Wildfire seasons are growing longer and more severe throughout the west and in Oregon. Thanks to recent federal funding, local communities in Oregon are tackling the challenge head-on through forest restoration.  Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $32 million nationwide investment for wildfire prevention projects on public and private lands, with $4.4 million going to local Oregon projects.

The funding is provided through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, an initiative led by the chiefs of two USDA agencies—the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Now in its fifth year, the Joint Chiefs’ Partnership brings together local landowners and partners to accomplish forest restoration on both federally managed national forests and adjacent private lands.

Locally there is a project making meaningful progress in Central Oregon’s forests; Greater La Pine Basin Cohesive Strategy Project, or commonly referred to as the Joint Chief’s Project. This is a project put forth by multiple partners in the area to break down barriers between ownerships. This three-year project began in 2016 to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire on state, federal, and private lands in southern Deschutes County and Northern Klamath County. Project partners are doing pre-commercial thinning, brush management, fuel breaks and other activities to improve forest health and reduce fire risk. Total funding received for this year is over $1.7 million. 

Wildfire, invasive species, and water quality concerns don’t stop at the boundaries of private and public land. The local Joint Chief’s Project gives partners an opportunity to not look at boundaries. The only way the challenge of wildfire will be met will be by working together with agency partners, stakeholders, and private landowners.

One of the many success stories is a project on public land, called the Dilman unit. It’s a ¼-mile wide fuel break, an area with reduced vegetation, extending from the Deschutes River southward to the Ponderosa Pines neighborhood in La Pine. By creating this fuel break, the hazardous fuels are reduced and it increases firefighting effectiveness over a five-mile expanse in the Wildland Urban Interface directly adjacent to La Pine and Sunriver Communities. This unit, nearly 800 acres, was planned in 2001 and some treatment occurred in 2003. However, the funding and workforce capacity made treatment of the entire unit extremely difficult. Until the funding from the Joint Chief’s Project presented itself as an opportunity.

The Joint Chief’s funding was used to capitalize on existing partnerships and fund personnel from Oregon Department of Forestry, Department of Corrections, Central Oregon Youth Conservation Corps, and US Forest Service to complete the fuel reduction in this project area. US Forest Service crews will continue throughout the winter to complete pile burning to complete the suite of restoration activities.