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No more ‘forestlands’ in city limits

July 2, 2011

The Forestland Classification Committee for Hood River and Wasco counties decided June 28 that lands within Hood River city limits would not be classified as forestland, and so won't be assessed for fire protection from the Oregon Department of Forestry, according to George Ponte, district forester for the ODF's Central Oregon District.

So beginning July 1, 2012, he said, "the Department of Forestry will have no jurisdiction or obligation to fight fires within city limits," though ODF will still give limited support to the fire departments in mutual aid requests.

"Anything above that - such as God forbid, a big fire burns within city limits and the city needs air tankers, etc. - the city will have to pay for it at that time," he said.

Actually, as Ponte wrote in a letter to the editor printed June 29, there have been classified forestlands within city limits for more than 40 years, and some lots have been assessed for forest patrol during that time. Those property owners will be protected until July 1, 2012, but will pay no assessments and receive no protection after that, he said.

Ponte gave his presentation Tuesday evening at a public information meeting regarding the forestland classification review that has been under way since February 2010.

The primary objective of the classification review, he said, is to make sure the costs of the fire protection system are shared on a fair and equitable basis. In the 40 years since the current classifications were drawn up, a lot has changed; some landowners may be paying into the system who shouldn't be, and some aren't who should.

In the 2009 Microwave Fire, for instance, 90 of the 1,264 acres that burned were not classified as forestlands, and so weren't paying for the protection they received. The total cost of that fire was $2,026,000.

In the Winslow Road Fire of 2008, 1,024 acres burned, only 169 of which were classified. The Herman Creek Fire in 2003 burned 375 acres; 228 of which were not classified.

Fires that happen in areas where wildlands and urban areas interface are the toughest - and most expensive - to fight, Ponte said. If there are buildings involved, ODF can't just use perimeter control as they would with a forest fire, or the buildings would be lost.

"Also, you may have a propane tank, wood stacked up against the building - it can be a tough and sometimes dangerous place to fight fires," he said.

In cases like that the ODF and rural and city fire departments work hand-in-hand, he said, since they have different missions and capabilities: Rural fire districts and municipal fire departments protect structures, while the Department of Forestry protects forestlands.

Forestlands are defined by state law as "… any woodland, brushland, timberland, grazing land or clearing that, at any time of the year, contains enough forest growth, slashing or vegetation to constitute, in the judgment of the forester, a fire hazard, regardless of how the land is zoned or taxed…"

The ODF website has more information about the classification process and maps showing forestland classification in Hood River County; to view visit:

www.oregon.gov/ODF/centraloregon.

The public comment period is still open for the classification process. The next public hearing is July 13 at 6 p.m. at Pine Grove Fire Hall. Written testimony may be made until 5 p.m. July 19; a form is available as a pdf file at the above web address

Written testimony may be delivered to the classification committee by email (forestland@odf.state.or.us), fax (541-298-4993) or mail to Joint Classification Committee c/o Oregon Department of Forestry, 3701 W. 13th St., The Dalles, OR 97058. If you have any questions about how to provide testimony, call 541-296-4626.

The classification committee may make changes that they feel are warranted based on landowner input.

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