Double Down on Science

Google “Santa Rosa fire,” then click on “images.” Unthinkable, right?

Now Google “Ashland, Oregon” and click on the map. Scroll along the neighborhoods at the western edge of town, where streets and homes border the forested mountainside. Do you live on Tolman Creek Road, Morninglight, Green Meadows, Crestview, Peachy or upper Morton? Can you see wildlands nearby?

The fires around Santa Rosa started on brushy and forested hillsides outside of town. Grass and undergrowth had sprouted during a wet winter. Then months of drought wrung the moisture out of that vegetation. Record summer heat in the deserts of the southwest drove hot, dry winds across Northern California.

All it took was a spark. There will always be a spark.

You know the rest. The wind carried firebombs into neighborhoods. Houses exploded. The heat from the first home ignited the one next door. Like flaming dominoes, miles of neighborhoods were reduced to ash and bare foundations.

Now look at the climate change curve. Every year our weather looks more like Napa or Sonoma than the Jackson County of yesterday.

When extreme weather events destroy homes, roads, businesses and lives in Santa Rosa, Houston or San Juan, climate change becomes personal for Californians, Texans and Puerto Ricans. For many Oregonians, fire, flood and catastrophe are still about other people in other places. But, for me, this is getting personal. If Ashland is at risk, the Green Springs is on death row.

But wait, we have good news. Ashland is actually less at risk than it was 10 years ago, thanks to the Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project (AFR). The risk of a hometown Santa Rosa is not gone but it is reduced. Thanks to the application of scientific forestry, Ashland is more defensible.

What about the Green Springs? Our mountain community is surrounded by second growth timber and, much worse, thousands of acres of untended pine plantation. Imagine stands of 20-foot saplings planted on eight-foot centers with foliage to the ground. The fuel to air ratio is firestorm-ready. These plantations are like gigantic puddles of gasoline. As the climate warms, the risk increases. What can we do to protect our homes and lives?

The answer is more science.

Our goal should be to convert dangerous, abandoned, same-species, same age plantations into healthy, fire resistant ecosystems. This will require lots of labor, lots of time and, most importantly, lots of science that has not been done yet. We understand the concept. Now we must study the details.

For this reason and many others, we need to create a field station on the Green Springs to support scientific research in and around the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Let’s get started. We may still have time.