2011 was a very good year for the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council. The money came late for our grant to help homeowners with abatement but we were able to quickly put the money to use over the summer. The quality of our newsletter is good and so are our membership numbers. New people joined the Woodies and they continue to produce a steady stream of valuable firewood for those who need it. And to top it off, from all I can tell, everyone involved in our work has a good time doing it.

In 2012, we hope to keep all this going, but add some new directions. Board and staff members have given a lot of thought to the future over the past six months, and we have chosen five goals for the coming years.

The first goal is to do a feasibility study of a bioenergy plant for the community. Various people on the mountain have been thinking about this for some time, but it seems we are ready to seriously look at how we might build a system that would generate electricity from all the fuel we remove for fire safety.

I am new to this, but the Forest Service’s Dan Felix really caught my interest in a great conversation we had with him and District Ranger Laurie Rosenthal about the future. It seems that technology might have progressed to the point that even a small community like ours could economically support a facility like this.

Imagine that we take all our excess fuel — our leaves, needles, branches and dead trees — and turn them into electricity (or heat) for our own benefit. Talk about sustainability! Ray Barmore, our board secretary, will lead our study.

Our next goal is to facilitate the clearing of vacant lots, many of which are fire hazards. The county has had trouble trying to get owners to make them fire safe, but we think there are some things we can do to get the ball rolling again to bring them up to code.

Our third goal is to support the maintenance of our community fuelbreaks. These fuelbreaks, so critical to community safety, have a nasty habit of growing back. Unfortunately, federal and state money to maintain them does not have the same habit. We think we may be able to help agencies with this. One possibility is to see if we can create an “Adopt-a-Fuelbreak” program, where community members could help to maintain the land. Our fourth goal is to engage children in the educational issues around fire. This involves offering a class at the school and at various summer camps.

Our fifth goal is to extend and improve our outreach to the public on fire safety. Some of this involves continuing what we have been doing, like the “Firemen’s Muster” event we co-sponsored with the fire agencies last spring and will again this year, as well as our newsletter.

But there are new ideas too. Doris Lombard, a board director who is also an artist, is working on an illustration that will appear in the Town Crier, and I think it is going to be a big hit. We also want to keep speaking to elected officials to keep or elicit their support for fuels programs in the mountains.

We’re excited about all of this. These projects, if successful, would represent a big step forward for everyone with a stake in the mountains.