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Fire plan approved by county

| June 29, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

A revised plan to help prevent wildfires has received final approval.

County Commissioners adopted the Lincoln County Community Wildfire Protection Plan on June 22. It is intended to guide fire protection agencies, county leaders, rural communities, county residents, and forestland owners and managers.

The document originally was written and approved in 2003, giving Lincoln County a better chance to compete for National Fire Plan money. Areas identified for assessments and feasibility studies in 2004 are targeted for grant funding this year.

The program focuses on building defensible spaces around homes in the urban-wildland interface, along with thinning forested residential areas and reducing potential fire fuel.

Ed Levert, who spearheaded revision of the 2003 plan, presented the new version to the commissioners. He said he was surprised that no input was received during a comment period on the draft plan.

The updated plan identifies more residents for possible inclusion in the firewise program. The 2003 document didn't include those living in or near subdivisions, Levert said. The primary goal of the program hasn't changed, however.

"Basically it's still education, prevention and mitigation of fuels that are out there," Levert said. "I think most people are starting to accept it. The new paradigm is not going to be real dense woods.

"There's a lot of resistance from people outside of the county. We're seeing a lot more of them."

Many new residents have moved to Lincoln County from places such as California because they want to live in a forested setting, Levert said. They tend to resist the concept of thinning trees on their land for aesthetic reasons or because they fear loss of privacy, he said.

The potential wildfire problem in Lincoln County is increasing because of that, the plan notes. It mentions introduction "of people unfamiliar with fire behavior and the potential for destruction of their property."

Another reason the problem is growing, according to the plan, is that 22 percent of Lincoln County's population lives below the poverty level. That makes it difficult for many landowners to afford the cost of creating an adequate defensible space.

Grants available through Northwest Regional Resource Conservation and Development pay 75 percent of the cost, with the landowner paying the rest. Levert said selling the timber that is taken off a parcel often pays for most, if not all, of the homeowner's portion of project cost.

The full text of the plan is available online at the Resource Conservation and Development Web site at www.nwrcd.org.