This is the latest in an occasional series of stories on the Lostine Corridor Public Safety Project.
By Steve Tool
Wallowa County Chieftain
Resident who live in the Lostine Corridor Public Safety Project are studying the proposal, listening to both sides and hoping their neighborhood isn’t burned before a decision is made.
“I’m trying to find out who’s telling the truth,” said Ron Polk, Lostine Homeowners Association President. “The forest service, who believes they have done this in a collaborative fashion, and the alarms of groups like Oregon Wild who say there’s going to be 4.5 million board- feet logged ... Does that mean one percent of the forest or half a percent or 20 percent?”
Polk was one of six residents who gathered recently to discuss the plans, which the U.S. Forest Service calls a fire mitigation project.
All in attendance said they were aware of the project and many, if not all, had participated in field trips as well as attending homeowner meetings and meetings in the town of Lostine.
Polk said he had read the forest service statements on the project but was also interested in the position of environmental groups Oregon Wild and the Greater Hells Canyon Council. Both filed a joint lawsuit to stop most of the project on May 31.
Another resident, Lael Prezeau said she believes that the people who understand forest fires should be the ones making the decisions.
“Not people in the community getting worked up because one little law wasn’t quite followed,” she said. “In the meantime there’s arguing and fighting and lawsuits ... and people up here won’t be able to get out of here if a fire starts. Is that worth fighting over because some people don’t like how the process works?”
Matt and Lora Melchiorsen said they had only recently moved to their Lostine River home and had forest management concerns.
“I’m certainly concerned,” Matt Melchiorsen said of the forest surrounding his home. “It appears overstocked, and there’s ladder fuels, which are written out in their (USFS) report, but I’m not a forester, so I can’t speak to that.”
He added that a fire would pose a threat to salmon habitat because sedimentation from runoff would change the riverbed.
Lora Melchiorsen said that since last winter, she had had concerns about trees laying on the ground.
“It seems like a lot of fuel,” she said. She later added she didn’t want the project to steamroll through, but said legal challenges seemed to impede the progress of the project.
Nearly everyone agreed that signage concerning wildfire danger could be improved by both the forest service and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The group supported collaboration on the project within reason.
“Collaboration is a postponement,” Lael Prezeau said.
Dennis Prezeau agreed.
“What you’re describing is big government, where the process becomes the work. It’ll be in the process for years until it burns.”
Polk said that the homeowners association had created a job description for a new fire committee headed by a homeowner with 30 years fire suppression experience. The committee will work with the forest service, ODF and the Lostine fire department to enhance fire prevention efforts within the community.
He added the committee is working with the forest service to clear a 30-acre common lot with fuel overload that belongs to the association but is too steep to build on.
“It’s encouraging to me that there’s a huge effort of fire suppression that’s come from local and state agencies,” he said. “I think we’re responsible for trying to do the right thing locally, but we can only do so much if the forest around us is not equally attended to.”
He added that the association is working to transfer its ownership of a 50,000 gallon water reservoir to the forest service for fire suppression use.
Lael Prezeau suggested that the association include requirements for landowners to treat property for fire suppression. Polk said the next annual association meeting would likely include a presentation on the subject.
“None of us want to see this thing drag on for another five or 10 years,” Polk said.
When the meeting ended, all the participants said they had learned something listening to the various perspectives, even if no one changed their view.
“It’s neat to hear everyone’s opinion. I’m a former federal employee, and for lack of a better term, sometimes there’s too many hands in the cookie jar, but I respect everyone’s opinion, and I understand what they’re saying,” Matt Melchiorsen said.
Noting the lack of real-world forestry experience among most of the corridor’s homeowners, Polk suggested education is key. He said the association will work to convince its members of the value of fire mitigation treatment of their land with the possibility of some financial help from state agencies.
“We’ve got the time to educate ourselves about these issues, and I think educating ourselves about the issues is what we’re responsible for.”