The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comment until Dec. 20 on part of a forest management plan that’s been in the works for the past three years near Applegate on the east side of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF).

And while it’s far from the coast in Curry County, it’s caught the attention of some for whom the two recent megafires — those of more than 100,000 acres in size — have burned a bit too close to home.

The goal is to reduce fire-ready fuels in about 22,000 acres of the 52,000-acre watershed to make it more resilient to wildfires, improve species diversity and protect nearby communities, said Chamis Kramer, public affairs specialist with the Forest Service.

“The objective is to make the watershed more resilient to disturbances like fire, insects and climate change,” said Don Boucher, the forest’s district ecologist and main architect of the plan.

The cost could be as much as $14 million, with up to $2 million generated from commercial logging and the rest from grants, Boucher added.

“The primary objective is to thin the forests so there are less fuels when we do have a fire,” said Donna Mickley, the Siskiyou Mountains ranger. “Thinning in this way gives older trees more space, more water, more room to grow — creating a healthier landscape.”

The project is a joint effort with the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which she said is an essential component of doing restoration on a large scale. It is being addressed as a “nature’s benefit and restoration presentation.”

The RRSNF and BLM recently completed the environmental analysis for the Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project and is now entering the National Environmental Policy Act process.

Work in that watershed could begin next summer.

On the coast

That the Applegate plan has caught the attention of citizens on the opposite side of the forest, on the coast in Curry County, is not lost on Virginia Gibbons, public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

She noted while the project is slated to take place on the “east side” of the RRSNF, and Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford are on the coast, the massive Klondike Fire this summer started in Selma, spread northwest and eventually forced the evacuation of many residents near Agness — catapulting the topic of forest management into the public eye.

“The timing has everyone’s attention,” Gibbons said. “(Other projects haven’t attracted) this much interest because people don’t make the connection between fuel reduction and fire. Now with so many challenges with the forest, it gets more attention. For so long, we had a hard time getting projects through. The dynamic is switching. Fuels reduction is a big objective (of this project) and that has folks paying more attention to it.”

Some analysis for the project included road restoration, riparian restoration, fuels reduction and prescribed fire, commercial thinning and motorized and non-motorized trail work.

It also sets the stage for similar work hoped to be conducted in the Shasta-Agness area, where the Wild Rivers Coast Forest Collaborative has been working since 2012 to evaluate the forest to determine how it could best be treated to attain similar goals.

This fall, the collaborative was unable to do planned fuels reduction work in the Shasta-Agness area because firefighters were busy extinguishing the Klondike Fire. That could delay the comment period for the draft environmental impact statement from December to January, the collaborative noted in a Nov. 8 meeting.

The collaborative is addressing vegetation management (other than forest products), wildlife, invasive species and other forest pathogens, fish, rare plants, land management planning, and fuels, road recreation and watershed management.

Priorities in 2019 will include addressing Sudden Oak Death, discussing post-fire restoration and developing a plan for a project in the areas impacted by the Chetco Bar or Klondike fires.

They also hope to help local communities work to improve their properties to be more fire-safe and identify a new project. New Forest Supervisor Merv George has stated he’d like them to participate in one National Environmental Policy Act activity each year.

“We don’t need to wait for them,” the collaborative agreed in its meeting. “If we have an area we want to work in, we can start leveraging resources to make it happen.”

Such forest-wide efforts will be ongoing, Gibbons said.

“We will be ramping up the effort across the forest,” she said, adding that new personnel will be hired to do the work. “There’s more to come.”

To view the Applegate restoration project, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/rogue-siskiyouhome/ ?cid=FSEPRD595212. Written comments can be mailed to Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District, Attn: Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project, 6941 Upper Applegate Road, Jacksonville, OR 97530.

Email comments can be directed to: comments-pacificnorthwest-rogueriver-siskiyoumountains@fs.fed.us, with Upper Applegate Watershed Restoration Project included in the subject line.

Faxed comment can be sent to 541-899-3888.

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