A roadside brush pickup program that has long been an integral part of Pine and Strawberry’s effort to protect the tiny mountain hamlets from a catastrophic wildfire could end this year.
That’s what Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee president Mel Palmer told a crowd of about 70 residents during an April 5 meeting in the Pine Cultural Hall.
“It doesn’t look good for us to continue this (brush pickup program) next year,” Palmer said.
Money, or lack of it, appears to be behind the demise of the program that this year has been taken over by the fuel reduction committee after having been run previously by the Pine Strawberry Fire Department.
In 2013, grants that had funded brush pickup dried up and the program was discontinued, requiring homeowners to make several trips to the landfill with brush and pine needles cleaned from their property.
However, many homeowners don’t have trucks or trailers or any way to transport brush and trimmings to a landfill.
Realizing the lack of a pickup program was increasing fire danger in the area, committee members began in December 2013 fundraising efforts to bring back brush pickup.
At Saturday’s meeting, Palmer told the audience $14,500 has been collected, just enough to run one brush pickup this year.
In planning this year’s program, the committee was blindsided by an unexpected cost when it was learned Gila County will be charging $10,000 to dump wastes in Buckhead Mesa Landfill.
The committee was counting on partnership with the county for brush disposal at the landfill as had been the agreement when the fire department conducted the pickup program.
The agreement, however, was not extended to the committee. With the unexpected expense and just over $14,000 in the committee’s coffers, the group can fund just two months of pickups.
Palmer did, however, offer a glimmer of hope, saying a private contractor from Strawberry had contacted him about continuing the program on a fee basis.
The contractor would probably have to negotiate an agreement with the Pine Strawberry Fire Board to lease the equipment that the committee will use when brush pickups begin April 28.
For this year’s program, Pine has been divided into pickup zones 1 through 4 and Strawberry into 5 through 8.
Palmer advises residents to find out the zone they’re in and determine the deadline for leaving brush at curbside.
Zone maps and pickup dates are available on the committee’s website at: psfuelreduction.org.
Also at the meeting, board members Katie Calderon and Janet Brandt gave an optimistic preview of the Sept. 14 Fourth Annual Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike Race telling the audience it will “be even bigger and better” than the first three years.
In addition to the racing, the event will feature a beer garden, camping, live bands, food booths, a kids camp, a raffle, silent auction and spaghetti dinner.
Also on the agenda, Pine Strawberry Fire Department representative Mike Brandt detailed a trails building status report in which he stressed the importance of mountain trails saying they not only “get forest dollars here” but help fuel reduction.
The day following the meeting, April 6, work began on the Arizona Trail southeast of Pine and will continue on April 12, 19 and 26. Workdays are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers should meet at the Pine Trailhead south of Pine.