Wildfires never go away ... but what about wildland commission?

08 October 2016

published by http://www.dcourier.com


USA —   An organization that’s been around for 26 years helping neighborhoods reduce the threat of wildfire is struggling to stay in existence even though wildfire danger continues in Yavapai County.

 Its motto, “Living on the Edge,” refers to living on the edge of wildlands and living with the danger of wildfire.

Prescott Area Wildland Urban Interface Commission (PAWUIC) operates on grants – more than $6 million to date – and its volunteers. Volunteers are sorely lacking, said PAWUIC Chair Bob Betts at the monthly meeting Thursday, Oct. 6.

Needed right now are volunteers to fill four positions, including chair, vice chair, treasurer, and development manager. The latter is needed to locate, apply for, and report on grants, PAWUIC’s lifeblood.

The biggest grants come from Wildland Fire and Hazardous Fuels (WFHF). The 2014 grant ($178,692) expiration deadline was extended to Dec. 31 to allow work on the Oro Flame Mine land, and properties at The Ranch and Hassayampa. The 2015 grant ($194,055) has about $147,504 left. The 2016 grant is not official as yet, and will come in at only half of what PAWUIC requested ($160,000), which will mitigate about 125 acres.

Property owners kick in 10 percent of the mitigation costs, and the grant money covers 90 percent. Title III grants originate from the Secure Rural Schools Act and help pay for communities’ Firewise Days and slash removal.

“Grants are good for projects, but not for operations,” Betts said.

Without future grants, property owners will need to do the mitigation work themselves or pay out of pocket for someone else to. Betts said he hears he can “fall back on the community to help,” but with a median age in Prescott of 56 years, he finds that’s not really an option.

Grant funds will pay for about 75 percent of the administrative secretary’s 15 hours per week; those funds won’t pay for non-grant related work.

Even though Prescott Fire Department allows free office space in the basement of one of its stations, and Prescott Frontier Days allows members to meet monthly in the Freeman building for free, the organization has other monthly expenditures, such as telephone, internet, office supplies, Firewise signs, and postage, that cannot come out of grant funds.

Betts said PAWUIC needs between $10,000 and $15,000 each year to stay in operation.

He did offer four possible avenues to cut costs: close the office and reduce the administrative assistant’s hours to grant-related work only, eliminate the Wildfire Expo, eliminate brochures, and do no maintenance on the 64 Firewise Community street signs.

Maintaining Firewise Communities is extremely important to the safety and success of firefighters and fire departments, Betts said, but they have no money to give to PAWUIC.

Suggestions from the audience on how to obtain financial support included assessing the homeowner and property owner associations a membership fee, and if the dues aren’t paid up, they can’t access grant money. Another was to bill a property owner a “grant transaction fee.” A third suggested a flat fee of $75.

Arizona Public Service is conducting fuel mitigation around its power poles, similar work to what PAWUIC does. Betts said there could be grant opportunities, but someone needs to apply.

“I’m beseeching the community that you’ve got to be more involved,” he said. “There are people in this town that must have been successful (before retirement), that can manage organizations, that have experience writing grants, that have capabilities and skills to bring to PAWUIC.”

The organization’s stakeholders, besides individual property owners, are far-reaching, and include Arizona Forestry and Fire Management; State Land Department; Wildfire and Incident Management Academy; Bureau of Land Management; Office of Emergency Management; Prescott National Forest; University of Arizona Cooperative Extension; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Yavapai County Board of Supervisors; fire departments from Central Arizona, Prescott, Crown King, Groom Creek, Jerome, Mayer, Williamson Valley-Bagdad, and Yarnell; and Firewise Community members.