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Classifications determined by committee
by Samantha White
George Ponte, Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) district forester, attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held Feb. 20) to discuss forestland classifications and the Wildfire Protection Act.
According to the ODF website, the department provides wildland fire protection on private forest and rangelands within its Fire Protection District boundaries. The protection service is funded by the state’s general fund and contributions from landowners. The landowner contribution is called the fire patrol assessment, and it is part of the landowner’s property taxes, which are collected by the county assessor and given to the local ODF district.
Forestland is classified into one of three classes. Class 1 is the timber class. Ponte said most land in this class, which is primarily made up of Douglas fir, is located in Western Oregon. He said most Eastern Oregon land is classified as Class 2 or Class 3. Class 2 is the timber and grazing class, and it is mostly made up of ponderosa pine. Class 3 is the agricultural class, and it consists mostly of juniper and sagebrush.
“Forestland classification is a statewide requirement,” Ponte said. He presented a handout, which explained that classification is required by Oregon laws that were originally enacted in 1937. According to the handout, classification information is used to determine which lands are subject to the assessment and what the assessment rate will be.
“There seems to be quite a bit of angst that lands have been misclassified,” Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said. He explained that some landowners have had questions regarding why their land is classified a certain way or why they are even required to pay for wildfire protection.
Ponte explained, “It’s probably been at least 30 to 40 years since Harney County was last classified.”
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said juniper has expanded in the last 30 to 40 years, which “could have a major impact” on how land within Harney County’s ODF fire protection boundary is classified.
In addition to changes in vegetation, Ponte and the court discussed how new technology, including infrared, could change how land is classified.
“A number of people would appreciate knowing a time frame for when reclassification could take place in Harney County,” Grasty said. “It’s going to be a huge issue.”
Ponte replied that Deschutes County will be reviewed before Harney County. He explained that some Deschutes County golf courses and subdivisions are still classified as forestland, and owners are paying for wildfire protection unnecessarily. He said ODF will “look at asking Harney County to form a committee” after Deschutes County’s forestland classification is reviewed.
Ponte explained that forestland classification is determined by a committee, which is made up of landowners and representatives appointed by the state forester, state fire marshal and the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service. The classification committee holds meetings, which are open to the public. He said there is “ample opportunity for public involvement,” during the classification process, and it is important for landowners to get involved in the early stages.
Angie Johnson, the John Day Unit forester with ODF, also attended the meeting and said she would like to hold a public meeting to give landowners an opportunity to talk to ODF.
The court concluded the conversation by discussing local efforts to protect land outside the ODF fire protection boundaries.
“There is a big hunk of land that no fire district can respond to,” Grasty said. However, he said a rangeland association was formed to help provide wildfire protection to those areas.
OSU Extension Agents Shana Withee and Dustin Johnson attended to discuss OSU programs for the past year.
Withee discussed the extension service’s 4-H Youth Development and Family Community Health (FCH) programs.
Withee said, in the previous year, 214 sessions were taught to 3,483 participants. She said about a third of the sessions were related to FCH, which is similar to home economics.
She added that there were 135 members and 56 leaders enrolled in the 4-H program last year, and the numbers have increased in 2013. She said the increase is significant, considering that enrollment in local schools has declined.
Withee said many participants are enrolled in the more traditional 4-H programs, but she is always willing to try new and different things.
“I try to be available for what the community requests,” she said, adding that she “takes the job outside of 8 to 5.”
Johnson provided an annual list of accomplishments, including his collaboration with other agencies to conduct research.
Nichols said Johnson is “filling a huge gap” for science. He explained that very little information was previously available regarding resource management in this area.
“It’s a win-win all around,” Nichols said. “Good people are doing good things.”
Cory Parsons, the regional administrator for the OSU Extension, also attended the meeting. Parsons said he is “more and more impressed” with the research that Johnson is doing in coordination with other agencies.
The court met individually with Curt Blackburn, Terri Hellbusch and Herb Vloedman to discuss their interest in serving on the Harney County Budget Board. Vloedman was re-applying for the position, as his term expired.
Grasty said the board currently consists of three members who are serving three-year terms.
The court also received letters of interest from Barbara Cannady and Bill Burstow, but Cannady withdrew her letter, and Burstow was working out of the country when the meeting took place.
After meeting with the three available candidates, the court selected Blackburn to fill the position.
Blackburn has been a licensed real estate agent since 1990 and has owned his own business since 1996. He served on the Burns Budget Board in 1993 and was a Burns city councilor from 1994 until 1998. He currently serves on the Harney District Hospital (HDH) Budget Board. He has served on this board for the last five years.
Blackburn said being on the Harney County Budget Board would give him a better understanding of the county’s “internal operations.” He said he works with a wide variety of people, and he wants to give them a “better explanation of what’s happening.”
“I think you’ve got the right philosophy about why you want to do it,” Nichols said.
“If I could put a vote in, I would vote for Blackburn. I know him well,” Vloedman said. “In fact, if I knew he was running, I may not have put in.”
The court thanked both Vloedman and Hellbusch for their interest and encouraged them to continue to apply.
Christine Nelson, executive director of Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation (GEODC), discussed the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.
According to its website, the GEODC is “a regional economic development membership organization charged with supporting job creation by helping to create, retain and expand business in the region.” The GEODC serves Grant, Gilliam, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla and Wheeler counties.
Nelson said she would like to broaden the GEODC’s role beyond grant administration and loans. She said the organization plans to mail outreach surveys in March, which will be used to help areas establish their priorities.
Nelson added that, once the GEODC gets the survey information back, it may host a webinar, which would be used to establish regional priorities.
“Most identified Eastern Oregon priorities overlap,” she said.
“The problem with surveys is who takes the time to fill them out,” Grasty said. “It may not be a representative group.”
However, he said a survey may work if it is filled out by the Harney County Community Response Team (CRT). He said the CRT has done “an awful lot of ground work.” He added that he would like to include the Burns Paiute Tribe’s priorities, as well, and he noted that the tribe is part of the CRT.
“We are committed to doing this right,” Grasty said. “We can localize it and help you have a better outcome.”
Nelson said she would like to help each community build on its strengths and that she would review Harney County’s economic development plan. She also said she would like to have some “action tasks” associated with the established priorities.
Harney County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tom Sharp briefed the court regarding efforts to update the county’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan (NHMP). The plan must be updated every five years in order to maintain the county’s eligibility for federal funding for pre-disaster mitigation projects.
Sharp said, “Every dollar spent in pre-disaster mitigation can save $4 in post-disaster cleanup and response.”
The NHMP Steering Committee completed work sessions Jan. 29 and Feb. 19. Sharp said the committee has gone through a list of potential hazards projects.
The County Emergency Preparedness Conference will be held March 21 in the HDH board room to garner input from stakeholders. The public is encouraged to attend the conference.
The plan will be submitted for Office of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency approval April 1. If approved, Harney County and the cities of Burns and Hines will create resolutions of adoption by June 1.
Sharp also informed the court that the Harney County Sage-Grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) released the final draft of the Programmatic CCAA document for review Feb. 15.
A CCAA is a formal agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of a species before it becomes listed as endangered or threatened. Landowners volunteer to implement land management practices that will remove or reduce threats to the species so that listing is not necessary. As part of the CCAA agreement, the USFWS provides assurances that, if the species is listed as endangered or threatened, the USFWS will not add restrictions or actions above those that the property owner committed to voluntarily.
The Harney County Sage-Grouse CCAA Steering Committee met Feb. 20.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association developed a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA). Unlike a CCAA, a CCA can be developed for federal lands, but it does not come with assurances.
The Cattlemen’s Association CCA met with the Harney County CCAA Feb. 21. Sharp said the purpose of the meeting was to develop a level of consistency between approaches to sage grouse conservation on private and public lands.
Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels attended the meeting as the court’s representative.
In other business, the court:
• learned from Grasty that the flashing, red light that was installed on a tower on Burns Butte will be turned off;
• signed Resolution 2013-04 in the matter of combining two tax accounts. Grasty explained that, due to the conditions of a grant, separate tax accounts were created for the Harney ESD Early Childhood Preschool Facility and the land that the building sits on. However, he said the conditions of a grant have been satisfied, and the separation is no longer necessary;
• upon recommendation from Road Supervisor Eric Drushella, accepted a bid from Ed Staub & Sons for fuel for heating at the courthouse and delivery to remote sites. The court received a competitive bid from Ebar Oil Co., but elected not to accept it;
• received a question from Cannady regarding the National Guard airspace expansion. Grasty said he spoke with the brigadier general who said he would give a complete presentation;
• will hold a work session Wednesday, March 13, at 1 p.m. Grasty said the court will “work through a variety of topics, but no decisions will be made.” The session will be open to the public.
The next regular meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, March 6, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.