Aaron West, The Triplicate

Supervisors blast feds for 'wholly inadequate' efforts

Half an hour after the U.S. Forest Service updated the Board of Supervisors on what the agency has been up to these days, the board passed a proclamation of local emergency declaring that it's not enough.

In its latest move to bring attention to an uncontrolled buildup of natural fire fuels and what the board described as the Forest Service's inadequate management of them, supervisors passed an emergency proclamation that called the conditions surrounding Del Norte extremely perilous and dangerous to local resources and infrastructure.

"The management of lands, particularly regarding fire protection and fuel reduction on national forest system lands under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service, is wholly inadequate and has been long ignored," the proclamation reads. "(It places) Del Norte County in significant peril and at great risk in the event that catastrophic wildfires occur, thereby destroying public resources, private property, business and the natural environment."

The proclamation is largely symbolic and designed to highlight the danger that Del Norte is in regarding wildfires, particularly in light of the drought emergency Gov. Jerry Brown declared in January. It's just one of nearly a couple dozen emergency proclamationspassed by 22 other counties in the Sierra Nevada region, Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said, in order to illustrate to Gov. Brown the precarious situation.

"It's a request for the governor to be on notice," Hemmingsen said. "And of course they know - it's just to bring attention to the fact. We need to start managing our forests."

The proclamation came only a short while after David Palmer, recently hired District Ranger at Smith River National Recreational Area, updated the board on a major project - the Gordon Hill Vegetation and Fuels Management Project, which aims to reduce hazardous fuel on approximately 2,749 acres between Big Flat and Gasquet, according to Forest Service documents. That project is now in a 30-day public comment period and available for review on the Forest Service's website.

However, the update, which Palmer admitted didn't contain much new information, led to a few tough questions from the board focusing on the time it takes to complete these projects.

"I think the last project was the Big Flat thinning project, which was close to eight years ago," Hemmingsen said at the meeting. "What's the next project?"

The answer to that question - a fuel reduction project in the Holiday area near Patrick Creek that's probably a couple years away - wasn't satisfactory to the board.

"That's my concern," Hemmingsen said. "A project every eight years in our forest - we're going to burn up before we have a chance to do anything."

Palmer, who started on the job in April, agreed, and said that with Merv George Jr. starting this month as the new supervisor of Six Rivers National Forest, the district will be trying to get things moving a little more quickly.

"We'll try to do a better job getting projects to get pushed through faster," Palmer said, adding that perhaps some small projects could be planned to have a faster turnaround time. "The district will definitely be working with the community and the county."

George told the Triplicate last week that fuel reduction to avoid "nuclear fires" was one of his top priorities, since many areas aren't ready to handle fires because of fuel buildups.

Palmer wasn't available for comment on Thursday.

Just the fact that Palmer showed up at the board meeting is perhaps a sign of progress, however. Hemmingsen noted that Palmer's predecessor, former District Ranger Mary Kay Vandiver, who retired in January, wasn't very responsive when it came to communicating with the county. Additionally, supervisors plan to meet with district officials next week and tour National Forest land.

"We're concerned," Hemmingsen said. "I think there's an imminent danger of something happening that we'd like to prevent."