The city of Ashland will partner with the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project to try and ensure that planned thinning in the Ashland Watershed is done in an environmentally friendly way.

The city of Ashland will partner with the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and the Lomakatsi Restoration Project to try and ensure that planned thinning in the Ashland Watershed is done in an environmentally friendly way.

The Ashland City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to join the partnership.

The partners will work with the Forest Service to create plans for carrying out the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project.

Approved by the Forest Service in October 2009, the project involves thinning and prescribed burning on 7,600 acres of the agency's land to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Marty Main, the city of Ashland's forestry consultant, and staff from the Lomakatsi Restoration Project will help plan what trees and brush will be removed from the watershed.

Lomakatsi, which does hands-on work to restore forests and streams, will train workers for the project.

"This truly is an A team," said City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, adding that he believes the workforce training by Lomakatsi will bring economic benefits to the area.

The project has drawn $2 million in federal economic stimulus money.

"It's a very important project from a biodiversity and conservation standpoint," said Darren Borgias, The Nature Conservancy's ecologist for Southern Oregon, adding that the thinning will also help protect the city's municipal watershed.

"We stand behind the project," he said.

City Councilor Eric Navickas said he supports the partnership and hopes that it can create better treatment plans than the ones sketched out by the Forest Service.

"I have faith in the partners and I'm glad that Lomakatsi has joined in this," he said.

Earlier this month, Navickas and fire ecologist Jay Lininger of Flagstaff, Ariz. said they plan to fight the thinning project in court. They have concerns about the removal of large trees and treatments in riparian and roadless areas.

While City Councilor Carol Voisin voted with her fellow councilors to approve the partnership, she said she hopes that the wood thinned from the watershed can somehow be put to use — not just piled and burned.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Resource Specialist Chris Chambers said that much of the cut debris will be too far from roads in the watershed to be hauled out economically.

BioMass One in White City burns woody debris to create energy.

Chambers said there may be opportunities for using some of the cut debris near watershed roads for firewood.

Voisin said the city of Ashland and its partners will keep a close eye on the project.

"We'll be watching," she said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.