Southern Oregon University students are getting an up-close look at the thinning project underway in the Ashland Watershed, and helping low-income people stay warm this winter. Along the way, they're getting an important lesson in the economics of forest management.

Salvaging thinned trees for fuel is a side benefit of work that will make the watershed more resistant to wildfire, but neither the fuel nor the logging is economically viable on its own, and that's too bad.

The students are working on behalf of the Jackson County Fuel Committee, a volunteer organization that provides firewood for seniors and others in need. As Fuel Committee volunteer leader Doug Hoxmeier told the students, the wood they were loading into pickups was too good to be burned in slash piles, but not good enough to be merchantable to lumber mills.

It's unfortunate that something that has value to people as a source of heat has too little value to pay the people who cut it and haul it. In fact, the watershed project wouldn't be happening at all without government money. Because the trees that are being cut and removed are not large enough to be turned into lumber, the thinning must be subsidized.

The SOU students are tomorrow's leaders. Maybe they will help figure out how to make complete use of our forest resources in a way that is economically as well as environmentally sustainable, while also providing a social benefit. That would be a win-win-win to warm everyone's heart — and hearth.