CANYON CITY - New proposals for Title III funding consideration would help put some county records online, create "weed warriors," teach about the John Day River system, and staff the collaborative group that is trying to clean up the national forest.

In all, the Grant County Court heard proposals for five projects at the panel's meeting last Wednesday, April 2. The projects next face a 45-day comment period before their fate is decided.

The applicants seek part of some $700,000 in federal funding available to the county through Title III. The money can only be used for forest education-related projects.

The funding is in its last year, due to the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Sue Newstetter, the county's Title III coordinator, said the money must be allocated by Sept. 30, or the county will lose it. However, once allocated, the applicants can spend the money over the next year or two.

Newstetter said the county records project could be the start of a website for all sorts of county services, as well as geographic information system (GIS) data.

"I think there's room to grow this project," she said.

The first step, however, was last week's request for the Grant County Public vs. Private Boundary Identification Project, sought by the county Surveyor's Office to arm an array of agencies with better information as they plan and prepare for wildland fire situations.

The project, with a budget of $50,000, would establish a Grant County website to hold county survey maps, planning records and land-use documents, making them readily available for determining boundaries needed by the public and the fire agencies. The material could be used in planning developments near national forest lands to reduce fire risk in the urban-wildland interface.

"With over 60 percent of the land base in Grant County in public ownership, this information is critical throughout the county," the application said.

Partners in the project are the Surveyor's Office and Grant County Planning Department. Mike Springer, deputy county surveyor, would coordinate the project.

While this project focuses on the survey records, the proponents note that in the future other county departments could add information that is not available online today. Those additions would have to be funded by other means than Title III, however.

The other Title III proposals include:

? $30,000 to help pay a part-time staff person over two years for the Blue Mountains Forest Partners, a collaborative group that is charting forest health projects on the Malheur National Forest. The group - which includes citizens, forest industry representatives and agency staffers - plans to launch its first project in the Dads Creek area.

George Meredith, a BMFP member, said the group has been around for two years, meeting monthly. In addition to planning forest projects, the members have hosted informational forums to help participants from diverse backgrounds reach consensus on ways to improve forest conditions. "There is a lot of learning going on," he told the Court.

The BMFP has operated with staff help from Sustainable Northwest, a non-profit that advocates for healthy forests and communities.

The new position is budgeted at $40,000 for two years, with $30,000 requested from Title III. Meredith said the group also has a $4,000 grant and would raise the remaining money from its membership.

Commissioner Boyd Britton asked if the participating environmental groups would be chipping in, and Meredith said that Oregon Wild and The Nature Conservancy are already committed to help.

"I expect every one of the nonprofit environmental groups to make a contribution," Meredith said.

? $30,000 to continue and enhance the Grant County Soil and Water Conservation District's education and outreach program for invasive plant species management. The SWDC Weed Control Program will hold informational meetings, distribute brochures and provide training and technical assistance to students and landowners.

"The goal is to create weed warriors aware of invasive weeds on forest and private lands, capable to respond in meaningful way to mitigate the threat," according to the proposal presented by Tom Rush.

The program targets noxious weeds because they damage forest ecosystems, increase fire risk, outcompete natural vegetation and negatively impact both wildlife and livestock.

? About $41,000 for a video/DVD project to add to the ongoing "Mobile Classroom" project undertaken in recent years by Grant County. Previous projects have examined forest issues, cattle grazing and the wild horse population on public lands in Grant County.

The new installment would focus on the John Day River system, from the headwaters to the Columbia River, as it relates to agriculture, fisheries, recreation and water supplies.

The Mobile Classroom lessons extend beyond the boundaries of Grant County.

? $44,000 for another video/DVD project that would be a companion piece to the "Forests for All" children's book on forest health, stewardship and wildlife, and a coloring book on the same theme.

The book, published more than a year ago, has proven popular with museums, libraries and other organizations across the nation. Newstetter said more than 3,000 have been ordered so far.

The DVD would provide film of live animals as well as illustrated characters as a way to explore forest life and help promote understanding of forest management for sustainable uses.

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