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Ashland's decision to fund watershed thinning pays off

Ashland's strategy of budgeting some of its own money for thinning in the U.S. Forest Service-controlled Ashland watershed has paid off with a $175,000 grant from the National Forest Foundation.

Last spring, Ashland budgeted $350,000 over two fiscal years for wildfire fuels thinning in the watershed.

Under an agreement approved this week, the National Forest Foundation and the city will each contribute $175,000 — for a total of $350,000 — to Ashland-based Lomakatsi Restoration Project, an organization with years of experience treating the watershed.

The money will be enough to treat about 350 acres, Ashland Fire & Rescue Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers said.

Mayor John Stromberg advocated "putting some skin in the game" during last spring's biennial budget process to show the city's commitment to wildfire fuels reduction. He hoped the city funding could be used to attract outside dollars.

Stromberg has since been lobbying behind the scenes to draw money to Ashland.

"It's an ongoing saga," said Stromberg, who credited the Nature Conservancy organization with coaching Ashland on how to attract outside funding.

The city, the Nature Conservancy, Lomakatsi Restoration Project and the Forest Service are partners in the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, a multi-year effort launched in 2010 to thin the watershed.

The first years of the project were funded with $6.5 million in unexpected funding from federal economic stimulus dollars.

That initial funding has been used up, Chambers said.

With thousands of acres to treat and vegetation continuing to grow, the Ashland watershed needs ongoing treatment, according to the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project partners.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.