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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Partnership in Pocatello Creates Defensible Space for Homeowners

Residents in Johnny Creek should feel a little safer going into fire season thanks to a cooperative effort by the Idaho Falls District BLM and High Country Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area, Inc.  A cost-share project between the two agencies provided funding for contract work that removed existing juniper trees and then applied native seed to the treated ground.  Fuels were removed around three homes last fall, and so far seven more homes are scheduled for this summer.  The homes all lie directly adjacent to one another, thus creating larger areas of defensible space than a single homeowner could.
The property in the foreground was treated last fall.  The property downhill will be treated this summer.
One of the homes treated last fall belongs to Chris Stevens, who said she was surprised she was even able to get homeowner's insurance when she purchased the home six years ago.  Since then, she estimates she has removed more than 250 juniper trees from her property.  As a reward, she saw numerous wildflowers blooming this spring, flowers that now had plenty of sunlight to grow and more water without the competing trees.


Homeowner Chris Stevens talks to KPVI Channel 6 about the project.
"It's not just my house," Stevens said about the work completed so far.  "Whatever I do for my house benefits my neighbors.... and the whole city.  We're saving tax payer money by decreasing the fuels available to a wildland fire." 

Stevens added that removing so much fuel is not easy or cheap, adding,"I can't say enough about how glad I am that this program exists."  As the chair of the Johnny Creek Firewise Community, Stevens is actively reaching out to her neighbors, encouraging them to create defensible space around their homes and to take advantage of programs that offer financial assistance or other incentives.
Neighborhood signs serve as a reminder to prevent fires.
A lot of people worry that defensible space means a loss of aesthetic value or privacy.  Stevens was quick to point out that she has as much privacy as she did before.  "It's about being selective in what you remove." 

The fire scars are from the 1987 Johnny Creek Fire.
Johnny Creek lies in the foothills on the west end of Pocatello, Idaho.  Several wildland urban interface fires have occurred in the area.  Most notably, the 1987 Johnny Creek Fire and the 2012 Charlotte Fire.  Both fires burned dozens of homes in a very short period of time because of the overgrowth of juniper trees in the drainages.  Following the Johnny Creek Fire, the Gateway Interagency Fire Front (GIFF) was formed to facilitate coordinated responses for the local fire departments and federal firefighting agencies to wildfires in and around Pocatello.

Residents of Johnny Creek who are interested in participating in the program can contact High Country RC&D Executive Coordinator, Pam Herdich, at 208.624.3200.