges.org.

According to Forest Bridges Executive Director Denise Barrett, Forest Bridges’ vision for the 114,00 acres of BLM-managed O&C Lands on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is to maintain and improve the historical range of forest habitats and increase the likelihood of low severity disturbance regimes through active management (e.g., thinning) and prescribed fire, while incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge and collaboration with the Tribes.

“Many ecologists, scientists, and land managers now understand that most dry forest landscapes require active management to maintain ecosystem health and resilience,” said Barrett, “and the Klamath Ecoregion, where the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is located, is an exemplary case.”

To get ahead of 100 years of fire suppression and hazardous fuel accumulation on the dry forests in the area, Barrett said that Forest Bridges is recommending a very aggressive, watershed-scale restoration program to achieve a 95% reduction in the probability of ground fires becoming crown fires.

According to Forest Bridges Board Chair Thomas McGregor, “We are aware that when Indigenous populations stewarded the dry forest lands of the Klamath Ecoregion, using effective cultural burning methods, just six to nine percent of fires were high severity. Now, when our dry forests do burn, they burn much hotter, and thirty-six percent are high severity, killing many historically resilient trees.”

Rather than managing the O&C Lands, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, as a system of reserves that receive minimal to no management, McGregor called Forest Bridges’ proposals “a major shift in the paradigm of management that recognizes the importance of actively managing for habitat restoration and sustainability throughout the lands.”

“For the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument lands, it’s what we call ‘All-Lands Active Conservation Management,” said Rick Sohn, Forest Bridges co-founder and Board Secretary. “The alternative of ‘no action’–placing dry forest ecosystems into untreated reserves shielded from stewardship—is no longer tenable in the age of climate change and extreme, stand-replacing wildland fire.”

Sohn added that Forest Bridges’ active conservation management recommendations for restoring the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument’s BLM-managed O&C Lands place these lands on a trajectory to allow as much growth and development as possible of structurally complex and diverse legacy forest, along with a diversity of other appropriate habitats, across the lands. “Our recommendations for thinning, along with careful application of prescribed fire, will allow the diverse habitats and species in these forests to persist and store carbon, as well as resist fire,” Sohn said.

Because of the priority of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Forest in plant and ecosystem diversity, and the importance of the sustainability of these habitats, Forest Bridges proposed to the BLM that the Monument be afforded a top priority in the timing of treatment among all O&C lands and public domain lands in the Medford BLM District.

“Specifically,” said McGregor, “we proposed that necessary funding be provided to implement our Active Conservation Management approaches within the first five years of enactment of the BLM’s plan for the Monument. This will help the BLM and its partners get ahead of the inevitability of fire across these special lands and reach the goal of 95% reduction in the risk of ground fires becoming crown fires as fast as possible.”

Barrett added that the organization’s ability to prepare substantive comments under a tight 60-day timeline this summer was due to Forest Bridges development in recent years of an active conservation strategy for the approximately 1.4 million acres of O&C dry forest lands of southwest Oregon. “This effort was strongly informed by scientific research that relies on the preponderance of scientific evidence, professional and research experience and judgement, as well as communication with Tribes and recognition of the Tribes’ long-term successful living actively and in harmony with these lands for generations before the colonial period, which is also borne out by the historical record,” Barrett said.

Sohn said it was crucial to highlight in Forest Bridges’ comments to the BLM that the management of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument align with the O&C Act, to promote the sustainability of the full range of forest habitats in these dry forests over time, and that this alignment  should be clearly stated for the public record. “Forest Bridges believes this is not only the law,” said Sohn,  “but that management under this guidance is feasible in the context of the Monument’s management purposes.”

Forest Bridges plans to contribute its Active Conservation Management proposals for both the dry and moist forest O&C Lands to the BLM’s Western Oregon Resource Management Plan  update process, anticipated to begin this October. Beginning in September, the organization will begin conducting a series of public engagement meetings in several venues in southwest Oregon to share and gain feedback on its Principles of Agreement and Active Conservation management proposals and to build on its current base of Friends and Advisors of Forest Bridges. The organization will also soon post its draft Moist Forest Proposal to forestbridges.org, following a recent review by its Council of Advisors and Independent Scientists and Ecocultural Reviewers group.

“Though we are always evolving our Principles of Agreement and management proposals for the O&C Lands, as new learning and ideas come for our collaborative’s consideration,” said Barrett, “we’re excited to have opportunities like the BLM’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument RMP and the upcoming RMP update for Western Oregon, to contribute them in the name of realizing our vision of improved forest health and fire resiliency, thriving wildlife habitats, strengthened rural communities, and a sustained inclusive collaboration across the O&C Lands.”

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