The 2018 drought, coupled with the February snowstorm, took a toll on forested lands in Douglas County, according to Phil Morton, executive director of the county Farm Service Agency.
The storm damaged or brought down a substantial amount of timber that was weakened by last year’s drought, covering the forest floor with debris. Forests full of dead and dying timber increase the risk of insect infestations and wildfires, Morton said.
But as of June 3, nonindustrial private forest landowners whose properties were impacted by the severe weather are eligible to apply for rehabilitation funding assistance through the FSA. The Emergency Forest Restoration Program can help landowners restore forest productivity and increase wildfire preparedness.
“With all the damaged timber, there’s a lot of fire danger out there,” Morton said. “There’s also insect infestations. If we don’t clean up our forests, they’re going to spread and we’re going to have more dead timber. It’s a forest health issue.”
Landowners who wish to remove debris and dead trees from timberland, replant timber and develop roads on lands deemed necessary by the Oregon Department of Forestry are eligible to apply for funding.
“The natural disaster must have resulted in damage that if untreated would impair or endanger the natural resources on the land and/or materially affect future use of the land,” read a FSA press release.
Practices not included in the program are building roads not located on nonindustrial private forestland, tree thinning for management purposes and planting ornamental, nursery or Christmas trees.
After the Aug. 1 application deadline, foresters with the Department of Forestry will inspect applicants’ land to assess the damage and estimate the cost of rehabilitation. Local officials will send in cost estimates from approved applications to state and federal FSA offices. Reimbursement can be up to 75% of rehabilitation costs.
Ahead of what is likely to be another heavy wildfire season, clearing forest debris is a crucial part of preventing the spread of fires and helping firefighters access forested areas during fires, according to Kyle Reed, spokesman for the Douglas Forest Protective Association.
“There was damage throughout the county, but really the Camas Valley area up through Kellogg, Tyee and Elkton was really hit,” Reed said. “There are places that really looked like they logged with as must stuff that broke and came, and it’s all storm damage.”
A power line brought down by a broken branch started a wildfire on one-third of an acre of forested land five miles west of Winston near Hidden Valley Lane on Saturday. While firefighters were able to contain the fire that evening, Reed said the fire, which was burning primarily storm debris, was a sign of what’s to come this summer.
“Especially since the storm, it’s just been nonstop phone calls from people trying to find resources and help to address” the effects of the storm on forested lands, Reed said.
Morton said more than 50 landowners have expressed interest in applying for the FSA program.
While the program will help fire suppression efforts, local fire crews are training to be more aware of the dangers of fighting fires in forests affected by severe weather, Reed said.
“Not only with the excess fuel on the ground but also with the standing snags from previous years and the stuff that’s hung up or partially broken,” Reed said. “It is a safety concern going forward. We’re going to make sure our guys and gals are briefed on these potential hazards.”
He added most of that hazard training happens every year, but “it’s just on steroids this year. There’s so much more of it out there than on a normal year.”