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Columbia Helicopters wins AFR logging bid

The Ashland Forest Resiliency Project intends to award a timber sale of roughly 1.8 million board feet in the Ashland Creek Watershed to Columbia Helicopters, project organizers announced Wednesday.

Columbia has agreed to harvest the timber for about $1.2 million, and AFR will be responsible for hauling about 500 loads of logs to a still undetermined mill, said Chris Chambers, AFR forest resource specialist.

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, where the project is located, oversaw the bidding process, Chambers said.

The City Council will have to give its approval before Columbia can receive the contract. The council is set to vote on the contract at its next regular meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Ashland, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project have been working together on the 10-year AFR project to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in 7,600 acres of the watershed and allow it to restore itself back to a natural state.

Swanson Group Aviation was the only other bidder, Chambers said.

Columbia has agreed to receive $668.50 per thousand feet of timber it harvests during the job, Chambers said. He expects AFR will get less than $500 per thousand from any mill it sells the logs to.

"Hopefully that price will come up by fall," he said, adding the project's cost likely will be more than the revenue gained from selling the logs. He said AFR is considering eight mills to sell the logs to.

The amount lost will be paid for out of the $6.5 million in federal stimulus money the resiliency project has received, he said.

The project is expected to start by the beginning of October and be completed by the middle of November, Chambers said.

The timber sale will cover about 355 acres in the Horn Gap and Panther Peak areas, and on the western ridge of the Ashland Creek drainage above Lithia Park.

Helicopters will pluck felled logs from the forest floor and move them to four landing sites in the project area, where they will be cut into lengths, decked and hauled away, Chambers said.

After logging is completed, hand crews will cut and pile leftover slash and eventually burn the piles, Chambers said.

The average diameter of the trees being cut down in this phase of the project will be 13 to 15 inches at 41/2 feet off the ground, 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.

Forest Energy Group LLC is working to harvest up to a half-million board feet of timber from three units of roughly 100 acres in the Horn Gap area, and expects to have that done by the middle of August, said Don Hamann, logging operations foreman and a partner in the group.

Crews with Lomakatsi 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.