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Watershed trees marked for removal

On 600 acres of the lower Ashland Creek watershed crews are beginning to mark selected trees, which will be cut down and removed from the hillsides mostly by helicopter beginning next spring.

As the next step in Ashland's Forest Resiliency Project, the helicopter logging operation, will involve removing mostly Douglas firs in an attempt to restore the forest to the way it was 150 years ago; when wildfires controlled overgrowth in the area, said Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Rescue's forest resource specialist.

Together the City of Ashland, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project have been working to complete a 10-year project to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires on 7,600 of the watershed, and restore it to its natural state.

"We've assessed each area individually to create the most ecologically appropriate prescription," he said. "It's never been our goal to harvest the trees for financial gain "… We are leaving a lot more trees than we are cutting and most likely they're not going to pay their way out of the woods."

The operation is expected to cost $1.3 million, Chambers said.

The trees will be sold to a yet-undetermined mill, and that money will help offset the cost. Because helicopter logging is expensive, the cost of the project will almost certainly outweigh the financial gains from selling the logs, Chambers said. If need be, the remainder of the cost will be paid for out of the $6.5 million in federal stimulus money the resiliency project received.

If any money is made from the timber sale, it will go directly back into funding future phases of the project in the watershed, Chambers said.

The 600-acre area being marked for cutting is divided into two blocks. Block 1 of the watershed, located at the end of Granite Street and west of Ashland Creek to Forest Service Road 300, is about 250 acres. Block 2, located above USFS Road 300 and south of Block 1, is about 350 acres.

The average diameter of the trees being cut down in this phase of the project will be about 13 inches at four-and-a-half feet off the ground, he said. That number may fluctuate slightly after the timber sale is examined more closely before it is opened for bidding, but it will be within a few inches of that number, he said.

Chambers said the board footage of the sale will not be determined until the marking process is completed later this fall.

"Mostly all of what will transpire here is what the community said it wanted to see," he said. "The trees are being marked for the right reasons "… to protect and restore our watershed."

About 100 acres of the area being logged, will be in areas level enough — less than 20 percent slope — to remove the cut trees with ground equipment, Chambers said. The equipment that will be use for pulling those logs from the forest has yet to be determined, he said.

Primarily Douglas firs will be removed, because they are choking out the more fire resistant Black oaks and Sugar and Ponderosa pines that once thrived in the area, Chambers said.

After this phase of the project is complete, most of Blocks 1 and 2 will be ready to have fire introduced back into their ecology through prescribed burns, he said. Some areas in those Blocks won't be ready, because they are waiting to be thinned until the logging operations are complete, said Chambers.

Crews have been working since mid 2010 to thin small-diameter trees and brush, which act as ladder fuels for ground fire to climb to the tops of larger trees and develop into catastrophic crown fires. A century of fire suppression has left the forest with overcrowded stands of trees and unnaturally thick undergrowth, Chambers said.

"We only have one watershed, and it's inevitable that we will see more wildfires here someday," he said. "What I would like to see is our forest still intact "…That's the real goal of this project."

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytiding.com.