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Contract awarded for vegetation-thinning project

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
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The U.S. Bureau of Land Management awarded the Penny Stew stewardship contract on Friday to Cascade Wildlands Inc., a Eugene-based forestry firm.

The purpose of the 100-acre project near Williams is to thin the vegetation on BLM land near rural homes to reduce the fire hazard and improve forest health while providing local employment.

It marks the sixth such contract awarded by the BLM in Oregon since Congress passed the bill last year giving federal land management agencies the authority to issue stewardship contracts.

"This is the new wave of forestry — restoration-based contracting," said project coordinator Mike Albers with Cascade Wildlands.

The firm does "socially and ecologically responsible forestry," including everything from creating wildlife habitat to logging, he said.

The contract work will be done in a collaborative effort with the Lomakatsi Restoration Project based in Ashland.

"He does ecosensitive logging," observed Marko Bey, Lomakatsi director. "A majority of the stuff coming out will be under 10 inches in diameter. Most of it will be six to eight inches. But we will also be taking out material that’s only 1.5-inches in diameter."

Such stewardship contracts are an excellent way to be both environmentally and economically friendly, added Joseph Vaile, a biologist with the Ashland-based Cascade-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental group.

"This is the way the BLM and Forest Service should be doing business," he said.

Under the terms of the $90,550 contract, Cascade Wildlands will harvest an estimated $20,000 in small diameter trees as part of a precommercial thinning and fuels-reduction effort, offsetting the cost of the project, according to the BLM.

The three-year contract allows the government to exchange goods for service, meaning Uncle Sam is paying only about $70,000 for more than $90,000 worth of work, explained Karen Gillespie, spokeswoman for the BLM’s Medford District.

"That is a $20,000 saving to the taxpayers," she said.

The types of treatments to be used include thinning the forest, cutting brush, removing biomass material, hand piling and burning, said Terry Fairbanks, supervisory forester with the BLM’s Grants Pass Resource Area.

The contract area, which is split into a 40-acre and 60-acre unit, has lots of pine, oak and madrone mixed with Douglas fir, Fairbanks said.

The Penny Stew is the second such BLM stewardship contract to be awarded in the Applegate River drainage.

Last year, the agency awarded the Bobar stewardship in the Little Applegate River watershed, which calls for similar work on 111 acres, noted Kristi Mastrofini, lead planner for BLM’s Ashland Resource Area. Bobar was one of the first two stewardship contracts awarded nationally by the agency.

More similar projects are planned, including the Middle Applegate, which could treat up to 3,500 acres if it comes to pass, she said.

One of the drivers is the fact that 26 rural communities in the Medford District are considered at risk for wildfires each summer, Gillespie said, noting that stewardship contracts can get the fuels-reductionjob done while saving taxpayer dollars.

"The forests around these communities potentially need treatment," she said. "We can’t do it alone. We don’t have the budget."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com

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