Even as the Kenai Peninsula Borough is preparing to accept and begin spending $7.5 million in new federal money aimed at mitigating the fire danger posed by dead spruce trees, a $2 million program funded last year already is working to reduce the hazard.
Some of that $2 million is being spent in the Homer area, said Mike Fastabend, the borough's Spruce Bark Beetle Task Force coordinator.
Surveying is under way in preparation for clearing dead trees from the rights of way along borough-maintained roads. Hazardous trees already have been removed from around schools and other public buildings.
Meanwhile, the new FireWise Program is in effect, offering private property owners and communities a way to remove hazardous trees around their homes. By this spring, the borough expects to be paying private contractors to log hazardous trees from borough lands.
"We certainly have an ambitious program in front of us," Fastabend said. "As funds arrive, we're starting to implement them."
Earl Breyfogle, the borough forester in Homer, said surveyors are at work marking the rights of way on borough-maintained roads in areas off East End Road, including the Walters, Greer, Kilcher, Yukon, Hutler and Mansfield road systems. Other areas also are to be surveyed.
"The plan is to remove all brush within 12 feet of the shoulder of the roads, and any hazardous trees within the right of way," he said.
Rights of way vary in width from 30 to 60 feet. However, some trees growing beyond those distances on private land also may threaten to block those roads in a fire or windstorm. Cutting those trees will require the cooperation of landowners.
"The whole purpose of the program is to provide access for emergency vehicles," Breyfogle said.
The borough has notified landowners requesting their help and is preparing further correspondence, Breyfogle said.
The assembly is awaiting a $7.5 million check from the U.S. Forest Service that will add to the funds available for beetle-kill fire mitigation efforts. As with $300,000 from the $2 million in hand, some $750,000 of the new funds will go to the Cook Inlet Tribal Council for reforestation efforts, Fastabend said.
The borough also intends to reforest its own land, and the ordinance now before the assembly to accept and reappropriate the $7.5 million includes a provision to appoint a Reforestation Commit-tee to oversee that program.
Details of the cooperative agreement between U.S. Forest Service and the borough are not yet available, so just how the money might be applied is not yet known, Fastabend said.
The borough is in the process of identifying dead spruce on borough lands that pose a fire hazard and soon will seek bids from private contractors to log those areas. Efforts will be made to protect streams that cross the lands.
According to Fastabend, the Forest Practices Act requires logging to leave a 100-foot buffer around salmon streams. The borough's logging will require a 300-foot buffer.
Only where it can be shown that leaving those trees would provide pathways for fire directly into inhabited areas will trees be cut within the 300-foot buffer, he said. In those cases, the trees may simply be downed, but not removed, he added.
Under the program, trees on borough land that threaten private property may be removed quickly, even when that borough property is not scheduled for immediate cutting, Fastabend said.
Other programs already under way include slash disposal, some of which already has occurred in Homer, as with the cooperative effort with the city to remove slash on city lots behind Eagle Quality Center. Fastabend said the borough is looking at creating centralized disposal sites for slash.
Meanwhile, in a separate program, some $240 million has been appropriated by Congress through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for fire danger mitigation in some 30 states.
Reportedly, some 15 peninsula communities have made a preliminary list that could benefit from that money.
Hal Spence is a reporter for the Homer News.
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