EUGENE — A victim of the impending cutoff of federal subsidies to Oregon timber counties could be aid for rural Lane County residents to protect their homes against forest fires.
The Firewise program pays for removing brush and trees to create what firefighters call a “defensible space” around a house and for replacing roofs made of wood shakes with fireproof material, the Eugene Register-Guard reported Monday.
It also pays for a staff to provide advice to homeowners.
The county is spending $1.2 million on the program this year. Officials say the tentative plan for the next budget, beginning in July, calls for phasing out the program by spending $400,000 leftover from previous years.
The phase-out is part of the reason for cutting four jobs in the land management department, Senior Planner Kier Miller said.
The timber payments require some money to be used to benefit federal forests. Lane County has been using that money for the Firewise program on the theory that if houses on nearby private land are well-protected, firefighters can focus on containing blazes on federal land.
Congress is considering an extension of the timber county payments. It’s not clear whether that will succeed or how much money would be available. County commissioners have been preparing budgets with sharp budget reductions.
Miller said the most common work paid for by the program is fuels reduction and landscaping.
“It’s cutting back brush and trees, taking out junipers, flashy fuels,” he said. “Next after that is trying to push folks to replace wood shake roofs.”
The program theoretically can provide up to $15,000 toward work on a single property, he said. “But nobody’s ever really come close to that,” he said.
The program helps people regardless of their income or ability to pay for the work themselves.
In the 2010-11 budget year, the county provided $408,000 in aid to 114 homeowners, or $3,580 per home.
It spent $1.1 million that year, including nearly $500,000 on salaries and benefits for four county employees, as well as accounting and information services overhead costs.