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Forest gets $22 million for defense

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has received $22 million in federal stimulus funds to cut hazardous fuels near rural communities.

The funds are part of $224 million earmarked for fire-reduction projects nationwide by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The projects were announced Friday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"I see this as an amazing opportunity to employ a large number of people in addition to getting a substantial amount of much needed on-the-ground work done on the forest," said forest supervisor Scott Conroy in a prepared statement.

"This work reduces fire hazards and assists fire managers in making every effort to minimize the impacts of large-scale, intense wildfires to our communities in southwestern Oregon and the forest," he added.

The $22 million is in addition to the $3 million in stimulus funds the forest received in March that also was earmarked for hazardous fuels reduction.

Although it is unknown how many jobs the money will fund, the U.S. Forest Service nationwide hopes to create 25,000 jobs in the next two years with $224 million in stimulus funding aimed at reducing the fire danger near rural communities, according to forest spokeswoman Patty Burel.

"Our priority is to create and maintain private-sector jobs for the communities," she said. "We want to get the contracts awarded as soon as possible."

The $22 million in work will be done on the forest's lands in Jackson, Josephine and Coos counties. They are among eight counties in the state, including Curry and Douglas counties, receiving funding as part of an eight-county hazardous fuels reduction project in Oregon.

In addition to contracting with the private sector, the agency will work with the counties and the Oregon Department of Forestry to focus on projects where the work is needed, Burel said, adding that funding would be provided to those government bodies for their assistance.

Stewardship agreements, in which groups agree to do the labor-intensive work, also will be eligible for funding.

The work would include pre-commercial thinning, pruning, hand and machine piling of slash, under-burning, creating roadside fuel breaks and chipping forest debris.

The goal is to improve forest health, reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires and improve the safety of remote communities, officials stressed.

"We are also looking at employing a lot of people," Burel said.

In other funding, the forest has received $6.7 million in stimulus funding for Agness Road reconstruction and replacing the Upper Chetco River Bridge abutment in Curry County.

The lion's share — $5.6 million — will be used for rebuilding the road that connects the small town of Agness with Gold Beach on the west and Powers to the north.

"This is wonderful news for Curry County and the community of Agness," said Curry County Commissioner Georgia Nowlin. "Agness is a self-sufficient community, and the Agness Road is their lifeline to the outside world."

The $1.1 million Upper Chetco River Bridge abutment replacement project fixes an abutment that was damaged by mass movement of the adjacent hillside.