The U.S. Forest Service has released a Final Environmental Impact Statement that details a proposal for thinning wildfire-prone brush and trees in the Ashland Watershed.

The U.S. Forest Service has released a Final Environmental Impact Statement that details a proposal for thinning wildfire-prone brush and trees in the Ashland Watershed.

A 30-day objection period begins today. If there are no objections, the Forest Service will issue a decision and could put plans into motion to begin the project as soon as weather permits — perhaps as soon as October or November, said Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger Linda Duffy.

"People understand and want their drinking water protected, their communities and homes protected from wildfires and they want a vigorous forest that rebounds and recovers from wildfires," she said.

The Forest Service's preferred alternative is to use thinning and controlled burning on up to 7,600-acres. While the project could take 10 to 20 years to finish, improvements could be seen in three to five years, Duffy said.

The project is designed to reduce the risk of severe fires that kill entire stands of trees. Once the forest is thinned, it could withstand wildfires and not suffer catastrophic impacts to soil and habitat, she said.

With no treatment, the watershed is at greater risk of severe wildfires that could lead to erosion of sediment into Reeder Reservoir, which sits above Lithia Park and stores the city's water supply, the FEIS states.

That would lead to increased costs for the city to treat its water and could even require draining of the reservoir to remove sediment, according to the FEIS.

Portland-based water consultant Bob Willis said in April that sediment now is taking up less than 10 percent of the reservoir's capacity. Removing the sediment would cost more than $1 million — a step he didn't recommend to the city of Ashland.

The preferred option in the FEIS is based on a Community Alternative developed by the city of Ashland's Forest Lands Commission and other local residents and experts.

The Forest Service plan includes some changes, such as removing more ground and ladder fuels that carry wildfires into tree crowns along Forest Road 2060. The plan also calls for less cutting of trees in some areas. The Community Alternative had recommended more cutting in places to restore habitat for pine trees, which generally thrive in more open, sunny conditions.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief Keith Woodley, who helps the Ashland Forest Lands Commission, said the Forest Service's preferred alternative is remarkable similar to the Community Alternative. He said he saw only five points of difference in the 600-page FEIS document — proof to him that the Forest Service listened to community members.

Woodley said he's excited to see the project move forward.

"It's going to be a good thing for the community of Ashland. It's going to be a really good thing for the watershed," he said.

But Woodley said he is concerned that the Forest Service may not have the money to carry out the project.

The cost is estimated at $7 million to $9 million.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas was not impressed with the Forest Service's plan. He said the proposal calls for logging in a roadless area, doesn't bar logging of large diameter trees, allows up to 31 helicopter landing pads and requires road reconstruction.

Navickas said erosion from roads in the watershed is the largest source of sediment that makes its way into Reeder Reservoir. He said he would rather see culverts, which can clog with debris and cause sediment flows, removed and replaced with large rocks that would allow water to pass.

Navickas said the Forest Service could save money if it eliminated some of the fuel breaks that would require road reconstruction to reach.

Don Boucher, project analyst for the Forest Service's proposed plan, said roads will be improved only enough to make them safe for vehicles. He said road reconstruction could actually reduce sedimentation. For example, ditch lines that run beside roads would be cleaned out, which would help prevent water from running down road beds.

Known as the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, the plan and other alternatives were analyzed under the provisions of the federal Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.

The objection period that began today ends Oct. 20. Only people and groups that submitted written comments during the public comment phase for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement can object to the Forest Service's watershed treatment plan.

Those people and groups will be sent letters describing how to submit an objection, according to Patty Burel, spokesperson for the Forest Service.

To read a summary of the FEIS, visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou/projects/planning/ashland-forest-resiliency/00-summary.pdf. To access the full document, visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/rogue-siskiyou/projects/planning/ashland-forest-resiliency/index.shtml. Paper or CD copies of the FEIS can be picked up at the Ashland Ranger Station, 645 Washington St.

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