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Tapash Forest Project Promises Fewer Wildfires, More Jobs

June 30, 2011

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Preventing major wildfires and saving the state money are two aims of an effort in central Washington that involves about a dozen partners, from state and federal agencies to conservation and sportsmen's groups and the Yakama Nation.

The Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative also is trying to improve fish habitat and water quality on the eastern slopes of the Cascades. The collaborative is managing both federal and state public land to get 1.6 million acres in better condition, and Jodi Leingang, Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service, says the joint effort is working well.

"In a time of what I would call declining resources, it provides a way to get work done that we wouldn't otherwise - we, the partnership in Tapash - be able to accomplish, in my opinion. We also get a lot of different views - on how things should be, how we can solve problems - so I think, on all fronts, it's a benefit."

The Tapash Collaborative also is examining ownership of the land, and making decisions to ensure that more acres aren't lost to development. The group is one of only a handful in the country on a ten-year federal forest-improvement program. This year, it has received more than $2 million for the work.

Another goal is to revive the local timber industry to do the thinning and restoration work. With one sawmill left in the three-county area, Ken McNamee, Alpine District manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, says jobs have dwindled - but there is timber and bio-mass to be sold.

"Our local logging contractors are starting to either move away, to where the work is, or they're finding different occupations. So, we're trying to keep those folks here locally, that know the ground, work the ground and understand the ecology of this area. We feel we get better product in the end."

When the 10-year project is completed, it's estimated that fire suppression costs in this part of Washington will drop by three-fourths.

More information about the project is online at tapash.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA