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Ashland emergency fire appropriation grant to fund neighborhood green bins

Ashland Fire and Rescue received a portion of $17 million appropriated by the Oregon Legislature Emergency Board in January directed toward fire response, mitigation and preparedness, according to AFR Division Chief Chris Chambers.

The $173,500 award to AFR, administered through the Office of the State Fire Marshal and Oregon Department of Forestry, will fund a project to create defensible space, thin specific acres of forestlands, chip eight acres of community open space and purchase neighborhood debris bins, according to the project funding request.

The forestry department issued a request for grant proposals in early February. On Feb. 8, AFR received notification its request had been approved by the state, Chambers said, during a meeting Tuesday of the Ashland Forest Lands Commission.

AFR opened a contract for fire mitigation and maintenance work on 340 acres of land, including 200 acres of federal, 100 acres of private and 40 acres of city parks land, he said. The funds must be spent and work completed by June 30.

Grayback Forestry and Lomakatsi Restoration crews have completed more than 100 acres of work on city park land already this season, Chambers added.

Methods of mechanical thinning, lop, scatter and hand piling on federal, city and private land use the “potential for operational delineations” priority process developed by regional fire managers and Oregon State University research associate Christopher Dunn, according to the request.

The framework focuses maintenance efforts in the “most valuable zones for landscape fire management and community protection,” Chambers wrote. “Investing now ensures that properties treated within the past decade will remain as viable suppression opportunities at a low per-acre cost, set the stage for prescribed burning, and increasing the odds that wildfire will have less than severe outcomes on the ecosystem and its many services.”

The grant includes $23,500 to create defensible space in six Firewise communities, covering more than 47 residential lots.

According to the funding request, project activities focus on enhancing community safety by thinning and chipping flammable vegetation around homes and “enhancing forest resiliency” through fuels reduction. Prescribed burning is not an explicit component of the project but may be integrated into fuels reduction efforts as allowed by the city.

Some of the grant ($12,000) is set aside for 20 “dump truck size” green bins in Ashland neighborhoods, with a campaign to encourage residents to cut and prune hazardous vegetation and deposit the debris in their neighborhood bin, Chambers said.

“Especially as traditional burn days become much more infrequent for the city it takes one hurdle off of people to keep a little trim and a little more tidy,” Forest Lands Commissioner Nathan Lewis said Tuesday.

“We’ll see how it works out,” Chambers said. “Do people actually use them, do they overflow them and we have to change them out pretty fast? We have never done it before like that so I have no idea how it’s going to pan out. If we like it, maybe we can find more funding to make it permanent.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Ashland Tidings file photo A Lomakatsi worker reduces fuels in the Ashland watershed.