Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

April 3, 2002 -12:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street

Mayor DeBoer called the meeting to order at 12:05p.m.

Councilors present: Laws, Hartzell and Reid. Councilors Hearn and Morrison. Staff present: City Administrator Greg Scoles, Public Works Director Paula Brown, Fire Chief Keith Woodley, Community Development Director John McLaughlin and Director of Parks & Recreation Ken Mickelsen.

1. Development of Urban Wildland Interface Wildfire Management Plan.

Fire Chief Keith Woodley explained that the current Strategic Plan for the city council has within the Environmental Resources Element a council goal of preparing a Interface Management Plan. He stated that this presentation meets this goal. He commented that it has been known that the solution to the Urban Wildland fire problem has to do with vegetation management and is the most cost effective approach, rather than building up resources through suppressed fires, burning and vegetation. Woodley introduced Marty Main, contract forester for the city since 1996 who has been implementing some of the initiatives found in the City Forest Management Plan. Woodley gave credit to Rich Hall, Public Works Department, who has assisted with the maps on this project.

Main gave brief history on the interface area and explained that the objective is to reduce the likelihood, size, and intensity of a catastrophic disturbance, primarily wildfire. By incorporating silvicultural and other management activities, this would create conditions that would closely emulate the historic range of compositions, structures, and functions in healthy forests. He noted the past Native American use of fire through hunting, maintaining grasslands, collection of food and as a weapon.

He stated that there are changes in vegetational communities as a result of fire exclusion. These changes include increased stand densities, increased fuel levels, shifts in species composition, change in stand structure, increased likelihood of mortality from insects and disease and decrease in ecosystem diversity.

Main explained the three ingredients for a fire to occur, 1) Oxygen, 2) Ignition Source, and 3) Fuels (vegetation). Once a fire is initiated, 1) Weather, 2) Topography, and 3) Fuels (vegetation) control behavior. He stated that forest management activities on property are basically planned disturbances to encourage plant species to respond according to a desired outcome. To be successful, it is important to know how the plant community will respond to management actions.

Main spoke on the Ashland Wildland/Urban Interface and noted critical values as, 1) Residents, 2) Property Values-at-Risk, and 3) Resource Values. He explained that defensible space is a vegetation buffer that surrounds a home to reduce the chance of a fire reaching it.

Ashland Watershed management issues and concerns include 1) Significant forest health and silvicultural concerns, 2) Geological and slope stability issues, 3) Important wildlife and late successional reserve values, 4) Topographically steep, 5) Watershed values, 6) Recreational and social values, and 7) Wildfire hazard and risk.

Management Objects include 1) Protection of watershed values and maintenance of water quality and quantity, 2) Maintenance and/or promotion of forest and ecosystem health, and 3) Reduction in wildfire hazard and risk.

Main explained that "structure equals habitat" and the various layers in a forest structure. Stand development and density was noted, from recruitment of new trees to maximum density of dominant and strong trees.

Work completed for the City of Ashland from 1995-2001 include 1) Surveys, prescriptions, 2) Non-commercial stand improvement, fuel reduction prioritized over time (250 acres), 3) Reforestation, 4) Prescribed burning with USFS, 5) Sale of commercial logs, hazard reduction - 1995, 1996, 2000, 6) Native grass establishment and research plots installed, 7) Stand density and fuel reduction around large, mature conifers, and 8) Ongoing trail maintenance and recreation management.

Wildfire Management inventory analysis and opportunities were noted as, 1) General description, 2) Inventory and mapping, 3) Delineation of landscape units and general management prescriptions, and 4) Landscape level analysis, management priorities and tactical opportunities.

Woodley explained that there are current contracts working off of the Loop Road and who are thinning below. A portion of the forest is a natural resource area and the method being used for this portion, is surface burning. He explained that the amount of biomass that is currently on the forest floor would preclude the introduction of fire as a first treatment objective. He stated that all of the methodologies spoken of, have been addressed in the Watershed Protection Project, and are site specific and matched to the objectives of the particular landscape.

Woodley clarified that the maps include Park Land, but for purposes of this project, geographical boundaries were ignored. The project area included the City of Ashland up to the National Forest Boundary.

Main invited council and audience to view several maps, which indicated various levels of fire risk, and continued to answer questions and provide additional information on the interface area.

Director of Parks & Recreation, Ken Mickelsen, explained what has been completed and their planning for wildfire management of Park Lands. He stated that they work together with the Fire Department in this process.

Woodley spoke of a past drafted ordinance that would require property owners with untreated fuels, to either clean it up or the city would hire a contractor to clean it up and then place a lien on the property. He explained that after looking at the geography he realized this would be a substantial financial impact and didn't feel this was a proper function of government. He explained that a better approach was to seek grant monies and utilize Marty Main for consultation and mapping. Woodley stated that a $30,000 grant had been administered last year and was completed, but that a fair process needs to be established in determining who would receive this assistance. He felt that this should be driven by geography, not human desire, and that this is what the plan would do.

Woodley stated that a grant is being sought in partnership with the Oregon Department of Forestry, who will provide leadership outside the city. The grant will be split 50/50, working both inside and outside the city. The base work has been completed and now a prescription would need to be developed for a particular piece of property. A contractor would then be hired. He explained that the project has already been bid and two contractors are in line to begin work. Chipping over burning was favored, but some of the areas are geographically inaccessible. He voiced concern for the amount of smoke that would be seen in the spring. He does not anticipate lack of cooperation of property owners within the city limits, but with properties outside the city limits.

Woodley commented that the difference between the current grant and the previous grant is that confirmation has been received from ODF, that it can be used on public land. The previous grant could only be used on private land. He clarified that the amount of the grant for the Ashland area is $250,000 and that the city would only receive a portion. The use of these grant monies would be driven by the projects, not by an artificial measure. He explained that the grant monies received would need to be set up through the budget process to receive and expend these monies. Woodley stated that the grant would be coming before the council for their approval.

Main explained that to have Wildfire Management, coordination needs to be made with the US Forest Service and that there is no way to avoid an integrated approach for this management.

2. Discussion regarding Ecosystem Management Program/Request for Natural Resource Supervisor staff position

Howard Heiner brought forward to the council, for further discussion, the proposal of an Ecosystem Management Program and Natural Resource Supervisor staff position. He commented that the presentation by Marty Main was very good, but that AWSA (Ashland Watershed Stewardship Alliance) is still concerned with the administrative side of implementing this project. Speaking on behalf of AWSA, Heiner voiced the desire for a time line placed on this plan for completion. Marty Main explained that this is an ongoing project and determining how long it takes to complete the work of everyone who is interested, will depend on who is involved and how large the grants are.

Heiner explained that the proposal is to back into the plan and to make determination on how much acreage actually needs to be done. AWSA arbitrarily selected three years as a time line to complete this work, compared this to the amount of money on hand and the amount of grant money available. He stated that this process would establish the initial pass through, which is the critical stage that needs to be arrived at.

Heiner stated that the current program being conducted by US Forest service is only 10% of 15,000 acres in our watershed. US Forest Service is putting an 18 year span on this 10%, which he does not feel is justified for the city to have this kind of time line for only 10% of the watershed. This is why he feels that there needs to be time lines on the work that is to be done and to go out and look for grants to complete the work. He stated that the city has the right to make requests of the US Forest Service that would then require them to respond.

Heiner stated that there are National Fire Funds and Title II under the Resource Advisory Committee's service funds that are available. He felt that this is an opportunity to put pressure on USFS to provide their mapping information to complete this plan in a specific time line. This way, all agencies could work collectively from the same map and explore the same time line.

JoAnne Eggers explained that AWSA (Ashland Watershed Stewardship Alliance) is a group that was formed approximately three years ago to advocate for a different style. An effective Fire Hazard Reduction Plan in place of the old proposed HAZRAD. She stated that this group would not perceive a suggestion from the city as an affront or criticism, but as a way to build community, receive resources and communicate this interest.

It was explained that broader watershed plans would begin to be required and anything that is not identified as a priority in the context of this funding would not receive funding through subsequent funding of the National Fire Plan. It was noted that it is important to make sure that the smaller plan for our interface gets expanded into a larger watershed scale map which is all in one place. That this is what the federal monies will follow in the next year or two.

Laws noted that it is obvious that all of the agencies need to work together and that it would be helpful to have additional city staff to do this. He commented that this process takes time and questioned if there was enough time now, given the current time line. Eggers acknowledged that it would take longer than we think we have at this time. She suggested that a staff person, with certain skills and experience be the contact and that this would be their priority.

Heiner stated that the deadline for the National Fire Plan is October 1, 2002 and Title II county funds is May 2002. There would need to be a designated person, authorized by the city, who would participate. AWSA is willing to attempt to pull this together with the cooperation of the city in order to meet these deadlines. He anticipates that there would be a series of meetings involved.

Woodley explained his involvement in the Watershed Protection Plan and understands that USFS currently has contractors working in this area. He supported pursuing grant monies and felt that someone outside the city would need to be contracted to apply for the grant funding. He voiced concern on the unstable base of funding a position through grants. That trying to provide ongoing administration on a grant basis is unreliable.

City Administrator Greg Scoles explained that there is staff qualified to seek grants, but their priorities would need to be changed. He suggested that if this is a priority of the council, that staff could bring back a strategy for their concurrence. He felt that it is important to hear from all the entities involved, Parks Department, Community Development, Fire Department and Public Works, as they all have connections to this issue. Scoles explained that the council was presented with only a small part of what is currently happening in the interface and watershed.

Hartzell commented that the reason why Department Heads were approached individually was to try and figure out how the city may need to participate at the broader scale as well as a consolidation of all entities. She felt that it is not time to fund a position to do just natural resources, but that there is a need of one person participating in meetings and to write or assist in pursuing grants. In addition, she felt there is a need for someone to participate in the implementation and grant administration of the ODF funding.

Scoles agreed that staff could be consulted and suggestions brought back to the council on whether it is reasonable to apply for these grants by May 2002 and if it is reasonable, then what approach could be taken.

Mayor DeBoer commented that there are various city commissions/committees, including the Forest Land Commission, and voiced confusion on how many of these groups may be working on this issue.

Scoles commented that the council had an objective through their Strategic Planning Goals, to develop an Interface Management Plan, which was satisfactory met through the report presented by Chief Woodley. If the goal is to do something a little bit different, and includes grant writing, then staff could bring back a program for the council to consider.

DeBoer voiced concern with increasing staff; overhead and creating money that may not cure the problem. He commented on the quality of the report by the Fire Chief and the current work that is being done. He supported citizen involvement in reducing fire potential in our watershed and around our city. He felt that the US Forest Service should be included whenever this issue is examined.

Heiner noted that the proposal is a "working document" and the recommendation is that the Forest Lands Commission mandate be expanded to include all the work that has been done and centered in one place. He stressed the importance of having one contact person within the city to participate and complete the work that needs to be done.

Hartzell cautioned that getting an effective response to what this program proposes might be difficult by giving it strictly to the Forest Lands Commission. Laws noted that is an ongoing project, which can't be achieved in three years due to the areas that are difficult to reach. He commented on the need to be realistic as to what can be done. DeBoer commented on the question of committing additional city monies or grant monies in doing this work and considering citizen interest.

Heiner clarified that the suggestion is for the city to expend monies for administration and that money received from grants, be the action money for the actual work that needs to be done over the whole landscape.

Meeting was adjourned at 1:50 p.m.

Respectfully submitted, Barbara Christensen City Recorder

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