Two years after the Stouts Creek Fire burned 26,452 acres of forestland near Tiller, the public is invited to comment on a proposal to reforest about 3,000 severely-burned acres in the Tiller Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest.
Tiller Ranger District is proposing to plant ponderosa pine, incense cedar, Douglas fir and sugar pine this winter and spring at a density of approximately 250 to 300 trees per acre. The planting density depends on expected seedling survival, which is affected by aspect, slope, soil and elevation.
The Stouts Creek Fire sparked while an individual was mowing a lawn on Sept. 23, 2015. With dry fuels and hot and windy conditions, the fire grew to 6,000 acres in a few hours and eventually burned 14,402 acres in the Umpqua National Forest, and more throughout land owned by other agencies and companies.
Old growth mixed conifer and ponderosa pine stands, young conifer plantations, oak woodlands, meadows, hardwood stands and riparian areas were among the landscapes affected in the Umpqua National Forest. Of this land, 1,633 acres are allocated as late successional reserve, 645 acres as riparian reserve and 722 as matrix.
Late successional reserve lands are meant to be managed in a way to promote old-growth habitat while matrix lands are to be managed to promote socioeconomic benefits. Both types can account for harvesting and selling timber as well as protecting the land and wildlife. Within the riparian reserve, trees will be planted at about 60 to 300 trees per acre, depending on the density of hardwood species resprouts.
William Reading, Tiller District Silviculturist and project manager, said the U.S. Forest Service analyzed post-fire aerial imagery to determine which areas burned at high severity, and then filtered out the spots considered unsuitable for growing timber.
Of the acres burned in the Umpqua National Forest, 10,123 acres burned at low intensity while 4,279 burned at high intensity. Some areas will be returned to forest as quickly as possible through planting seedlings, but due to unsuitable soils or the small size of a burn patch, the proposal states more than 1,200 acres of high severity burn areas would be left to naturally regenerate.
“In some of those areas we’re letting natural processes occur, so you have the grass and brush stage and then a slower return to forest vegetation over time,” Reading said. The natural regeneration is meant to accommodate for wildlife habitat, as many species of birds utilize seral habitat, or forests that are in their first step of recovering after a fire.
Reading said compared to historic data, there may not be as much of that habitat available for these species due to fire suppression efforts over the last century.
The replanting efforts may lead to an early forest stage in 10 years, whereas the natural regeneration may take 20 to 30 years, providing that seral habitat for a longer amount of time.
Seedlings were ordered right after the fire and have since been growing in a Medford nursery. The Forest Service plans to pull them out of the seedbeds and begin planting in the spring.