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A number of private timberland owners and managers in Western Oregon have agreed to close their land to public access starting on Monday, May 18, according to a news release.

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 Southwest Oregon District already started their fire season on May 1, which was the earliest start since 1968. 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 have closed recreation sites including trails, campgrounds, day-use areas and boat launches due to the current coronavirus pandemic. 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.

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.

Since about 70% of Oregon’s wildfires are started by people, the spike in public visits to private land has the potential to be dangerous for both the public visitors as well as the timberlands.

To compound the issue, wildland firefighting will be less efficient with social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions.

“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, May 18.

“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.