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Timber Payment Cuts Affect Fire Fights

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ASHLAND, Ore. — As those cuts to timber payments get deeper, forest ecologists say it could lead to more severe wildfires in the future.

When you do a really good job putting out a fire, you can actually leave behind a forest that’s more susceptible to fire in the future. So then, you have to do management efforts in order to fix that.

The problem is, there’s not a lot of money to go around after fighting these fires…and there’s a lot of forest to be managed.

“Smokey Bear was very effective,” said Forest Ecologist Joseph Vaile, “and that has led to less fires over the last decades, but it’s also led to these problems we have today.”

Suppressing a fire can save houses and lives, but it can deprive forest areas of something natural and often needed. What you end up with are trees like young Madrones, which are ideal fuels for a fire. In order to manage that, areas like certain portions of Ashland Watershed get a forest makeover.

“What we’d like to see is more of this kind of work where you see this tree here. It’s not a big tree, but it was cut down, removed, put on a log truck. It can make some money, but you leave a forest of these bigger trees behind,” said Vaile.

Here the smaller, denser trees have been thinned the keepers are sold while the others are piled and burned. It can cost about a thousand dollars an acre, and there’s a lot left.

“Probably, you know, 70-80 percent of the forests that need this kind of work,” said Vaile.

Projects like this are in part funded by that RAC money that is now being taken away.

“The three million, three point three million dollars, that would be left for those projects will really diminish our ability to manage our forests,” explained Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal.

The majority of funding sources for these lands, about 85% will remain, but ecologists say even a minor cut to prevention is a tough pill to swallow.

“I think it should be the number one issue for forest management moving forward,” Vaile said.

Managing all these forests is expensive work. For example, the Ashland Watershed project right here, that’s 7,000 acres, and they’re already looking for more sources of funding to finish the job.