BAKER CITY:  Assistance available to help watershed

BAKER CITY: Assistance available to help watershed

Financial assistance is now available to help private woodland owners perform voluntary conservation activities that will help reduce wildfire risk in the Baker Watershed through a new locally-led conservation strategy called the Baker Watershed Forest Health Partnership.

The financial assistance is available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service via its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP is a popular cost-share program authorized by the Farm Bill that helps agricultural producers offset the costs to perform conservation activities on private lands.

Participating landowners will receive payments from NRCS and technical advice and guidance from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to create a defensible fire buffer on their property. Conservation activities that can be funded include pre-commercial thinning, slash treatments, firebreaks, fuels breaks, range plantings, and more.

The partnership between NRCS and ODF gives private landowners the tools, resources, and funding necessary to achieve their site-specific forest management goals.

Conservation activities may also provide other natural resource benefits besides reducing wildfire risks, such as reducing the spread of tree disease and insect infestations and enhancing habitat for wildlife such as deer and elk.

The next application deadline is March 15. Applicants are encouraged to apply by visiting the USDA Baker City Service Center at 3990 Midway Lane in Baker City. Currently, the NRCS office is open for business during the partial government shutdown.

Applicants can also learn more about EQIP and download an application online.

[Baker Watershed Forest Health Partnership Map]

The city of Baker gets its municipal water from 11 streams and springs within the 10,000-acre Baker Watershed, which is primarily comprised of federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Being one of only three unfiltered water systems in Oregon, the water is both amazingly pure and highly vulnerable. The city has worked to place a fence around the watershed to exclude livestock from the streams and measures have been taken to limit public access to highly sensitive areas.

The major threat to the watershed is a wildfire, something landowners, agencies, and partners have agreed on through a locally-led planning process. While the Forest Service is working toward treatments on federal forestland, the adjacent private lands also need to be treated to reduce wildfire risk and protect the area from catastrophic wildfires while safeguarding the watershed.

The forest in and around this watershed is a fire-dependent ecosystem. An altered fire regime of fire suppression for the last 100 years has changed the landscape from open stands of ponderosa pine to dense, mixed species stands with shade tolerant species, a higher occurrence of “ladder fuels” and dead, down material. Because of this, the forest is more susceptible to severe wildfire, disease, and damage by insects, which only increases the fuel load and continues to decrease the forest health.

Based on the difference between the current conditions of the area and the desired future conditions, the purpose and need of this project are to improve forest health, resiliency to disturbance, and to reduce the risk of wildfire within the wildland-urban interface.

The work that will take place on private lands through the Baker Watershed Forest Health Partnership project complements similar treatments that occurred during the East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains project in 2014 – 2016. During that project, NRCS and the Forest Service, along with the ODF and other project partners, performed more than 3,700 acres of pre-commercial thinning and more than 5,400 acres of fuels reduction on both public and private lands, and enhanced forest resiliency to wildfire along 20+ miles of shared boundary with public and private forests and rangelands.