Thinning projects delayed at Whychus Canyon Preserve
With smoke in the air, Land Trust staff discusses collaborative fuels reduction with Deschutes County Commissioner, Alan Unger and County Forester, Ed Keith. Photo: Deb Quinlan.
SISTERS — Thick juniper and ponderosa pine in Whychus Canyon northeast of Sisters leaves the homes along the rim at risk of wildfire.
The Deschutes Land Trust wants to lower that danger by thinning out the trees and surrounding brush. But the chainsaws are quiet for now as the trust waits for Deschutes County to clear up a dispute over grant money with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We are ready to go and anxious to get that treated as quickly as we can," said Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Deschutes Land Trust.
Depending on when FEMA releases the funding to the county, he said, the thinning could happen as early as this winter or spring.
The project is one of 15 thinning projects on hold while the county waits for a $3 million FEMA grant the agency approved in 2010, said county forester Ed Keith. Homeowner associations and other groups are behind pending projects in communities such as Black Butte Ranch and Deschutes River Woods.
The agency put the grant on hold two years ago after it questioned how the county had used money from a pair of previous grants, saying the county conducted clearing outside of agreed-upon areas. Keith said the dispute is nearly settled, but in the meantime, the 2010 grant remains suspended.
He said he is hopeful the money will be available by the end of the year, once it also passes environmental review by FEMA.
“I think we are getting closer," Keith said. “It is just slow."
The county reported Sept. 12 that it would receive a $4,705 payment from FEMA for a grant issued in 2008. The grant paid for fire suppression across the county.
A FEMA representative was not immediately available Thursday for comment.
The Deschutes Land Trust, a Bend-based conservation group, is restoring Whychus Creek near Sisters. The 450-acre Whychus Canyon Preserve is among its holdings and is the focus of its thinning efforts.
State and federal grants have helped the group thin about a quarter of the preserve earlier this year and the FEMA funds would pay to clear much more, including 200 priority acres close to homes, said Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the Deschutes Land Trust. Thinning those acres would cost about $80,000.
Chalfant and Egertson led Keith and Deschutes County Commissioner Alan Unger on a brief tour Thursday of the preserve, showing them how close some homes are to the canyon.
There are 23 homes along the rim and another 123 houses in the nearby Squaw Creek Estates subdivision, Keith said.
It was Unger's first visit to the preserve, which he called a beautiful place. He said thinning there would protect the preserve as well as the nearby homes.
“The potential for wildfire is great," Unger said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812,