Two projects proposed for Title III funds for resource, fire education

Nils Christoffersen of Wallowa Resources

A proposal to use "Wallowa County's hard-won lessons in natural resources management" as an educational tool for local youth and college students was presented for Title III federal funding to the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners in December.

The $35,000 educational project is one of two requested for funding by the nonprofit Wallowa Resources group.

The second is a $10,000 fire prevention planning project for Alder Slope, which covers 19,000 acres of property in a largely rural residential area that ranges from the valley floor to wilderness forest land west of Joseph and Enterprise. Alder Slope is a high priority fire prevention area for Wallowa County.

"I think these are good proposals," said board chairman Mike Hayward. He said that they will be subject to a 45 day public review period and invites comments on the proposals.

Hayward said that two years worth of Title III funds - part of the money now allocated in lieu of forest receipts - or approximately $130,000, is available, and these are the first project applications that the county has received so far. "The projects have to meet strict criteria," said Hayward.

According to Wallowa Resources spokesman Nils Christoffersen, the proposed education program in natural resource management would support secondary education in the county by providing technical training, college accredited courses and field trips and workdays for interested high school students.

One component is a natural resource course through Blue Mountain Community College's Friday College program in the spring of 2003. Another is an annual program of restoration work (one day per month through the school year and 10 days in the summer) to maintain and enhance forest, range and riparian conditions within the county.

In addition to high school level education, the project would also offer a semester of college credit field-based learning within the county. Christoffersen said the field studies program would immerse "a small community of learners," 10-15 motivated undergraduates, in an eight-week intensive residential experience working closely with rural citizens and land managers. Instructors would be Wallowa County residents who hold advanced degrees in natural resources, and the focus would be on understanding the relationship of environmental issues to local communities.

Christoffersen said the model for this field study program, which is a key element in the project's economic sustainability, is modeled after an existing Montana model in which students pay $6,900 for 15 semester credits, room and board and all transportation.

One goal of the education program is to provide employment and income-generating opportunities to county residents.

Christoffersen said that the Alder Slope fire planning proposal would allowa Wallowa Resources to contribute $10,000 to increase the protection of people and property from wildfires on high risk Alder Slope.

A fuels treatment plan will identify homesite locations and plan homesite fuels reduction projects, with inventory, assessment and planning to be completed by July, 2003.

Anticipated project partners include Oregon Department of Forestry as the lead technical agency, Wallowa County planning and emergency services departments, the Joseph and Enterprise fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service and RY Timber.

Hayward said that a complete copy of the Title III project proposals are available for review in the Wallowa County Courthouse board of commissioners.

Title III funding requested is part of the money Wallowa County opted to receive under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The act ensures that for six years (2001-2006) counties across the nation can count on a specific amount of money that historically came to them as a result of federal timber sales and other forest receipts.

Among the beneficiaries are Wallowa County, where forest receipts have dwindled to almost nothing over the past decade.

The majority of an amount just over $1 million per year is dispensed as Title I funds to schools (taken at the state level) and the county road department, with approximately $65,000 per year earmarked for Title II projects (mainly watershed restoration) and $65,000 for Title III projects. This funding is for projects selected by the county that supports national forests, such as those related to search and rescue, easement purchases, forest related educational opportunities, fire prevention, and county planning or community forestry.

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