Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

UKIAH — A recently approved Forest Service project will increase public safety around a popular vacation spot in the heart of the Blue Mountains.

The Ten Cent Community Wildfire Protection Project that straddles the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests calls for timber harvest, thinning and prescribed burning on nearly 38,000 acres that surround the old mining town of Granite and Olive Lake in Grant County.

The project was designed with the Grant County Wildfire Protection Plan to create safer communities in forested areas. Wildfire protection plans came out of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 as a way to address flammable vegetation concerns across both private and public land and how it puts values, such as structures and watersheds, at increased risk of wildfire.

Irene Jerome worked with a committee of wildfire agencies to revise Grant County’s 2005 protection plan, approved by the county court in 2013. The plan is being updated again this year, she said, with reflections on the 2015 Canyon Creek fire that burned 43 homes.

“That was the largest home loss in Oregon,” she noted.

During this update of the county’s wildfire protection plan, the fire managers are striving to do a better job identifying homes and structures at risk, according to Jerome. She said they will also focus on recognizing mitigation work completed on the forest and on private land that created fuel breaks and improved travel.

“Almost every place in Grant County is at high to extreme risk of wildfire due to heavy fuels, (plus) the topography is broken and steep, communities are isolated and the roads are narrow,” Jerome said.

Granite and the road to Olive Lake are some of the at-risk values that the Forest Service wants to protect. Andrew Stinchfield is the fire management officer on the Umatilla National Forest’s North Fork John Day District based in Ukiah. He said his district and the Whitman District of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest directed their resources to this part of the Blue Mountains based on the overgrown condition of the forest and its fire history.

“The Grant County Community Wildfire Protection Plan is broken into hazard rating areas, and the Granite zone is in a high hazard area,” Stinchfield said. “That definitely helped bring it onto our radar.”

The first of several timber sales will be put up in 2018, Stinchfield said. The plan is to treat the entire area with timber harvest, thinning and prescribed burning over the next 10 years.

See complete story in Monday's Observer