Health and prosperity

Workers will soon be cutting trees and brush in the Ashland Watershed, part of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project that was 10 years in the making. It will mean reduced danger of wildfire, a healthier forest and 5 to 6 million board feet of logs. It will also mean jobs, but it will not mean profits.

Marko Bey, director of the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, which is overseeing work on the first 100 acres, emphasizes that point: "This is not a commercial logging money-maker," he says. "This is a subsidy project."

That doesn't mean it's not worth doing, or that tax money is being spent unwisely. Forest restoration projects are vital to protect communities from wildfire and to preserve Oregon's public forests for the future.

But this project and others like it around the state do not signal a resurgent timber industry or an answer to the economic woes of Josephine County and other counties that survived for generations on the proceeds of logging on public land.

The AFR project will take 10 years to remove dense undergrowth and small-diameter trees across about 7,600 acres of the watershed. About 1,000 acres will be logged over the life of the project.

That takes money — $6.5 million in federal stimulus funds for the first half of the work. Any money generated from the sale of the harvested logs will be plowed back into the project.

That's good for the forest, good for Ashland, and good for the workers who will be employed doing the cutting and hauling. It's also good for the community to see a successful partnership between environmentalists and forest managers.

It took nearly a decade of community meetings and planning before this project got started. That's something to be proud of, but those who accomplished it should not stop there.

This collaborative model should serve as a springboard for future agreements that go beyond just restoration and resume logging that generates support for the communities that traditionally depended on timber harvests for their livelihood.

No one expects logging to return to historic levels — nor should it. And local governments will never be able to survive on timber receipts alone.

But there is reason to hope that future projects can move beyond subsidy and begin returning a reasonable profit.

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