POLK COUNTY – A number of private timberland owners and managers in Western Oregon, including those with property in Polk County, have agreed to close their land to public access starting on Monday.

“Due to drought conditions, and above-average temperatures, agencies are predicting a bad fire season in Oregon. 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 1, which was the earliest start since 1968,” read a joint press release from Seneca, Lone Rock Resources, Giustina Resources, Campbell Global, and Giustina Land & Timber Company. “It is anticipated that other fire districts will declare the official start of their respective fire seasons early as well.”

State parks and all national forests in Oregon had closed recreation sites including trails, campgrounds, day-use areas and boat launches due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the release said.

“Federal, state and local officials are urging people to ‘do the right thing’ by staying home, but as millions of acres of public lands in Oregon have been closed to recreation, the public’s use of private lands has increased dramatically,” the release read. “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.”

About 70 percent of wildfires are started by people, so the increase in people visiting private lands has increased the danger to the property and the people using it.

“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.

With a combined timberland acreage of around 600,000 acres, Seneca, Lone Rock Resources, Giustina Resources, Campbell Global, and Giustina Land & Timber Company will close public access to their lands in Benton, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Linn, and Polk counties starting on 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 with Lone Rock Resources.

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