Building a sustainable cadre of stakeholders who can effectively and eagerly communicate messages about preparedness poses a constant challenge. For those working on becoming more fire adapted, having local capacity is vital to accomplishing work on the ground. Deschutes County residents have recently engaged in a couple of innovative approaches designed to give more empowerment to local stakeholders and further the reach of the organizations and agencies in central Oregon.
A large piece of building capacity is to surpass barriers that prevent mitigation being accomplished in the highest risk areas. In Deschutes County one barrier is the nature of landownership, which prevents residents and fire agency personnel from practicing an “all hands, all lands” approach. Recently, the Deschutes National Forest and the Upper Deschutes River Coalition (UDRC) signed an agreement to work cooperatively on fuels reduction within 26 neighborhoods in South Deschutes County. The UDRC is an organization that was formed over a decade ago. This dedicated group of citizens has been working together to reduce risks posed by wildland fires to 26 communities along the Upper Deschutes River. This current agreement will allow for fuel reduction to be accomplished on both private and public lands, recognizing that private land fuel treatments are as important as public land treatments to prevent the effects of a large wildfire.
Even more unique is that private citizens, with USDA Forest Service approval, can work on public lands in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and vice versa. The UDRC will provide funding and volunteers for work on the private lands and the USDA Forest Service will provide expertise in fuels management planning and implementation. The USDA Forest Service will also provide financial assistance, skilled workforce and specialized equipment for activities like brush mowing, prescribed burning, hazard tree falling and ladder fuel reduction thinning that the UDRC does not have.
Another approach to building capacity is through Oregon State University Extension, which is partnering with many local agencies to facilitate and instruct the Citizen Fire Academy (CFA) volunteer education program. The CFA is a collaborative education and service program designed to increase the outreach capacity of fire agencies and ultimately to maintain and encourage more fire adapted community activities. The goal is to increase implementation of defensible space and other Firewise practices, and build human capacity to deal with wildfire.
The course currently being held in Deschutes County is the second pilot program in the state of Oregon. The comprehensive CFA curriculum will cover fire science, home protection strategies, fuels reduction, living in a fire environment, evaluating risk, emergency planning, and volunteer outreach. The training will include 35 hours of online modules and field-based instruction, taught by subject experts and is tailored to central Oregon. After taking the course, the residents will contribute to wildfire preparedness in various capacities, including: helping their neighbors assess their properties, getting their neighborhood recognized as a Firewise Community, staffing a booth at a local outreach event, or writing an article pertaining to wildfire preparedness. CFA is striving to match participants’ strengths, interests and abilities with the organization they choose to volunteer with.
These innovative approaches are great new venues that will allow more residents to feel empowered to make a difference in their local community. Deschutes County’s grassroots network continues to thrive and expand thanks to novel programs, which will ultimately build human capacity to encourage a more fire adapted community.
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