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Private landowners logging, replanting in Ashland watershed

Property owners in the Ashland watershed had trees removed on the edges of Ashland Loop Road. Landowners say the project will remove dead and dying trees and thin fire-prone forests. The project, in a popular hiking and biking area, has drawn criticism from residents.

Four private landowners say the work will improve forest health and safety, but the project has drawn concern from some local residents.

The project will affect about 40 acres in an area that gets heavy recreation use by hikers and mountain bikers. Some residents are worried the project will involve clearcutting.

But one of the landowners, Seth Rand, said the group is mainly cutting down dead or dying Douglas fir trees and thinning areas that are too thick.

"It's such, you know, dense fuels in there that it's like, it's really dangerous," he said. "And I'm really excited that we can do it this year before next fire season."

According to the city of Ashland, "We are experiencing a die-off in our forests and particularly in Douglas-fir trees (and some pine) that is beyond anything we have experienced in Ashland’s history."

Rand stressed that the area will be replanted this spring. He grew up in Ashland and wants this project to benefit the community.

"Pretty soon the machines are gonna be gone, pretty soon the piles of wood are gonna be gone, and it's gonna look so much better. You know, we have, oh, gosh, tomorrow 400 Ponderosa pines are coming over to get planted. You know, different oak species we're gonna plant up there, you know, the stuff that's really gonna thrive in our environment and be healthy," he said. "This is a long-term plan."

This map depicts the trails in Ashland that are closed while the forestry work continues.
Ashland Forest Resiliency Project
This map depicts the trails in Ashland that are closed while the forestry work continues.

The project is not being supervised by the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, which Ashland is a member of. The city says the project will help accomplish fire protection goals.

Rand discussed the tree thinning process with Ashland Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers and then received input from Marko Bey with the Lomakatsi Restoration Project and Darren Borgias with The Nature Conservancy after the logging had begun.

The project is being funded by the landowners and through profits from the timber sales. Money that the city received from the Oregon Department of Forestry for wildfire fuels reduction could fund 75% of the cleanup costs after the logging, if landowners show they did not make a profit by removing trees.

Rand said he does not anticipate making money from this project and would "be shocked if I made more than $1,000." He said the logs are being used for biomass and wood chips, but it costs more to cut down and process the wood than it's worth.

On public land, this process would move much more slowly, because of public input and formal review, Rand said.

"Maybe in some places that's needed. On private property, it's not," he said. "We did what we need to do right now because we can."

According to an email from Chambers, the project "is indeed visually shocking to some and we [the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project] may have left some more trees to soften the appearance. That said, those trees are likely to die in the next 5-10 years so hard to blame the owners for making the decision to remove them and replant with more appropriate species like pine."

"Many of the trees cut were dead or dying, and many more were not going to be viable when it’s 115 degrees now," he continued. He said he trusts that the landowners will build the area back better than it is now.

A variety of the city's trails have been closed over the past two weeks for public safety during logging activities. Rand said he hopes they will be reopened soon.

Correction and Update: A previous version of this article misstated the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project as the source of some information. The city of Ashland, which is a member of AFRP, is the source. This article has also been corrected to update the source of funding for the project. The story has been updated to clarify when Lomakatsi and The Nature Conservancy gave feedback on the project.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.