An Ashland City Council majority has agreed to send a letter to National Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy asking for timely approval of a U.S. Forest Service plan to thin wildfire fuels in the Ashland Watershed.

An Ashland City Council majority has agreed to send a letter to National Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy asking for timely approval of a U.S. Forest Service plan to thin wildfire fuels in the Ashland Watershed.

The city of Ashland, its Forest Lands Commission and other groups, including The Nature Conservancy, have been cooperating with the Forest Service to develop the thinning plan and a monitoring system.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Resource Specialist Chris Chambers told councilors earlier this week that $225,000 in Forest Service funding was lost because the federal agency has yet to make a decision about the thinning project.

"That money was passed on to other areas. Other money in the queue could be lost as well," he said.

The project could involve thinning of brush and trees on 7,600 acres of Forest Service land in the watershed over a 10-year period.

Mayor John Stromberg said complex legal issues about what activities can be allowed in inventoried roadless areas are holding up a decision on the project.

Part of the watershed contains roadless area land.

Councilor Greg Lemhouse was joined by councilors Russ Silbiger, Kate Jackson and David Chapman in voting to send the letter asking for approval of the project.

"This is a tinderbox here," Lemhouse said, referring to conditions in the watershed.

Councilors Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin voted against sending the letter.

The mayor votes only to break a tie.

Navickas said he was concerned that the project was developed under the Bush Administration-era Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

The act allowed the Forest Service to make one project proposal and consider a community alternative. In the past, the Forest Service had to analyze several options.

The proposed option for the Ashland Forest Resiliency Plan includes elements of an alternative plan developed by local residents with expertise in forest, fire and environmental fields.

Navickas said he would like the Forest Service to approve a scaled-down Ashland Forest Resiliency Plan that would allow work to proceed quickly by removing controversial elements like logging of large trees. He has long been a proponent of thinning only brush and small diameter trees in the watershed.

"They can avoid litigation and get work done quickly on the ground," Navickas said.

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