Mar 01, 2018
Better Work, Bigger Impact: Recent Fire Adaptation Highlights
Authors: FAC Net Staff
April marks FAC Net’s fifth year of operations. According to some traditions, an appropriate five-year anniversary gift is something made of wood. For FAC Net members and partners, perhaps fewer wooden fences near homes or healthier forests would be suitable gifts.
Given the network’s impending anniversary, we wanted to highlight some of our members’, readers’ and partners’ (i.e., your!) recent* accomplishments. Together, we’ve made great strides to change the way we live with wildfire. You’re building the capacity of diverse communities to take action and improve their resilience. You’re investing in the health and capacity of several state network initiatives, adding depth and value to the affiliate membership program, placing new emphasis on equity and inclusion, contributing to national conversations about fire, and increasing wildfire resilience in the places you work. You’re connecting practitioners to transfer ideas and build relationships for peer support. Together, we’re developing strategies to address complex wildfire issues. That is certainly a relationship worth celebrating!
Influencing the National Fire Conversation
2017 was a record year for wildfires across the U.S., with eyes and ears pointed toward California in the fall and winter. Media activity was extremely high. FAC Net staff and members were contacted by a number of reporters, and they took advantage of the opportunity to offer examples of a better way forward. The work of FAC Net was featured by more than 15 media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Yes! and Fortune.
Building Wildfire Resilience Together
Members Helping Members — Better Work, Bigger Impact
How do wildland-urban interface (WUI) coordinators approach their jobs? Coordinators from Ashland Fire and Rescue (Oregon), Chelan Fire District 1 (Washington) and the Santa Fe Fire Department (New Mexico) held a learning exchange in December to compare their experiences, priorities and opportunities as fire adapted communities (FAC) leaders. They discussed home assessment approaches and data strategies, materials produced in partnership with Master Gardeners, and their fire departments’ expectations. As more fire departments fill WUI coordinator positions — a trend we are seeing — supporting the people in those positions through peer-mentoring will be increasingly critical, through events like this, and also through the virtual peer assistance that FAC Net enables.
Virtual learning opportunities like webinars provide a cost-efficient way to share information and begin a dialogue. The Rapid City Fire Department (South Dakota) WUI specialist has a unique skill set due to his experience in both fire and construction. His construction background helps him to “understand the nature and makeup of building materials, and to recognize new possibilities in using different materials.” This fall, he used that experience to host a FAC Net webinar on fire-resistant building materials.
Members facing similar challenges and opportunities are learning about each other’s strategies and using them at home. Project Wildfire, in central Oregon, is building relationships between the fire service and business sector as part of their budding business resiliency program. So they have been taking notes from Ashland Fire, which has a good collaborative partnership with their local chamber of commerce. And the central Oregon resort community of Sunriver is in the process of designing a local emergency evacuation plan for property owners and tourists. After seeing Lake Tahoe’s program last spring at the FAC Net workshop, and seeing the similarities between Sunriver and Tahoe, Project Wildfire is making connections with these partners. But Project Wildfire isn’t just learning from the network, they’re spreading their FireFree debris collection program model to affiliate members — in California, Hawaii, Montana and Washington.
Reducing Risk on the Ground
While community wildfire resilience is about more than fuels reduction, it is the centerpiece of many fire adaptation efforts, and most FAC Net members run fuels management programs in their communities. Here’s a brief overview of some of the mitigation work members completed over the last several months:
- The Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership (Arizona) received a grant to reduce fuel loads and fire risk on 270 acres in key areas in and around Flagstaff. They also completed work on 325 acres in the Fort Tuthill County Fairgrounds.
- Island Park Sustainable Fire Community (Idaho) completed 61 home assessments, and two slash pickups yielding 2,300 cubic yards of slash from hundreds of people.
- The Forest Stewards Guild (New Mexico) and their partners burned 160 acres in the WUI as part of the Rio Trampas Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX). An additional unit was thinned and prepped for pile and broadcast burning in the spring.
- The Klamath TREX burned 310 acres this fall, and the Karuk Tribe (California) secured another investment from the Reserved Treaty Rights Lands Program to support future TREX events.
- Project Wildfire hosted a FireFree event that brought in over 14,000 cubic yards of material from residents, and Project Wildfire treated another 728 acres.
- FireWise of Southwest Colorado started a defensible space cost-share program, conducting over 160 site visits and 44 cost-share projects. They completed four large mitigation projects adjacent to, and in partnership with, the Forest Service. They also worked with the Pine River Irrigation District to dispose of 200 loads of slash — 1,000 volunteer-hours of work — using the district’s air curtain burner.
- In Rapid City, a 90-acre common area surrounded by private parcels has been the site of extensive work. The HOA that owns the property requested help from the Rapid City Fire Department, and with grant funding they completed treatments on nearly the entire parcel.
Learning Events Boost Capacity for Living with Fire
Island Park Sustainable Fire Community held workshops for people to share their fire fears, needs and wants, and to make new connections. Following a walk-through of one subdivision with the county emergency response coordinator and the Forest Service’s fire manager where discussion centered on evacuation plans and emergency preparedness, property owners immediately solidified plans to take action.
Chestatee/Chattahoochee Resource Conservation and Development Council (Georgia) focused on reaching a rural audience this fall, with “Firewise on the Farm” events helping them engage over a hundred people from rural communities. These events were the fruit of a broad partnership, held in cooperation with local fire departments, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Resource Conservation and Development Councils, mitigation contractors, extension services, 4-H, landowner associations, state and federal agencies and others.
In northern Minnesota, the July “Living with Fire” workshop in Ely was inspired by the work of other FAC Net members, including the Citizen’s Fire Academy in Oregon, Island Park’s Incident Command reenactment and Santa Fe’s Simtable workshop. Well attended by permanent and seasonal residents alike, meeting evaluations indicated the messages got through — responses included, “I need to work on my driveway to make it safe for local emergency personnel,” “I need an evacuation plan,” and “controlled fire is a good thing!” And the organizers reported that participants in the event now want more — more in-depth workshops, more technical assistance with mitigation work, more field learning.
Project Wildfire and the Bend Parks Department also gave a presentation at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Association conference this fall. They spoke about a May 2017 controlled burn in Shevlin Park — a treasured and heavily used public space in Bend — sharing lessons on prescribed fire use and smoke mitigation techniques with administrators from across the state.
It is difficult to convey the gigantic strides we have made in the state in just a few years with some financial and technical assistance from FAC Net and some dedicated professionals here to implement ideas. We have a statewide nonprofit, a network of Ambassadors and local Fire Safety Councils, Firewise Communities that support risk reduction efforts, and partnerships with statewide environmental nonprofits to increase wildfire resiliency.
-FAC Net member
Aligning Plans, Policies and Authorities for All-Hands, All-Lands Work
The work of FAC Net members includes collaboration, planning and implementation to allow cross-boundary work that mitigates risk and increases wildfire resilience. In Arizona, the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership is working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service on a Conservation Implementation Strategy. This strategy prioritizes treatments on private, state and municipal lands and advances fire adaptation goals. In South Dakota, the Black Hills Resilient Forest Strategy and the Mountain Pine Beetle Strategy have been combined into a single strategy that will help agencies move forward with a Cohesive Strategy approach. The effort has been influenced by FAC Net members and the resources they’ve shared with Rapid City members.
Sometimes, policy change is required to address fire risk. In Boise, a new fuels reduction policy enables residents to treat grass on city-managed open space adjacent to their property, helping landowners manage the risks that come with living in the WUI.
In southwest Colorado, the San Juan National Forest is working with the Colorado State Forest Service on at least three Good Neighbor Authority projects that adjoin several FireWise of Southwest Colorado communities. Most of the communities that FireWise works with adjoin the Forest, so authorities that enable all-lands work are critical to their success. According to FireWise of Southwest Colorado staff, “forest managers are starting to recognize the wildfire preparation efforts made by these communities. The result is the communities wanting to do more now that they see the Forest Service taking action.”
The support and seed money we received from FAC Net as we started our collaborative played a huge role in what I consider to be one of our most significant accomplishments over the past one or two years, which is an enhanced relationship with the National Forest.
-FAC Net member
A Little More Capacity — A Lot More Impact
Successful fire adaptation efforts require coordination. Without someone bringing together various parts of the system, everything is a one-off project that cannot live up to its potential. FAC Net members are investing in the kind of local and regional capacity that stitches the components of a robust resilience strategy together.
In Texas, the Austin Fire Department has filled seven new full-time positions dedicated to the implementation of the Cohesive Strategy, including a dedicated fire adapted communities coordinator. FAC Net members shared staffing models and position descriptions that assisted with these hires.
The Forest Stewards Guild is increasing its capacity for prescribed fire and fire adaptation by adding two new staff positions and by working with the Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module. The Guild and the Module have aligned missions, and working together will increase capacity for prescribed fire and fuels reduction at a scale beyond which either can achieve alone.
The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (California) is tackling treatment planning in tandem with workforce capacity issues. By working on both, they’ll have shovel-ready projects and the regional capacity to implement them.
Affiliate Membership—Growing, Connecting, Adding Value
Since launching the affiliate member program we’ve seen consistent growth and engagement, and well over 100 members now participate via our website and online workspace. (Check out our map to find members near you!) Affiliate benefits include access to webinars, peer assists and staff coaching. Recent support includes: discussing mitigation fundraising strategies, coordinating job description and work plan sharing, reviewing Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and connecting practitioners that work with Resource Conservation and Development Councils to help navigate opportunities within that organizational structure. Is becoming an affiliate member a good next step for you? Or, has being an affiliate member enhanced your work? Tell us about those benefits in the comment section of this blog!
Support from FAC Net has helped raise the collaborative profile of our work and created a tipping point in our visibility and credibility in the community and among the local decision-makers that have wildfire responsibilities.
-FAC Net member
Elevating Equity and Inclusion in Community Engagement
FAC Net began working with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative two years ago. Through that, we have been learning ways to incorporate cultural fluency into our values and programming. Fire adapted communities work is about reducing wildfire risk, but it is equally about increasing community resilience and connectivity. That means investing in all community members’ capacity to plan for and weather natural disasters like wildfires. Too often, fire adaptation success is limited to those with the most privilege and resources. To make a real difference we must develop strategies that engage all members of our communities. As the network continues to grow, an equity and inclusion lens will continue to guide our work.
Happy anniversary, everyone who makes FAC Net possible!
*The accomplishments above pertain to work that occurred between July and December 2017. Want to learn more about FAC Net’s journey? Check out all of our bi-annual reports that detail the accomplishments of practitioners like you. A printer-friendly version of our Winter 2018 Report is also available.