As part of larger plans to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, the Forest Service has awarded contracts to cut timber and clear underbrush in two areas in northern Kittitas County.

Along with cutting an estimated 8.9 million board feet on the Cle Elum Ranger District, the two contracts call for clearing out hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of biomass, such as down trees, limbs and brush, said Forest Service spokesman Roland Giller.

A Snohomish-based lumber company paid almost a half-million dollars for the two contracts, approved last week.

The company’s contracts are part of projects intended to reduce fuels and lower the danger of catastrophic wildfires near homes, developed recreation areas and private timber lands, Giller said.

The Walker Springs project, about nine miles south of Cle Elum, includes plans for a 900-acre prescribed burn, destroying illegal user-built roads and logging 497 acres of western larch, Douglas fir and grand fir.

The Seattle-Snohomish Mill Co. bought the rights to harvest those acres and 382 more, located north of Cle Elum near Jungle Creek, for a combined $446,239. Its offer beat out two from other companies.

The harvests will thin the forest, not clear cut it, Giller said. The older, larger trees that are more fire-resistant will be left on the landscape.

The company will harvest the acres slowly over the next few years, Megan McMurray, co-owner of Seattle-Snohomish said.

“Realistically, once we start operations on them, I would expect to get four to five loads a day,” McMurray said.

Seattle-Snohomish plans to haul the logs about 130 miles back to its mill for processing.

The harvest will be a mix of skyline logging on steep slopes, where the logs are carried out on cable systems, and ground-based operations. Seattle-Snohomish will be responsible for the necessary road construction and maintenance.

Before offering a timber sale, the Forest Service surveys the area and issues an appraisal that estimates the value of the timber available. Logging companies then bid on the project, and the highest bidder is awarded the contract.

So far this year, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has offered 16 timber sales, for a total of 3,178 acres, and all but two have been purchased. In 2012, contracts were awarded for 16 sales comprising 6,195 acres. Giller said that on average, timber harvests range from 35 million to 50 million board feet annually.