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County should back thinning bid

Jackson County commissioners should waste no time in getting behind the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in its bid to compete for up to $40 million in federal money for 10 years of thinning projects to reduce wildfire risk near local communities.

Winning the federal dollars won’t be easy — only 10 projects will be selected nationwide, and only two of those for Oregon and Washington combined. But Southern Oregon has a strong case for arguing the money should be spent here. This region has the most communities at risk of deadly wildfires in the state.

The forest staff is a step ahead in the process because it already has a 100,000 acres of thinning projects near communities that have completed environmental review and are just waiting for funding. Not only that, but the Bureau of Land Management has more land close to communities, and work the BLM does would count toward the matching funds required.

In a briefing Tuesday from Forest Service officials, Commissioner Colleen Roberts expressed concerns about the agency’s ability to manage a multi-year thinning project and still offer commercial timber sales. We understand Roberts’ position, but we don’t agree it. Putting off thinning that could be done now risks losing a great deal of that commercial timber in future conflagrations, not to mention endangering lives and property in firestorms that could ignite near vulnerable communities.

The only downside to $4 million a year is that it’s only a fraction of what’s needed. But the federal program is a start, and it’s available now.

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