Recently, the Cannon Beach City Council continued the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve Management Plan Update vote for further discussion.
City staff had proposed an addition to the 2019 ECFR report that would allow them to “study making road improvements for the purposes of combatting and preventing wildfires in the ECFR,” as stated in the staff report. “Any proposal will be brought to the City Council for their consideration and to gain public input prior to Council making a decision.”
However, the idea met with some resistance. Various people expressed concern that improving access roads to the reserve might invite the public to enter the area.
Councilor Robin Risley said “96 percent of fires are started by humans.”
City emergency manager Rick Hudson, who wrote the staff report and made the presentation, said the city does not intend to construct additional roads to provide access to fight fires in the reserve. Its only interest is to maintain the existing roads so the firefighters can protect the city and its watershed that is in the reserve.
City Manager Bruce St. Denis said these roads are gated.
“The ECFR is a protected area which secures the Cannon Beach water supply and is also home to a very fragile and living ecosystem,” Hudson told The Gazette later Monday in an email. “The current system does allow people to walk into the ECFR and to enjoy the natural surroundings. The ECFR also does have the major power lines from Pacific Power that serve as the only electric power to the city. The surrounding areas of the ECFR are owned by Greenwood properties and they are a very safety cautious company with controlled access to their properties. Also the power of nature is ever present in our area, which we observed in the 2007 wind storm and more recently in 2020 with the RED FLAG wind warnings this summer, which did burn down over 1 million acres of forest in Oregon. Those burned areas also have had devastating landslides which have continued to destroy countless ecosystems and regional watersheds. We cannot afford to have any type of fire go unchecked in our ECFR.”
Jillayne Sorenson, chair of the city Parks and Community Services Committee, spoke at the meeting. Sorenson said people who see roads may be inclined to “explore.” There is no way to monitor peoples’ activity in that area and they are the “single highest cause of fires.”
“One of our major concerns is the lack of emergency access roads in certain areas of the ECFR for fire equipment to respond in case of a fire,” Hudson said in the email. “Without these emergency access roads the Cannon Beach Fire Protection District and the Oregon Department of Forestry will have very limited options to get into and to protect the ECFR from fire. They essentially will have to adopt a defensive strategy in the protection of the ECFR.”
He said this is about maintaining the roads so a fire crew can get in and stop a fire.
Mayor Sam Steidel said this is about fire protection. How the city protects the area from fire “needs to come from the council.”
St. Denis said the “ECFR is the watershed – that’s what we’re protecting.”
“Our objective is to eventually develop and maintain a few current access roads which will provide this basic access for emergency use,” Hudson said in the email. “The city staff perspective is we want to make sure that we have some language to allow the access roads to be maintained so in the event of a fire, firefighters could stop the fire in the reserve to protect the watershed and the city.”
The council postponed the update vote for further study. A presentation on the issue that included all parties – representatives from the parks committee, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the council – is planned.