Commissioner John West joined Board Chair Herman Baertschiger and Commissioner Dan DeYoung for his first weekly business session in his term serving as position #1 on the Josephine County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, Jan. 4, taking up the mantle of vice chair. The board started the year with a brief agenda, beginning with authorizing JoCo Emergency Management to apply for an Oregon State Fire Marshal Grant for wildfire risk reduction projects, equipment and staff to support local efforts. According to OSFM, “The Community Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant is a competitive opportunity open to local governments, including special districts, structural fire service agencies and non-governmental organizations. The projects funded by this grant will help protect people. property, and communities from wildfire through risk reduction programs. These efforts will better prepare communities for wildfire impacts and create a more fire-adapted Oregon.” JoCo Emergency Management Director Emily Ring said the deadline for applications to this grant is Jan. 31, and unless the board objects, she plans to pursue it. “I think it’s of high interest to Oregon communities and you may have residents ask you about it. It’s going to be in the news if they haven’t heard about it already, and you’ll be able to tell them you’re aware of it, and that the county is pursuing it.” Ring added it may take several months for the application process to play out and for it to be revealed whether Josephine County will be awarded any money for wildfire protection from OSFM. The emergency management director explained her department will apply for monies to fund five components of local fire protection. Among these is a defensible space program that can be accessed by landowners. “We had a very successful one-year pilot project that we ran over the last year, and those funds are gone,” said Ring. “We still have need. Higher need than before probably.” Another project that may be funded is the clearing of brush and improving visibility on county roads, right-of-ways, parks and county-owned land. Ring singled out a hillside near Tom Pearce Park that is “notorious for fire starts.”
Green waste debris days have not been feasible in the county in recent years, but Ring would like to change this using the ODFM grant. Ring also plans to apply to get printing costs for the Get Ready Rogue public preparedness campaign covered. Get Ready Rogue is a joint campaign with Jackson County. Last but not least, Ring would like to get up to three new firewise coordinators certified, and up to four existing firewise coordinators recertified. West asked Ring if her department would focus on the areas of the county ranked highest for fire risk, to which Ring replied, “The multiple articles that came out over the previous years, identifying the highest risk areas of Josephine County, found Merlin, areas of Williams, areas of the Illinois Valley and Redwood Avenue are pockets of concern. They are ranked and we refer to those research articles for the justification.” Ring elaborated that when JoCo Emergency Management conducts fire prevention programs for homeowners, those in ZIP codes designated the highest risk are prioritized. In addition, West wanted to know if local contractors could be hired to remove brush and conduct other fuels reductions activities. Ring explained that in the past she has hired youth contractors through the Northwest Youth Crew. Ring also responded to a proposal she heard to create a list of businesses homeowners could choose from in fuels reduction programs, but she said it might not be feasible to monitor all of these vendors. West agreed, saying, “We don’t need to spend money reinventing the wheel when we have something that works.” Baertschiger pointed out that due to the measure amending the Oregon constitution to remove the word ‘slavery’, approved by voters at last November’s election, it will no longer be possible to pay youth contractors a stipend for their services in place of minimum wage. Baertschiger asked how much money from OSFM would be applied for. Ring did not want to be “pinned down” because her department had yet to meet with local fire districts to decide if the application should be bundled or if the county and fire districts should apply separately. However, a “ballpark” provided by Ring to the commissioners yielded that the defensible space program would cost around $60,000 per year and she planned on asking for three years of funding; clearing of brush would be about $15,000 per year; $18,000 would be asked for to fund three years of the green waste disposal program, with each year having two weekend events; approximately $25,000 for community outreach over the next two years; and about $3,000 total for the Firewise certification and recertification. The grand total, Ring estimated, would come out to $90K per year over the next three years. She added that she could be more aggressive in these asks if that is the desire of the commissioners. “I have learned over time to be grateful for whatever little pot I get,” Ring concluded. DeYoung encouraged Ring to “get really aggressive” because “on the fire propensity map we’re red as you can make it and I think $90,000 is way short of the mark.” “Let’s go for it,” DeYoung added. “I think grab for the brass ring and go. Don’t be conservative.” West agreed, saying, “I’m concerned that we get every single penny we can get.” The commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Ring to apply for the OSFM Community Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant.