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A win-win partnership for fire-prone forests

Wildland firefighters for the Oregon Department of Forestry spend their summers earning money battling blazes on state-protected timber lands, but when fire season ends, they have to figure out how to stretch the summer’s earnings through the winter or find other work until they are called back the next year. A partnership agreement between ODF and the U.S. Forest Service will offer them forest work that not only provides income in the off-season but reduces the risk of catastrophic fire at the same time.

The only surprising thing about the arrangement is that it wasn’t implemented long ago. Under a 2016 agreement authorizing the federal government to work in partnership with state agencies, as many as 150 firefighters in Jackson and Josephine counties will conduct post-logging restoration work on national forestlands in the Prospect area during the off-season. The projects involve thinning small trees and clearing brush left after logging operations to protect the remaining legacy trees and return forests to the state they were in before a century of fire suppression led to overgrown conditions that make wildfires more likely and more severe.

The arrangement has benefits for both agencies. ODF has the opportunity to keep trained, experienced firefighters working through the off-season, so more of them will be likely to return as firefighters. Without the extra work, ODF has to hire and train 30 to 40 new firefighters every year.

The Forest Service has a backlog of restoration projects it has not been able to complete. This will help the agency get caught up.

The $1.2 million cost of this work will be covered with receipts from timber sold and logged on the affected lands in the past five years — an appropriate way to use that money.

This will be the first project done under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is also part of the agreement, so there is the potential for more beneficial projects in the future.

Here’s hoping those will happen sooner, not later.

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