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Orcas Highlands

Orcas HighlandsThe Orcas Highlands Homeowners Association (the Highlands) is located in the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington. The area receives 18-24 inches of rainfall per year, and is very dry during the summer months. Moran State Park, a 5,000-acre park that contains Mount Constitution, the San Juan Island's highest point (2,409 feet), is located on Orcas Island, providing spectacular views from its summit.

The Highlands is a close-knit community composed of approximately 80 homes and 30 undeveloped lots. About two-thirds of the properties are occupied year-round. Many of the home sites are on steep slopes with sweeping views of the Straits of Georgia and Vancouver Island in Canada. The homeowners association maintains the Highlands' road and water systems.

Orcas HighlandsThe Highlands was logged approximately 30 years ago, at the time the area was developed. Now Douglas fir is the dominant tree species in the Highlands, but also found are lodgepole pine and white fir---much of it very dense. In addition, native vegetation abounds in the form of Pacific madrone, bigleaf maples, alders, salal and Oregon grape.

Moran State Park is adjacent to the development. It contains many acres of mature softwood timber, including a considerable amount of down and dead debris. Wildfire threat is taken seriously by Highlands residents for this reason. In addition, the development has only one way in and one way out---a situation that could seriously hamper effective evacuation and wildfire suppression efforts during a wildfire. In the face of this situation, residents decided to do something about their collective fire readiness.

Orcas HighlandsIn 2003, the homeowners developed a mitigation plan began working in the 40-acre common area adjacent to their entrance/exit. They removed down and dead woody debris, limbed up the trees and removed and modified vegetation there. In subsequent years, work in the common area has continued. Supplemental to this effort, Highlands residents have begun mitigating the vegetative hazards on their own properties. In order to remove the green waste, the association has created a budget line item for fire mitigation and has also received small grants from the local volunteer fire department.

Wildfire mitigation in the Highlands is a grass-roots effort. The HOA president, Bea vonTobel, said, "We've invested between 200 and 300 hours of volunteer labor (thus far) into mitigating the common area and we'll continue to do a little chunk every year."

See more information about the Orcas Highlands.