November 16, 2010 - Sisters Nugget - Stimulus dollars at work in Sisters

Nov 22, 2010

November 16, 2010 - Sisters Nugget - Stimulus dollars at work in Sisters

Stimulus dollars at work in Sisters

By Jim Anderson, Correspondent

Sisters Nugget 11/16/2010 1:44:00 PM

The slow trickle-down effect of "stimulus" funds has finally brought American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars to Sisters. And along with the money came a few forest jobs that politicians were hyping during the past mid-term elections.

The dollars available are stretched pretty thin, with the Forest Service slated for the smallest part of the pie. The funds had a long way to go before they got to Sisters.

The money began its travels with a stop at the main headquarters of the USFS in Washington, DC, where it was assigned to regions nationwide. From there it was sent to the forest supervisors, then down to the districts and eventually into projects on the ground. Along the way about 10 percent was used at each stop to cover administrative costs.

"The Forest Service has been making investments in communities around the country and creating great new jobs in rural America," said Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "By focusing on new jobs and private-sector partnerships, the Forest Service will continue to build a forest restoration economy to achieve Secretary (of Agriculture Tom) Vilsack's and the Forest Service's forest and rangeland restoration goals."

The USDA stated, "The Forest Service sees the greatest potential for job creation and retention in integrated resources restoration, hazardous fuels, and recreation accounts. For example, within hazardous fuels, emphasizing mechanical treatments in place of prescribed burning could result in increased job creation. Emphasizing stewardship contracting as a tool to implement restoration will also create private-sector infrastructure investment and jobs through long-term 10-year contracts."

Senator Ron Wyden had a big hand in steering the allocation of those dollars toward the Sisters Country. His efforts to bring the two big movers and shakers of forest practices - namely the Sierra Club and USFS - to sit by the fire and shake hands over old-growth needs and fire management, have brought new direction to forest management practices.

Dave Moyer, contracting officer representative of the Sisters Ranger District, said they found the opportunity to begin stewardship and fire reduction projects that will eventually help bring about healthier forests and jobs.

According to Moyer, several contracts for SAFR (Sisters Area Fuel Reduction) projects were let out to meet stimulus money objectives. Evidence of that can be seen while traveling between Sisters and Bend along Highway 20 near the rodeo grounds. A few months back, a 500-acre hand-thinning and hand-piling project was completed by GFP Enterprises of Sisters, aimed at reducing fire hazards.

Several other projects, also leveled at SAFR objectives, have been done and some are still ongoing, such as a ponderosa reforestation project carried out by Medford and Central Point contractors.

One particular SAFR project of 11,000 acres, just above Whychus Creek, on what the Sisters Ranger District named "Squaw Bench Area," was originally let out to a contractor in Illinois. That didn't work out, however, and the second highest bidder, Bear Mountain Fire of Sisters, was called on to submit their "best and final offer," which fit the Forest Service protocols and Bear Mountain went to work.

Dave Vitelle, owner of Bear Mountain Fire, was already involved in contracts and subcontracts with the Bend/Fort Rock District, working with Jim Summers of the Forest Service. Summers had several projects going, one being a hazard tree removal along Century Drive between Bend and Elk


Bear Mountain got in on the second phase of that project, contracting to fall 17 miles of hazard trees.

"What I liked best about working with Dave and his crew," Summers said, "is they would have a safety meeting every morning before they went to work, and then at the end of the day critique what really went on."

All that planning and care over safety apparently paid off. Bear Mountain's crew of up to a total of nine men at times felled more 15,000 hazard trees without an


"Oh, sure," Summers said, pointing at the map of the project, "they put a few trees in the roadway here and there, but cleaned 'em up well within the 15 minutes the county road-flaggers gave them - and no one was hurt..."

Bear Mountain is presently working on the Squaw Bench project, involving about 3-1/2 miles along Three Creek Lake Road, running two miles deep. Dave and his crew have been called on to thin and masticate trees throughout that area to fulfill guidelines set up by a joint meeting within USFS managing directives. Fire managers put their objectives into the contract; wildlife was called out in their protocols. Landscape architects, soils, hydrology and silviculture have also given their


To achieve varied objectives, Dave has purchased the latest state-of-the-art machinery. The largest, and by far the most efficient machine, is the 325 horsepower, rubber-tired Hydro-Ax 721. This American-made piece of equipment enables Bear Mountain to cut and reduce thinned trees of up to 12 inches DBH (diameter at breast height) into grapefruit-sized fragments that will biodegrade


The balloon tires on the Hydro-Ax have very little impact on the surface of the forest floor and, unlike steel crawler equipment, do not tear up or compact the soils. But be warned: if you come upon it working, keep well clear; it throws those chunks of wood in all directions at a high velocity!

In addition to the Squaw Bench project, Bear Mountain is also working on another 1,100 acres of hand-thinning near Elk Lake. In that light, Dave feels he is one of those new types of forest contracters who are "Stewards of the Forest."

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