Wildfire Mitigation will be Fully Funded in the 2023-2025 Biennium Budget
The City of Ashland has worked diligently over the past 13 years to reduce the risk of wildfire and will continue wildfire mitigation efforts in the years to come. The 2023-2025 Biennium (BN) Budget for wildfire mitigation will not be any different. “We have budgeted for wildfire prevention for the 2023-2025 Biennium Budget, and directly through the Wildfire Division we continue to strategically balance wildfire mitigation in the Ashland watershed and in the urban interface,” stated City Manager, Joseph L. Lessard. “The City Council has also directed the re-funding of the fire marshal to oversee wildfire and community risk reduction projects. In addition, wildfire prevention efforts can be seen throughout the budget as other City departments contribute to this important endeavor.”
Contrary to recent community comments, the Wildfire Division’s budget was not reduced in the recently adopted 2023-2025 BN Budget. Within the Ashland Fire & Rescue Department budget, the Wildfire Division’s approved budget for 2023-2025 BN was $3,393,463. It was subsequently increased by Council by an additional $65,000 bringing the total in the adopted budget to $3,458,463. With that, the total Wildfire Division’s budget increased 10% from the previous biennium.
Ashland's setting, history of wildfires, and increasingly long, hot and dry summers put the City at fire risk each year. In 2018, the entire City of Ashland was designated as a Wildfire Hazard Zone.Ashland Fire and Rescue’s Wildfire Division is funded through various allocations of grant money, the Water Fund and the AFR (Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project) utility bill surcharge. Ashland Fire and Rescue continually seeks grant funding for its programs in the urban interface and the forestlands surrounding the city.
Part of the Wildfire Division’s funding is from a current $3M FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant that was awarded in April 2021 and will remain active until April 2025. This funding impacts up to 1,100 homes throughout the city. The monies are to help homeowners create wildfire defensible space around their home. Learn more on the City’s Fire Adapted Ashland page, FireAdaptedAshland.org.
Ashland Fire and Rescue also oversees the AFR (Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project), which is a collaboration between the community and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to engage the community in work that enhances and protects ecological values, reduces the risk of catastrophic fire and improves wildfire safety. AFR works to protect old trees, wildlife habitat, homes, trails and drinking water by thinning overcrowded forests and reintroducing the long-absent role of mild fire through controlled burns. This is done with key community partnerships with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Lomakatsi Restoration Project and the Nature Conservancy. Over the past 13 years the partnership has expanded to include funding partners: Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), National Forest Foundation and Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District.
The work of AFR and partners is not all that the City does for wildfire prevention. Other endeavors are taking place and will continue, efforts such as:
The Ashland City Council authorized a new business model for Ashland Fire and Rescue to hire more specialized medical services personnel that includes hiring four EMS (Emergency Medical Service) Single Role staff, which then makes Ashland Firefighters more readily available
Additional police staff are in place, which includes the ability to help manage emergency situations
A congregate camp location has been established – This effort helps to shift the City’s houseless community out of the watershed to a central location where the risk of wildfire is reduced
Ashland Parks and Recreation’s Open Space and Trails program – Staff is instrumental in wildfire prevention work
Funding was increased in 2023-2025 BN for the weed abatement program, which focuses on reducing fire fuels within the urban interface
In the fall of 2023, the City Council funded a funding study that can help make future budget decisions for wildfire prevention or mitigation programs across City Departments and assure best practice strategies. The City will continue to seek grant funding for the urban interface and for surrounding forestland initiatives as it continues to work with regional partners such as Lomakatsi Restoration Project, the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy.