Fire Safety Initiative Showcases Cultural and Ecological Connections

The Takeaway: Collaboration between Oregon’s South Slough Research Reserve and local tribal groups ensures a maximum use of forest resources and plentiful opportunities for environmental education.

The visitor center of the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, built decades ago on a cleared ridge, became surrounded by dense forest that posed serious fire risks and limited visitors’ sense of place within the watershed. Partners made the center and grounds safer, and did much more. A fully accessible center features a richer environmental education experience within a healthier, more resilient habitat. The South Slough Research Reserve and local tribal groups shared resources that made many of these improvements possible. A $137,000 grant from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management aided the effort.

Additional contributions of funds, time, talent, or resources came from state and nonprofit partners, Coos County, local contractors, an area school, a birdbox builder, a neighbor of the reserve, and other community members.

The Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians donated culturally important native plants that, in combination with forest thinning, nurture insect pollinators, songbirds, and bats.

The plants enhance a raingarden that, along with a renovated gutter system, captures stormwater runoff. The raingarden’s path and interpretive signage lead to the rebuilt observation deck, which once again provides a dramatic vista. Both path and deck comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After the forest was thinned, the research reserve donated 60 Port Orford cedar logs each to the Confederated Tribes and to the Coquille Indian Tribe. “Cedar, much like salmon, is the lifeblood of our culture; it provides us with medicine, clothing, housing, and transportation,” wrote Doc Slyter, chairman of the Confederated Tribes, in a letter of appreciation. Slyter values the ability of tribal members to “gather and manage culturally significant resources on these lands for our cultural and ceremonial purposes.”

Additional cedar, hemlock, and spruce logs from the forest thinning will be used by the research reserve to construct trail benches, build wildlife boxes, and help restore a stream. (2020)

More Information: South Slough Research Reserve

Partners: Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, Coos County, Coos Forest Protective Association, Coos Watershed Association, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon State University Extension, South Slough Reserve Management Commission, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management