A1 A1
County commissioners ask governor for emergency drought order

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners announced Friday it has requested Gov. Kate Brown approve an emergency drought order for Douglas County.

The commissioners formally declared a drought at their regular Wednesday meeting.

Brown has already approved emergency drought orders in Jackson, Lake and Klamath counties. Gilliam, Umatilla and Wheeler counties have also requested drought orders.

A drought declaration gives counties extra flexibility in managing water to ensure limited supplies are used as efficiently as possible.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted drought in the region will persist or intensify in the region.

Winter snowpack is considerably lower than normal in the Umpqua Basin, and that combined with less rain and lower water levels, could harm agricultural, livestock, recreation, natural resources, tourism and other local economies.

It also increases the chances of an early fire season.

“The Douglas County Board of Commissioners agree that extraordinary measures must be taken to alleviate the suffering of our citizens, livestock, forests and agricultural industry in order to protect and mitigate economic loss, as well as be responsive to the threat of wildfires,” Commissioner Tom Kress said in a written statement.

The Douglas County Public Works Department’s Natural Resources Division announced a notice of water availability for properties downstream of Galesville Reservoir that border or have access to either Cow Creek, the South Umpqua River or the Umpqua River.

Those properties may be eligible to purchase stored water from Douglas County’s Galesville Project. There is a limited amount of water available for specific uses. For industrial, it’s 1,485-acre feet; for irrigation, 5,555-acre feet; municipal, 4,265-acre feet; multiple purpose and domestic, 3,975-acre feet.

Water from the Galesville Project is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

To check for eligibility, contact the Douglas County Natural Resources Division at 541-440-4255 or visit the website at douglascounty-oregon.us/362/Natural-Resources.

Glide, South Umpqua high school students plant seedlings for the future

Standing at the base of a steep slope with black, dead, standing trees, black fallen trees and black stumps surrounding them, 40 high school students were instructed in the proper way to plant seedlings.

Students from South Umpqua High School and Glide High School were on the Bureau of Land Management site in the Rock Creek drainage Friday morning, planting Douglas fir and sugar pine seedlings where just a year ago a green forest of both young and older trees had covered the mountainsides. But the 131,542-acre Archie Creek Fire last fall turned the landscape black.

The students also listened as private and public forestry officials gave short talks about forestry management, wildfires, and recovery plans and efforts.

Cody Trent and Paul Kercher, Glide High freshmen, estimated they planted 36 seedlings as they climbed the steep slope. They worked under the guidance of Ben Kercher, the agricultural science and technology teacher at Glide.

“It’s been a fun day,” Trent said. “I’m glad I was able to come out here and help. When I go to sleep tonight, I’ll know I did something special today.”

Ben Kercher said he was pleased with the planting effort of the students.

“It feels good in a very small way to be part of the healing process,” Kercher said. He’s a Douglas County native and a 17-year resident of Glide who had traveled up the Rock Creek drainage and enjoyed its recreational opportunities many times before the fire changed the landscape.

Marlee Rogers and Angelica Navalta, South Umpqua freshmen, worked in a group of four planting seedlings.

“Seeing this is sad,” Rogers said of the blackened terrain.

“Being out here shows how we can help,” Navalta said. “It feels great to help our environment. It makes me proud to be part of the recovery.”

Communities For Healthy Forests, a nonprofit organization, has been coordinating seedling planting field trips for students for about 15 years. The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Lone Rock Timber and the Society of American Foresters also helped with Friday’s event.

The mission of CHF, a Roseburg-based group, is to inform the public and policy makers with facts supporting both pre- and post-forest management in regards to wildfire.

“We hope to broaden the understanding of young people in the causes and the opportunities to mediate through pre-fire management and post-fire management in regards to the impact of wildfire,” said Doug Robertson, executive director for the nonprofit. “Today, the emphasis was on post-fire recovery. What they did today was on a small scale, but to talk to them about reforestation in a highly severe burn area is important.”

Robertson explained to the students that it would be generations before any meaningful forest resource returned to the land because there is no natural seed source for natural regeneration.

“You have to give nature a hand to get this forest growing again, so you, your kids, your grandkids have the opportunity to enjoy what we enjoyed before it burned down,” he said to the students.

Before heading out with hard hats in place, shovels in hand and a bundle of seedlings, the students were instructed in the proper planting technique. Those details included spacing the trees about 10 feet apart, scraping out a flat spot on the slope so rain water will settle there rather than running straight downhill, digging a hole deep enough so the roots go straight down and aren’t curled back up, and patting the soil down around the seedling, eliminating any air gaps and giving the young tree a firmer hold in the earth.

“Planting trees is a lot more difficult than planting flowers,” Navalta said.

“We learned how trees help hold the ground,” Rogers said.

John Campbell, the ag instructor and FFA advisor at South Umpqua, said his students are in an Introduction to Ag class and are presently studying the Forest Fire unit.

“I hope the kids learn we have some control over wildfire with the proper forest management,” Campbell said. “We’re learning about the balance between prescribed burns and wildfires.

“Being out here is the ideal ag environment,” he added. “The students are fully engaged, using shovels, holding and planting seedlings. It’s so different than being in the classroom.”

Ben Kercher said he hoped the field trip would help his students better understand the life cycle of a forest and how fire is part of that life cycle.

Cheyne Rossbach, BLM’s assistant field manager, said it’s important for students to come out and see first hand the effects of fire on a forest and to learn about the natural resources and the recovery plans after the fire. He wanted to help the students understand the public process involved in restoring recreational areas and access. That includes addressing hazard trees at day use areas, picnic areas, parking lots and trailheads.

Rossbach said 1,200 acres of BLM land in the Archie Creek burn will be salvage logged this year.

“We really appreciate the kids coming out and wanting to help replant our public lands,” Rossbach said. “It’s just a matter of getting them (seedlings) in the ground, getting some moisture and watching them grow.”

Tim Freeman, a Douglas County commissioner, said it was a great learning experience for the students to listen to the forestry officials talk about forest management and wildfire. He added it’s important for the kids to know that the private land burned in the Archie Creek Fire will be “mostly reforested and become a green forest again” under the guidance of the Oregon Forest Practices Act while “most of the Forest Service and BLM lands will not be replanted or reforested” because of more restrictive federal regulations.

“I think it’s important for the students to hear that when they come up this road in 20 years, the private land will have at least 30-foot tall trees while on the public land will be tall brush,” Freeman said.

“I do appreciate CHF and its partners bringing kids out every year to experience this type of event,” he added.

Robertson said he was pleased with the planting effort and the response from the students. Despite the steepness of the slope, he said “Those kids charged right up the hill, planting the seedlings.”

“Even though what they did was on a small scale, getting this next generation of trees growing is so important because the recovery of the forest, the wildlife, the watershed will be expedited because of their planting efforts today,” he said.

Portulano, Baker vie for Umpqua Public Transportation District seat

The only contested race for the Umpqua Public Transportation District’s board of directors is between Vincent Portulano, of Oakland, and Janice Baker, of Roseburg.

The transportation district is an independent district that oversees public buses and the Dial-A-Ride service in Douglas County. It was first formed in 2018. Prior to that, public transportation services were overseen by the Douglas County government.

Both candidates have seen the need for public transportation in the people they help.

Portulano is a former Dial-A-Ride driver and substitute teacher who currently works as a direct support professional at Premier Community Supports.

The organization supports clients with developmental disabilities who are living independently. Portulano’s work includes tasks like driving clients to appointments, work or shopping and helping them shop.

He said he wants to see the Dial-A-Ride system expanded because it can provide the important service of getting customers exactly where they need to go when they need to get there.

He also wants to see integration between the Dial-A-Ride and bus services.

Portulano holds a master’s degree in public administration from Portland State University, which he believes has given him skills he could use for the transportation district’s benefit.

“I believe with my training, with my masters in public administration, I will be able to bring some knowledge to the district to help the district through its formation stages as it continues to get a foothold in the county,” Portulano said.

This is Portulano’s second attempt to win a seat on the board. He first ran in 2018, when 16 contenders vied with each other for seven seats, with the top seven vote-getters winning the offices.

Portulano has also served as a board member for the Oakland School District, Union Gap Water and Sanitary Districts and the East County Parks and Recreation District.

Baker is a former designer and has worked in design for several publications and in kitchen design for Lowe’s. She designed the logo for the transportation district, as an unpaid volunteer.

She retired after her parents moved to Roseburg, and with a mother who is nearly blind and a father who has Alzheimer’s disease it’s important to her that the transportation system be there for them and others like them.

Baker is the wife of Mike Baker, the previous board chairperson before John Parker, and said she has sat in on many meetings and familiarized herself with the people and the issues.

She said she wants to see additional staff members and good planning at the district to ensure the service will remain.

And she wants to ensure the transportation services are run efficiently so that customers who use them can get to work and doctor’s appointments on time.

“We need to be on time. We can’t have a bus being 10 minutes late and then having somebody be 10 minutes late for work. Or 10 minutes late for a doctor’s appointment,” she said.

She also wants the services to expand so that people in Glide and South County, for example, can obtain the transportation they need.

“What I want to see in our community thrive, and with transportation, we can thrive. Without it, we will not thrive, so that’s how I see it,” she said.

BLM releases Environmental Assessment, schedules open house

The Bureau of Land Management has released its Environmental Assessment for proposed fire recovery activities on BLM-administered lands that burned in the Archie Creek Fire last September.

Information on the assessment and the opportunity to ask questions about it will be available at an open house BLM has scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Thursday at the Swiftwater Day Use Area. BLM staff will be present to answer questions.

A visit to a burn area for those interested will leave the Swiftwater area shortly after 11 a.m. and return no later than 1 p.m.

The Environmental Assessment analyzes the potential environmental effects of salvage harvesting timber in fire-affected stands and removing hazard trees along roadways and near private and BLM-developed facilities.

The EA is available on BLM’s ePlanning website by searching for DOI-BLM-ORWA-R040-2021-0001-EA, or at the following link

At this time, no decisions for implementing the activities analyzed in the Environmental Assessment have been made. An unsigned Finding of No Significant Impact is located on the BLM’s ePlanning site in addition to the Environmental Assessment. The authorized official must approve the impact statement before signing any decision record(s) that authorize implementing the proposed actions.

In order to recover the economic value from the timber before the wood deteriorates, the BLM has specific management direction to conduct timely harvest of salvage timber on certain, designated BLM-administered lands. Additionally, the BLM has management direction to remove trees that are a hazard to people and/or infrastructure.

Comments may be submitted via email to: BLM_OR_RB_Archie_Creek_Fire_Salvage_EA@blm.gov. Please specify the project name in the subject line of the email. The BLM has extended the comment period for this Environmental Assessment and unsigned Finding of No Significant Impact to 4:30 p.m., May 10.

BLM lands within the Archie Creek Fire perimeter remain closed for public safety.