Ashland-based nonprofit Lomakatsi and the Klamath Tribes’ Forest Warriors have teamed up for forest-thinning and other restoration projects in the Klamath Basin, and project managers report a boost of tribal workers’ job skills in the process.

The Forest Warriors program was established in 2010 to create a tribal workforce for restoration and forest management projects. It provides job training and employment in a community where both are hard to come by.

Lomakatsi executive director Marko Bey said 15 tribal members who began working through funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 are still working.

With job skills gained during these projects, Bey said, those workers have transitioned from labor-intensive to skill-intensive professions, often fielding work requests from the Forest Service. Some, he said, have even been offered full-time work with the USFS.

This October, Lomakatsi received a Partners in Conservation Award for its oak habitat restoration work, including work done inside Klamath County. An awards ceremony will take place Nov. 28 at Wyatt’s American Eatery.

Between May 2011 and November 2012, Lomakatsi reported 13,368 man hours and more than $500,000 in total project funding.

US Fish and Wildlife restoration projects

The Klamath Falls office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spent about $1.2 million during fiscal year 2012 for restoration and fish passage projects. That funding goes into five-year agreements, with the majority of funds being spent in the first two.

All of that money was directed to voluntary projects on private land, said restoration supervisor Dan Blake.

“These projects bring benefits both for the landowners and for the natural resources,” Blake said, citing the example of fences built around streams that prevent cattle from eroding the banks and, as a result, improve water quality.

“Although we do not tell contractors to use local workers, probably 90 percent of them are local,” Blake estimated. “About 10 to 25 percent of funds are spent on materials that are also generally purchased locally.”

Kim Ryals, executive director of Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, a frequent partner of the USFW, said indirect benefits of restoration projects include increased property values, greater ecological functions and better aesthetics.

“People are attracted to pretty places to live, work and play,” Ryals said. “And when land is healthy and water is clear you support diverse populations of wildlife which attracts the big economic drivers of hunting and fishing.”

Air quality and wood stoves

A proposed air quality attainment plan aims to bring the Klamath Falls area back into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards regulating the harmful fine particulate PM 2.5 as mandated by the Clean Air Act.

Counter-arguments shared at a public hearing focused on the inability of the single monitoring station at Peterson Elementary School to accurately reflect the air quality in the entire nonattainment area, which includes Klamath Falls and its surrounding subdivisions.

But Larry Calkins, air quality specialist with the Department of Environmental Quality, said multiple monitoring stations would likely paint a more dire picture of the air quality in the non-attainment area.

“We’ve talked to state legislators about EPA’s strict requirements, which can restrain future expansion of economic opportunity, but they don’t offer enough incentive programs to help us meet the requirement,” said Betty Riley, director of the South Central Oregon Economic Development District.

One main reason for air quality issues is the Basin’s high usage of wood-burning stoves — Riley’s agency implemented a woodstove changeout program using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

Riley said these funds facilitated 3,500 changeouts to more energy-efficient and cost-effective stoves for low-income households; for higher-income homes, a $1,500 rebate was offered.

For that program, Riley said the agency was recognized as an innovator by the National Association of Development Organizations.

But that program ended in 2011 and now Riley laments that there’s no real pots of money anymore.

So Riley is working on a small loan fund program, with 3.5 percent interest, for businesses installing new lighting or other energy-efficient retrofits.