Funding will be used to boost forest thinning efforts in hopes of preventing wildfire

Ochoco National Forest recently received a major boost in forest management funding that will enable them to increase restoration activities and reduce the threat of wildfire.

The agency was granted $803,000 of a $2 million pot of money earmarked by the U.S. Forest Service for restoration work in the Blue Mountains area forests.

“It’s pretty substantial,” said Patrick Lair, public affairs specialist for Ochoco National Forest.

The Ochoco staff submitted some projects that Lair said prompted the forest service to allocate the large sum of money for the work.

“Part of the reason we got it is the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) analysis has already been done on these projects,” he said. “They can go out and implement them. The money didn’t have to be used to do analysis on the proposed actions. It has already been done. We could put the money right into work on the ground.”

The projects in question will take place in the vicinity of Walton Lake and across the Maury Mountains. Ochoco staff will use the funds for non-commercial thinning on more than 3,800 acres, and hand- and machine-piling on another 925 acres.

“What a lot of this was is units that have already been commercially harvested,” Lair explained. “This is going back in and doing pre-commercial thinning, which is the smaller diameter fuels treatment. We are going in to take out a lot of the small stuff that industry doesn’t necessarily want.”

In doing so, the intent is to reduce the risk of wildfire on the Ochoco.

“That is where a lot of the fire danger comes from, the real dense, smaller diameter stuff,” Lair said. “It also allows us to do some more prescribed fire. If we go in and do the thinning initially, it makes it easier to potentially allow fire to do some work in there, if we have the right conditions.”

Along with the thinning, work will include completion of a strategic fuel break along Forest Road 22 that will help protect private in-holdings, and a high-use recreation area that includes Walton Lake Campground and the Walton Sno-Park.

The projects will treat about 4,700 of the approximately 800,000 acres of Ochoco National Forest, and while that represents a small portion of forestland, the work should still help diminish wildfire danger and improve forest health going forward.

“It definitely helps,” Lair remarked. “It contributes to the overall health of the forest conditions. It brings them more in line with historic conditions, which would include more open stands and more diversity of age and size classes.”

Contract solicitations for the forest projects are expected to take place this year. Work will then follow and continue through the following year.

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