Chelan County Seeking Formal Agreement With Forest Service
The Activities of the U.S. Forest Service inside Chelan County are under a spotlight after the county was overrun recently by smoke and haze from wildfires on U.S. Forest land.
Air quality reached unhealthy to hazardous levels on a regular basis for more than a month straight leading into mid-October.
Chelan County Natural Resources Director Mike Kaputa says a stronger bond is needed between the county and the Forest Service to insure there's proper communication.
"The Forest Service is supposed to coordinate with local governments, and counties in particular, on all of their activities," said Kakuta. "The one thing I think we have not been able to pull off, but I think there's more momentum around this, is having an agreement between to Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest and Chelan County."
The county is now scheduling meetings with the Forest Service to set up a more formalized agreement when dealing with a number of issues, including smoke levels and land management.
With a land area of about 1.9 million acres, more than 80 percent of the land in Chelan County is owned by federal, state and local governments.
The U.S. Forest Service is the largest landowner, owning 1.3 million acres.
Much of that land is in the central and eastern parts of Chelan County and is categorized as having a high or very high risk of forest fires, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Kaputa says the county and the Forest Service need a more structured relationship to handle all the issues between them, including forest management. "What we need to outline is that the Forest Service and the county are going to work together and coordinate on all these issues, and how we're going to do that," Kaputa said.
He told commissioners Monday that there is agreement from managers at the Forest Service that the two sides need to be in closer communication, specifically mentioning agreement on the part of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor Kristin Bail.
In the last 20 years, Chelan County has been impacted by 53 wildfires of 1,000 or more acres.