Fire break work under way

Photo by Rocky Wilson<br> Project manager Carl Lincoln, left, and Executive Tree Care owner Jack Walker stand among some thinned timber at Wallowa Lake.

Phase II of the placement of a 400-foot fire break around the inhabited south end of Wallowa Lake got under way Aug. 15. The work is being done by Executive Tree Care of Joseph.

The $140,000 in funding for the two phases is being supplied by the U.S. Forest Service National Fire Plan Grant Program created following the disasterous fire season of 2000.

The fire preventive measures include the cutting down of the majority of 1" to 6" trees in the corridor, the pruning of the bottom 15 feet of larger trees to prevent fire ladders and the piling of all slash from 3" diameter down to 1/4" in size. Timber from 3" to 6" in diameter is either bucked or layed down flat on the ground to enhance decomposition.

The piles are to be burned by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in the early winter.

The initial phase bordered the Oregon State Parks, the Methodist Church Camp and the Boy Scout Camp and amounted to 48 acres. The second phase borders RY Timber, the tramway, Pacific Power and 12 smaller private landowners and totals 61 1/2 acres.

The initial work was done by an average of eight employees working for Tree Care North of Joseph. Snow stopped progress on Phase I in mid November of 2001, thus the final five acres of work were completed in July of 2002.

Jack Walker of Executive Tree Care is employing some 10 to 11 workers and anticipates completing the work in two to two and one half months. He is giving incentive bonuses to his crew if they complete the work by Nov. 1.

Where accessible the brush will be run through a chipper instead of piled. The chips are dispersed across the landscape.

Another segment of the National Fire Plan is taking place in the High Lostine subdivision some five to six miles south of the town of Lostine. Not intended to be a continuous fire break, the ODF is working with individual landowners in the subdivision on how to better protect their property from possible wildfires. Some grant money is available to make the transition, with the bulk of that work being done by the landowners themselves.

The High Lostine subdivision includes some 35 homeowners of which one dozen are actively involved with the program, three of those having already completed their work. Remunerations up to $585 come after a 30 foot barrior is cleared to National Fire Plan standards. Additional moneys depending on the acreage cleaned up are granted for pre commercial thinning, slash treatment and pruning. A reasonable payback for that fire preventive work is $1,200.

Nils Christoffersen of Wallowa Resources, a non profit agency based in Enterprise which is partnering with ODF and the Forest Service on the projects, says that future fire break measures will begin next summer at Alder Slope and the Imnaha River Woods.

Of the phases at Wallowa Lake Christoffersen says, "It certainly is going to reduce the immediate fire risk at the lake." He goes on to note that continued maintenance will be required in the years to come.

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