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Feds pony up $1.1 million to boost forest health

The Oregon Department of Forestry has more than $1.1 million in federal stimulus money to thin forestlands to reduce fire hazard and improve forest health.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes $377,000 for state forestland in Josephine County, $269,000 in Jackson County and $530,000 in Douglas County.

Merlin-based Grayback Forestry Inc. won the contract to work on more than 200 acres in Josephine County, which includes clearing dead and standing hardwood trees on three parcels, said Chris Rudd, an ODF forester in Grants Pass. The work will reduce the summer wildfire hazard near rural homes while creating growing space for conifers, he said.

The sites are near Sunny Valley, Wolf Creek and Glendale. Work will likely begin early next year on those projects, he said.

In addition, the work is intended to boost the local economy by creating and saving jobs, he said. The Josephine County work should employ about 20 people for a month, he estimated, noting much of the work will entail cutting small material and piling it.

The project is the first of a half dozen contracts expected to be awarded by ODF in the three counties over the coming months, he said.

Contracts in Jackson and Douglas counties have not yet been made available for bidding. The project is expected to cost $500 to $1,000 per acre, and the total acreage to be treated will be determined by the bid price.

Although the work already slated for Josephine County will be piled and burned on site, the goal is to use the wood waste to produce energy on the other contracts, he said.

"We'll encourage loggers to get creative in finding ways to make it pay to chip the material and send it to biomass plants," he said.

Contractors who want to bid on other federal stimulus package projects administered by the ODF can find out more on the Web at http://orpin.oregon.gov/open.dll/. Information on the ODF stimulus fund projects also is available at www.oregon.gov/odf.

To date, ODF has received more than $13 million in federal stimulus dollars to improve state forestland and help local economies. Some of the work also has been done on private lands.

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