EUGENE, Ore. — A coalition of timber countries are closing off their lands to the public next week in an effort to cut down on potential wildfires. The closure begins on Monday, May 18.
A joint statement from timber companies Seneca, Lone Rock Resources, Giustina Resources, Campbell Global, and Giustina Land & Timber Company cited worsening drought conditions and above-average temperatures that have led to predictions for a bad fire season in Oregon.
The 2015 Stouts Creek Fire was started by a lawn mower and burned more than 30,000 acres (photo courtesy ODF).
"Oregon has already experienced three times as many fires as normal this year, and Oregon Department of Forestry's SW Oregon District already started their fire season on May 1st, which was the earliest start since 1968," the companies said. "It is anticipated that other fire districts will declare the official start of their respective fire seasons early as well."
Because many public outdoor recreation sites have been closed due to coronavirus, these timber companies say that the public's use of private lands has "increased dramatically."
"Whereas public lands often have infrastructure to help keep people safe like trails for people to hike on, or fire rings in campgrounds to contain campfires, private timberlands do not have the infrastructure to handle the surge in public visits safely," the companies said.
According to statistics from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), people are responsible for 70 percent of wildfires in Oregon, often started near homes and communities. Many of those fires begin as controlled burns, but others are caused by sparks or exhaust from vehicles and escaped campfires.
“It’s not only dry and shaping up to be a bad fire season, but because of COVID-19, fire fighters and community members face even greater harm,” said Todd Payne, CEO of Seneca.
Together, these five companies own or operate around 600,000 acres of land between Benton, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Linn, and Polk counties. Those lands will close to the public effective next Monday.
“It is an unusual situation driven by conditions beyond our control, but we are looking at every opportunity to limit danger to the public, firefighters, and the forests,” said Brennan Garrelts of Lone Rock Resources.