Mail Tribune

Mail Tribune

A ten-year, master stewardship agreement for 10,000 acres of forest land has been reached between Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest officials and two community groups.

The agreement between the Forest Service and the Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project and the Siskiyou Project in Josephine County is one of the largest stewardship agreements in Oregon since Congress gave federal land-management agencies the authority to award such contracts in 2003.

"It's like the old frontier concept of helping each other out," observed Joel King, ranger for the Wild Rivers Ranger District, where the agreement will be put into effect on the ground.

"People have a lot in common — everybody wants to step in and help," he added. "The goal is to have a healthier forest with bigger trees that are more resilient to wildfires."

An open house to discuss the agreement will be held beginning at 2 p.m. today at the Grants Pass Interagency Office, 2164 N.E. Spalding Ave., Grants Pass. Representatives of the Forest Service and both the community organizations will be on hand to answer questions.

"Projects under this agreement will work to restore forest resiliency and diversity, while creating employment opportunities for the emerging restoration economy developing here in Southern Oregon," said Lomakatsi director Marko Bey.

"We look forward to working with diverse interests to solve common problems," added Oshana Catranides, Siskiyou Project's Community Forestry and Restoration program director.

Under the agreement, the three partners will work with local communities to restore forest stands that pose potential wildfire risks in the urban interface (the area where residential development merges with forest land) as well as ecosystems, King said. In addition to improving forest health, projects will include work that will restore or maintain water quality, improve fish and wildlife habitat, re-establish native plant species and increase forest resilience to climate change, insects and disease.

In addition, the goal is to provide local jobs and educate those interested in natural resource management focusing on restoring local forests.

"The agreement really demonstrates a spirit of cooperation and partnership with two local organizations and also encourages a variety of management objectives for cooperative conservation on federal lands," he stressed. "It creates additional opportunities to build on our relationship where we have been actively engaged in community supported stewardship and restoration forestry practices on these landscapes in the past."

The district has about 10,000 acres where forest restoration projects can be implemented, officials said. The first project is expected to begin early in 2009.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.