About 50 persons gathered on Jan. 19 in Cloverleaf Hall for a two-hour workshop on the nearly-completed Wallowa County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which has been prepared by a diverse committee representing Wallowa County, state and federal agencies and community groups. Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and Wallowa County took the lead in developing the plan.
"A lot of people have been involved in putting this together," said committee chairman Nils Christoffersen. "It's been a collaborative effort." Later he repeated one of the project's goals, that the plan not be something that collects dust on a shelf, but be used and refined. Several public meetings were held last fall throughout the county for public input into the plan, especially in defining community values.
The plan, produced under the National Fire Plan, will be used to try to help reduce fire hazards in Wallowa County, specifically in the urban interface areas, where residences rest next to forested or grassland areas.
It was noted during the meeting that communities with fire protection plans will be at an advantage in applying for funds for hazard mitigation projects, such as fuel reduction.
In response to questions, it was also noted that this prevention plan is separate from fuel reduction planning that is also underway for the Mount Howard area southeast of Wallowa Lake.
During the meeting Christoffersen emphasized importance of the economic benefit component of the plan, in providing jobs in the county to help replace those lost to mill shutdowns and the decimation of logging in the county. He also talked about the need to for development of biomass industry to use the small diameter logs now being trucked out of the county.
Among those making presentations at the meeting were county commissioner Mike Hayward and county Natural Resource Advisory Committee chairman Bruce Dunn, who gave an overview of the project; Genny Reinheardt, who talked about how hazard risk was determined, backed by Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-produced maps presented by Dawn Smith, the county's GIS coordinator; fuel reduction treatment by Matt Howard of ODF; and information, communication and education by Angie Johnson of ODF, who serves as the staff to the fire plan committee.
One component of the plan, the GIS maps which identifies the interface areas with the highest fire risk, were unveiled to those at the meeting. A number of components which go into determining hazard - fire starts per 1,000 acres over last 10 years, slope, slope aspect, condition class of vegetation and county assessment of fuels - were mapped separately throughout the county, and then overlaid to produce a general hazard map.
In the future, the areas identified with the highest hazard will probably be the ones for which funds will be requested for fuel reduction projects. "We have to set priorities," said Christoffersen.
"We could have colored in the whole county, but that just wouldn't work," agreed Dunn.
"I think that's a damn good map," said Marty Hamilton of Joseph's Tree Care North when the public was asked for comment about the hazard areas identified.
Hayward stated that the plan is a good idea for at least two reasons: improving forest health and reducing the fire hazard to local communities and rural residences, and "to create jobs to take the hit off what we've lost in the traditional timber industry." He added, "Funding is going to dry up without this kind of plan."
Howard noted that fuel reduction projects have already been done or are in progress in several places in the community, including the south end of Wallowa Lake and Lostine River canyon.
He emphasized that private property owners will not be required to take part in fuel reduction projects if funding is acquired, but it will be to their benefit to do so. Project money available can be used to hire contractors or for landowners to do the job themselves.
It was noted that mechanical fuel reduction methods, such as chain saws, cannot be used in the wilderness area, but one very effective method is being used, prescribed burning, despite a lingering negative public perception to using fire to improve forest health.
Fuel projects usually involve thinning, pruning, getting rid of undergrowth and burning slash piles. "There's a lot of sweat equity," Howard said.
Although the plan will probably not be finalized and approved by the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners until spring, ODF is using the plan to apply for community fire plan funds for implementation projects in February.
The 30-page plan is online at www.odf.state.or.us/areas/eastern/northeast/wallowaco_cwpp.htm; www.co.wallowa.or or www.wallowaresources.org.