Wildfire Fuel Reduction Program
Lake County and the Superior National Forest (USFS) have received federal National Fire Plan “Fuel Reduction Grant” funding to reduce hazardous wildfire fuels on private lands. Only properties identified by the USFS can be considered for this project. As a landowner adjacent to federal land on which fuel reduction projects are planned or have taken place, you are invited to participate.
What is “hazardous fuel reduction?”
Wildfires are fueled by living and dead vegetation (trees, shrubs, dried grasses, fallen branches, etc.). In fire dependent ecosystems, fuels accumulate where there has been a lack of disturbance such as fire and logging. In Lake County, increased fire hazards occur when the overstory of birch, aspen and mature pine has a dense understory of balsam fir and spruce. The decadent overstory will slowly die off and fall to the ground, increasing the ground surface fuel load. In addition to the fuel on the ground, balsam fir and spruce create ladder fuels that allow fire to climb to the canopy and spread quickly. Crown fires can also occur when there is a thick conifer canopy and little open space between trees.
Homes can also become a source of fuel in a wildfire. Removing fuels, especially balsam fir, around your home will reduce the intensity of wildfires as they burn through wildland urban interface (WUI) areas. Not only does fuel reduction create defensible space to protect homes from wildfire damage, it also creates a healthy ecosystem more typical of times when fires burned naturally across the landscape.
Fuel Reduction Process
Treatment areas can involve up to 20 acres per landowner, depending upon funds available. Once a homeowner request is received and approved by Lake County and the Forest Service, a site visit by an agency representative will be arranged to recommend and document a treatment plan that meets grant parameters and landowner preferences. (Landowners must identify and mark their property boundaries prior to the site visit.)
Hazardous fuels to be removed can include dead and down woody debris, blowdown, and conifer ladder fuels such as balsam fir. Fuel reduction will be done by approved contractors through mechanical or hand thinning, and chipping or pile burning of debris.
During the site visit, landowners and agency representatives will consider visual effects as well as fuel reduction. Agency representatives will identify where the greatest fuel hazards are located on the property and will suggest treatments to mitigate the fire risk. Along lakes and rivers, fuel reductions need to follow Lake County shoreland ordinances. The ordinances limit vegetation reductions within 50 feet of lake shores, called the Shore Impact Zone, although where balsam fir and/or down woody debris poses a hazard to the property, some fuel reduction work can take place. The ordinance also requires leaving enough vegetation to minimize view of structures from the water.
Grant funding cannot be used for clearcut logging of the live canopy trees. Because they are long lived species which provide visual and wildlife benefits, most healthy spruce, cedar, tamarack and pine should not be removed. Dead standing trees, or snags, also provide important wildlife benefits and will not be removed with grant funding.
After treatment, woody debris should be disposed of as soon as possible by chipping, mulching, burning on-site, or hauling to approved brush disposal sites for chipping or winter burning. It is often preferable to have the woody debris mulched on-site, avoiding the expense of hauling and the hazards of burning brush piles.
Additional vegetation treatment outside grant specifications (i.e. requests to remove large live or dead standing trees) must be negotiated by the owner and contractor at the owner’s expense.
Once each project is near completion, the contractor will contact the agency representative. The representative will inspect the project and submit the approved invoice to Lake County for payment. The landowner and agency representative will remain in consultation throughout this process. If the work does not meet the recommendations, the landowner and agency representative will work with the contractor until the specifications are met and the work is approved.
If you would like to participate in Lake County’s wildfire Fuel Reduction Grant project, please return the enclosed form by Friday December 14, 2012. Those who respond after the 14th will have lower priority.
It is highly encouraged that adjacent landowners coordinate with one another in this effort. Planning and implementation of fuel reduction projects across multiple properties results in more efficient and effective treatments. When all interested landowners in an area are identified, Lake County will develop a Request for Proposals for fuel reduction work by qualified contractors, and select a contractor to complete the project.