Jackson and Josephine county residents overwhelmingly support thinning small trees in dense public forestlands, according to an independent survey.

Jackson and Josephine county residents overwhelmingly support thinning small trees in dense public forestlands, according to an independent survey.

The survey of 400 residents released Thursday indicated that 66 percent of the residents approve of thinning small trees. Of those, 78 percent cited reducing the potential for a catastrophic wildfire for as the primary reason for supporting thinning.

Conducted by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, an independent Portland-based opinion research firm, the survey was requested by the Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative, which includes representatives from the timber industry, environmental groups and community organizations.

While the survey results weren't surprising, they confirm an area of agreement in the often heated debate over the management of public forestlands, said collaborative coordinator George McKinley.

"The survey helped confirm some of our basic convictions," said McKinley, a forestland and small sawmill owner, in a statement. "More importantly, it shows people understand we live in a part of the country prone to forest fire and that there is plenty of work that could be done in the woods to reduce that risk and to improve forest health."

The survey, believed to be the first focusing on small tree thinning in the two counties, indicated there is ample support for thinning projects, said fellow collaborative member Joseph Vaile, campaign coordinator for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

"Restoring young, dense stands often requires thinning, and we need thinning that protects watersheds, wildlife and salmon habitat," he said. "It will require capital investment and policy change to make small tree thinning a management priority, but it clearly needs to happen and the public agrees."

Jim Wolf, coordinator of the Josephine Jackson Local Coordination Group, also agreed. The regional multi-agency group's mission is to reduce the risk of wildfires by increasing awareness and responsibility of agencies, community groups, landowners and the public.

"To hear of public support for thinning in order to reduce the risk of forest fire is encouraging," Wolf said. "It shows support for our ongoing efforts to reduce the risk and severity of forest fire through strategic fuels reduction and forest health treatments in order to improve community and fire fighter safety."

Wildfire experts have been warning for years that many forests in southwest Oregon are over-stocked because of human intervention over the past century, principally fire suppression. Thinning those forestlands near rural communities threatened by wildfire will reduce the potential for stand removing wildfires, improve forest health and the create jobs, they add.

For a copy of the survey, contact the collaborative at collaborative@jeffnet.org.

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