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Thursday visit has Applegate all aflutter

RUCH ' Applegate Valley resident Matt Epstein hopes to talk forest thinning with President Bush on Thursday.

— — — — — Related story:

. — — Fellow resident Chant Thomas is contemplating joining a peaceful protest to demonstrate his opposition to the administration's environmental policies.

Friend or foe, the diverse Applegate Valley community is abuzz about the first visit ever by a president of the United States to the upper Applegate Valley.

It's real exciting, something that will bring a lot of attention to the Applegate, said Sandy Shaffer, who, along with valley resident Jack Shipley, is on a short list of citizens who expect to meet briefly with Bush.

The two have been leading a local effort to create a valleywide fire plan to reduce the threat of catastrophic fires in the Applegate River watershed. Funded by the National Fire Plan, a copy of the local plan is expected to be presented to Bush during his visit.

Bush also will meet briefly with Epstein to recognize his volunteer efforts, according to Kathleen Mynster, a White House spokeswoman. The president has called on Americans to volunteer at least two years of their lives ' 2,000 hours ' in service of their communities.

Epstein volunteers with the Oregon State University Extension Service program to teach people about forest health. He also volunteers at the Ruch Elementary School and, along with his wife, Donna, operates a food bank.

Epstein is ready to bend the presidential ear.

I will tell him that we need to thin, that we need to salvage, he said. We need to basically find a way to minimize the hamstringing legal action against the (natural resource) agencies.

I'll tell him there is work to be done, he added, noting that work can create jobs and improve the vigor of the forests as well as decrease fire danger.

Thomas, a board member of the Ashland-based Headwaters environmental group since 1984, also wants to make the most of the presidential visit.

I'm trying to figure out exactly what to do ' I may end up at a protest happening but I don't know yet, he said, adding that he is concerned the administration may suspend some environmental laws in a rush to reduce the threat of wildfires.

Thomas said he is not opposed to thinning small trees and brush, but he is concerned that large, fire-resistant trees would be cut as well.

My concern is that the president won't see the full picture during his visit, Thomas said. I wish there was the opportunity to provide that.

But apparently no one is welcome if you don't want to suspend environmental laws, he added.

He was referring to Bush's speech on forest health scheduled for early Thursday afternoon at the Jackson County Expo. Only those with tickets given out by the GOP will be allowed into the Compton Arena.

Longtime area resident Harley Hall, 79, plans to sit back and enjoy the visit from the comfort of his Little Applegate River home.

I don't do much driving anymore, said Hall, who came to the area in 1925. But I hope (Bush) has good luck.

He's right about thinning out the forests, that's for darn sure. That's what needs to be done.

Bret Fillis, fire chief for Jackson County Fire District 9, may have the opportunity to give a briefing on the Squire fire during Bush's tour. Bush is visiting the area burned by the roughly 3,000-acre fire last month to view firsthand how thinning before the fire impacted fire behavior.

However, whether that briefing will occur is still up in the air, Fillis said.

It has been an interesting couple of days, Fillis said of preparing for the presidential visit.

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