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Lack of input worries panel

A committee charged with collecting public comment on wildfire protection in rural Jackson County has gathered little information

Nobody has offered comments on decisions being made to determine who will be bound by tighter wildfire protection measures in Jackson County.

That worries the chairman of a committee designated to make the choices under tighter state regulations.

I'm a little concerned that the five of us on the committee are making the decisions on what areas should be covered without any public input, said Reeve Hennion. He heads the Lands Classification Committee selected to decide which land is in and which is outside forested urban interface areas covered by the rules. Two meetings have been held so far.

Hennion is well aware of fire dangers. His Applegate property is little more than a mile from last's summers Squires Peak fire. It's six miles from the 2001 Quartz fire.

— That's really made us aware of what the problem is, said Hennion. I have woodland property, and I'm well under way in cleaning that up. Many neighbors are doing the same thing.

Hennion's committee works under Oregon Department of Forestry rules adopted in September to implement Senate Bill 360 ' 1997 legislation designed to reduce the spread of wildfire. Fines up to &

36;100,000 could be levied if a fire spreads because a landowner didn't clean up his land. Work required under the act will focus on reducing fine fuels, such as needles and leaves. Tree thinning and structural changes will have less emphasis, ODF officials say.

A public hearing will be held when the committee completes its classifications. It will send a recommendation to the forestry board, which would adopt the classifications. Notices would then be delivered to property owners, who would have two years to comply.

Notices may go out as early as June, says Brian Ballou, public information officer with ODF. Previous mapping in Jackson County may speed the classification, he says. But Ballou admits basically everything is running long in the process that started nearly six years ago.

Committee members hope to hear from property owners at future meetings.

Now when we are starting is the time when we appreciate hearing whether we are headed in the right direction, said Hennion. You can't have too much advice and information.

Land west of Ashland from Timberlake Drive to Ashland Mine Road was classified at the committee's April — meeting. Hennion estimated several hundred properties were evaluated. Up to 20,000 tax lots may be reviewed.

It was kind of slow. We did a lot of debating, said Dan Thorpe, a committee member and ODF's Medford Unit forester. Some (properties) are obviously in and some are obviously out.

Once classifications are adopted, owners can self certify that their land meets the requirements. Trained assessors also will be available. ODF won't second-guess an owner's certification, Ballou said.

Maps of areas already classified will be available at future meetings, Hennion said.

Future meeting dates are May 5, May 14, June 11 and July 9 at the ODF office at 5286 Table Rock Road, Central Point. All meetings are at — p.m. For information contact Jim Wolf at 664-3328.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail