Forest Schafer, FAC hub coordinator for the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, points out evidence of tree root rot during a prescribed fire tour in the Tahoe Basin.

Topic: Communications / Outreach Meetings / Events Watershed protection / management Type: Meeting / Event

Changing Perspectives to Better Understand FAC

Authors: Molly Mowery

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in Nevada’s first annual “Network of Fire Adapted Communities” conference. This new statewide effort is being coordinated by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire program.

The conference was packed with engaging ways to bring stakeholders together in order to launch a new network of communities while continuing Nevada’s commitment to implementing FAC principles across its wildland-urban interface. The conference highlighted important FAC learning opportunities through creative audience participation (think “FAC Jeopardy”), and speakers clarified how this new Nevada network differs from the former Nevada Fire Safe Councils while still seeking to engage similar stakeholders.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Elwood Miller, will serve as Nevada’s new FAC program coordinator for their network. Dr. Miller shared several excellent insights with the audience on how helping community members embrace FAC principles starts with changing a culture. And most importantly, changing a culture starts by helping individuals change their perspective. Often, because of our different life experiences, we bring different angles to wildfire risk and mitigation.

I couldn’t help but think about how timely Dr. Miller’s comments were in light of my own experience with Forest Schafer the day before the conference. Forest serves as the FAC program coordinator for North Lake Tahoe’s Fire Protection District  — one of the FAC Learning Network hubs. As Forest gave me a tour of the Tahoe Basin, he discussed the myriad stakeholders engaged in the coordination process to guide decisions on wildfire mitigation activities. He also pointed out some of their many prescribed fire treatments, and we looked at various threats to forest health, including the western pine beetle.

During our tour, many of my thoughts were occupied by noticing the size and abundance of the sugar pine cones and Jeffrey pine needles carpeting the landscape. I marveled to Forest how much effort it must take to stay on top mitigating these “fine fuels” throughout the neighborhoods. This perspective was based on my Colorado lens, where ponderosa pines – the dominant tree species for many Colorado Front Range communities – are typically much smaller (for various reasons due to soil and other forest health conditions). Although ponderosa pine trees can also drop a lot of needles, it seemed nowhere in comparison to the pines surrounding Lake Tahoe communities.

Pine needles throughout Tahoe Basin neighborhoods can create a mitigation challenge for many homeowners.

Pine needles throughout Tahoe Basin neighborhoods can create a mitigation challenge for many homeowners.

Forest’s perspective, however, was that compared to coastal environments these trees weren’t particularly massive. In fact he shared that many visitors from California often comment on how much smaller this forest seemed. We appreciated that our various geographic filters made us look at the same trees with two very different lenses, shaping our different views on wildfire mitigation within the same area.

Our brief tour, coupled with the wisdom shared during the conference, reminded me of the value in sharing perspectives and learning in the field. There are many FAC concepts, programs and activities available, and sharing our insights with one another is the true glue that builds the learning network.

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