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Forest fire project gets $500k state funding

Lomakatsi worker Braulio Cortez falls a tree near the top of Tolman Creek Road as part of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project's aim to reduce wildfire risk in the Ashland watershed. File photo

A $500,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Forestry will fund forest resiliency and fire-adapted community safety work on land that straddles ridges from Griffin Creek to Anderson Creek. Ashland-based Lomakatsi was awarded the grant for work this spring.

One emphasis is making sure there is ingress and egress to properties, said Tom Greco, communications director with Lomakatsi. That will create improved escape routes for residents, while firefighters will be better able to move equipment to fight blazes.

Lomakatsi received the largest award amount out of $5 million that ODF has available for fire-related projects this spring. The treatment will cover 385 acres.

“The basic goal is to help our communities to prepare for wildfire and to mitigate some of the risk,” said Natalie Weber, spokesperson for ODF. “It can be fuel reduction or whatever needs to be done.”

A total of $2.1 million from the funds ODF had available will go to 14 projects in southwest Oregon, Weber said. A list of other projects was not yet available, as details have to be finalized.

“Lomakatsi had to be shovel ready. We got the funding awarded because we are ready to rock and roll. We have to get on the ground in short order. We’ll mobilize three work forces,” said Marko Bey, the nonprofit’s executive director. “It’s a really short window. The money had to be spent on project improvements by June 30.”

Lomakatsi has been working in the area for the last three weeks, said Bey. The organization has already met with landowners, and technicians have been laying out areas for thinning.

“These are overly dense forests because fire has been excluded for so long,” said Greco. “Taking wood out of the forests has ecological benefits.”

The ODF project is part of a larger, multi-organization initiative that has been in development for two years and is awaiting word on grant applications that could bring over $4 million for work. Rogue Forest Partners, which includes Lomakatsi, is an alliance of four nonprofits and six public agencies that has developed the plan.

The project would cover about 27,000 acres of land west and southwest of Medford, Talent and Phoenix, stretching from the Ashland watershed to Jacksonville. In that area, 5,500 strategically located acres would be treated.

Because planning was already in place for the ODF work, it helped secure the grant, said Bey. Among factors was including money from other sources as a match. Money from a Sustainable Northwest award for the match will pay for slash pile burning in the fall and winter of 2021-22, and will also support outreach work to the community.

“That was a big impetus for getting the ODF funding,” said Greco.

Portland-based Sustainable Northwest had received a $2 million anonymous gift for fire work in southwest Oregon, said Dylan Kruse, government affairs and program strategy director for the organization. A portion of that will support the upcoming work. It hopes to use some of the donated funds for matching grant purposes.

“(Rogue Forest Partners) have already done so much work down there and great analysis of the Rogue Valley,” said Kruse. “We are really concerned, first off, on protecting people and property, but also improving the health of our forests … and decreasing wildfires overall.”

“Sustainable Northwest is a key partner in making this happen with the dollars that are coming to the table,” said Bey. Lomakatsi’s model of shared governance and public and private partnerships with tribal engagement has been a factor in successfully securing grants over the years, he said.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.