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$1 million will help Quartz Fire area

The Forest Service must earmark the use for restoration funds by Sept. 30, the fiscal year-end

RUCH ' Applegate District Ranger Erin Connelly has good news and bad news for restoration efforts in the woods burned by last August's Quartz Fire.

The good news is that the Forest Service is receiving more than &

36;1 million from the National Fire Plan fund to restore the area burned in the Rogue River National Forest.

The bad news? It all has to be spent or earmarked for use in the fiscal year which ends Sept. 30.

That puts us in kind of a pinch, she said. Fortunately, we did start the restoration analysis a few months ago.

The agency's original plan was to focus on helping Mother Nature heal from the lightning-caused fire while at the same time salvaging some of the burned trees to help the local economy.

Because of the deadline for using the restoration funds, the agency will now complete the restoration process first, then focus on the salvage, she said.

We split the restoration from the salvage, knowing the restoration analysis would take more time to complete, she explained.

As a result, the salvage portion of the work will be delayed until restoration is done, she said. However, it will not be delayed to the point that the value of the lumber is lost, she said.

The environmental assessment for the restoration effort is expected to be completed by the end of the month. The public will then have 30 days to comment, Connelly said.

The blaze burned 6,160 acres in the Little Applegate River drainage, including federal, state and private lands. Several remote dwellings were burned to the ground.

Of the area burned, 3,466 acres are in the national forest. Like most wild fires, the burned area ran the gamut from being singed to being reduced to ashes.

The district had submitted a request for &

36;1.3 million from the national fund for the restoration effort, but part of that, more than &

36;100,000, will be used for monitoring the burned area, Connelly said.

Some short-term restoration activities already have taken place to stabilize the soil and roads in the burned area. That included felling some burned trees across slopes to slow erosion, planting trees and reseeding areas hardest hit.

They need to move on that restoration work as soon as possible, observed Dave Hill, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

The problem, he said, is that the commercial value of the burned timber decreases with the passing of time.

The larger Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine, those beyond 14 to 16 inches in diameter at the base, will still have some value beyond this year but it would be better to salvage them now, he said.

The four principal private land owners, who have a combined 1,600 acres of timberland burned by the fire, have completed both their salvage activity as well as restoration work, he said.

They've built check dams in drainages to slow down erosion, sprayed grass seed to stabilize soils and planted trees, he said, adding, The Forest Service is a little behind.

The Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management announced late last month that it plans to salvage-log 596 acres of the 954 acres of its land burned by the fire. More than 4 million board feet of timber is expected to be salvaged from its burned land, most of it by helicopter.

The salvage is scheduled to be offered for sale on May 30, said Bill Yocum, a planner and environmental coordinator for the Ashland Resource Area.

There are no plans to salvage-log the 100 acres of spotted owl habitat burned. However, that area has been replanted, along with portions of the remaining burn on BLM land, he said.

The replanting is part of a three-year restoration project that began last fall, Yocum said, adding that the restoration is separate from the planned salvage.

The goal is to achieve a natural balance of native vegetation, including leaving enough material to help the forest heal itself, officials said.

But the BLM's plans have drawn an administrative protest from both the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Sierra Club.

While they applaud the restoration efforts, they are opposed to the proposed salvage, said Spencer Lennard, director of the Wildlands Center.

The salvage is not helping the place or the taxpayers, he said, citing environmental degradation caused by logging activity.

This is just another example of taxpayers footing the bill so timber companies can yet again be subsidized, he added.

The environmental groups also charge that nearly a half mile of road has been illegally punched onto BLM land burned by the Quartz Fire. The administrative protest suspended the agency's authority to implement any salvage until the protest is resolved, they say.

Agency officials were unclear where the section of road in question is located, or whether it was illegal.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at