State and feds partner on forest cleanup

    Mail Tribune file photo Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Oregon Department of Forestry will partner on efforts to clean up areas that have been logged. Pictured is Highway 62 in the area between Prospect and Union Creek.

    PROSPECT — The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has a backlog of post-logging restoration projects in the Prospect area, and local Oregon Department of Forestry offices end up cutting loose 150 wildland firefighters each fall.

    But in a chocolate-meets-peanut-butter moment, both agencies hope to have their problems become mutual solutions this fall by partnering on the backlog of federal restoration projects after the last Pulaski is swung this wildfire season.

    Under 2016’s “Good Neighbor Authority” agreement authorizing the federal government to partner with state agencies on specific activities, ODF officials will take over restoration work on 3,020 acres of recently logged federal lands.

    State-run contractors and crews — presumably including off-season firefighters — will focus on protecting the health of large “legacy” trees as well as thin smaller trees and clear brush.

    The work will reduce the threat and intensity of wildfires as well as improve wildlife habitat by thinning and brush-clearing. It’s intended to restore the forest tracts to conditions more akin to what they looked like before a century of aggressive wildfire suppression, forest officials said.

    “This is the next treatment after logging to get them to a desired condition,” said Al Hahn, the forest’s natural resources staff officer. “The state’s going to help us get a lot of work done that we haven’t been able to get to, work that’s just gotten away from us.

    “This will help us step up the pace,” Hahn said. “It’s nice to have the help.”

    While the work currently does not call for ODF crews to introduce prescribed fire as part of the work, the lands will be prepped for future underburning, Hahn said.

    ODF officials say the partnership allows them to give its summer wildfire crews an option to remain employed by ODF between fire seasons, and perhaps keep more of them in the pool for the 2019 campaign.

    ODF typically hires 150 seasonal firefighters annually in Jackson and Josephine counties, and 30 to 40 each year are new hires, ODF spokeswoman Melissa Cano said.

    “We get to keep some good firefighters around,” Cano said. “We can at least offer some longevity of employment.”

    The work, which will cost about $1.2 million, will be paid from timber receipts collected from logging on the tracts set for restoration, Hahn said. The sales all have been logged in roughly the past five years, Hahn said.

    The work will be done in two phases and is expected to be completed in July 2019.

    It’s the first project done under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement that also includes the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter @MTwriterFreeman.

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