>Officials hope to skip complicated paper work under Health Forests Initiative
    June 18, 2003 — Federal and local firefighting officials are seeking comments on a National Fire Plan project that will reduce hazardous fuels on about 150 acres near the Crooked River Ranch Subdivision.
   Last spring, homeowners in the subdivision asked managers with the Crooked River Ranch Fire District and Crooked River National Grassland to mow grass and brush on federal land bordering residential areas.
   "They recognized the need and we're helping them out with it," said Jeff Bell, assistant fire management officer with the Rivers Division of the Central Oregon Fire Management Services organization.
   Bell said he intends to begin the project in July under a categorical exclusion that excludes it from the need for an environmental assessment or impact statement.
   "Everyone adjacent to the project so far has been very positive," he said.
   Categorical exclusions for this type of project were established under the Healthy Forests Initiative as an administrative tool to reduce excessive paperwork, particularly for projects that will reduce the threat of high fire intensity and spread in wildland urban interface areas.
   Federal officials must first identify preliminary issues and solicit public comment before issuing a Decision Memo for categorical exclusion projects. They must also adhere to an appropriate level of consultation with the USDI Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.
   The project is part of National Fire Plan efforts to reduce fire hazards in wildland urban interface communities. It will occur completely on federal property bordering the subdivision, located about nine miles southwest of Madras on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Crooked and Deschutes Rivers.
   A tractor equipped with a rotary mower and rubber tires will create a 200 to 300-foot buffer on Crooked River National Grassland ground to complete the project. The tractor will be limited to one pass to limit soil impaction, Bell said.
   Questions and comments about the project should be directed before June 30 to Jeff Bell at (541) 416-6417. Written comments can be sent to him at: Ochoco National Forest, 3160 N.E. Third St., Prineville, OR 97754 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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