One City’s Lifeline for All Things FAC: A Day in the Life with Alison Lerch
Authors: Alison Lerch
When you get to work on Monday morning, what are your top priorities for the week?
I spend my first hour addressing any pressing things that have come up over the weekend. I try to meet with at least one of Ashland’s 25 Firewise Communities each week to discuss their accomplishments and see if they need any assistance from me. I also perform at least a few free home assessments during the week. The home assessment process is an excellent tool to connect with landowners, identify things that they can do to on their property to mitigate wildfire risk, and listen and respond to their questions and concerns about wildfire in the Rogue Valley. Each week, I have at least one meeting with either the Kiwanis Club of Ashland (a local service group), the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Ashland’s Wildfire Mitigation Commission (a municipal volunteer group) or the Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Cooperative to talk about pressing wildfire issues like smoke, home protection and evacuation. Through these meetings, I connect with citizen volunteers and other wildfire partners throughout Jackson and Josephine Counties.
Not all cities have a fire adapted communities coordinator. Tell us about your position.
My entire position is structured under the fire adapted communities concept. I work on a variety of projects that help the city of Ashland and its residents be more fire adapted, including codes and ordinances, Firewise efforts, fuels reduction and evacuation. I am grateful that when I took this position in 2015, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative was a part of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.
What are you working on with partners?
We just wrapped up a huge undertaking in southern Oregon. The Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Cooperative spent the last year planning the Southern Oregon Firewise Expo, a two-day outreach event geared toward homeowners and students that focused on defensible space, burn piles, landscape restoration, home ignition zones and flammable plants. Our team built mock structures that we used to safely conduct live burns. Each structure had a different landscaping scenario, which demonstrated the difference that defensible space makes. We reached over 850 middle school students and homeowners within Jackson and Josephine Counties. Participating agencies and organizations included Oregon Department of Forestry, Josephine County, local fire districts, Jacksonville Community Emergency Response Team, Rogue River-Siskiyou Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and many more.
Where might your job take you today?
A variety of places. Take last week. I started my morning at the Ashland farmers’ market, co-staffing a Firewise table with one of Ashland’s wildfire mitigation commissioners. Our display included fire-safe landscaping methods; the “good” example used rock mulch and fire-resistant plants within the five-foot buffer around a model home. We also had a “bad” example that used bark mulch in that buffer. After that, I met with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce board, where I presented information about controlled burning in our watershed and how people can get information if they see smoke. Then, I headed to a Community Wildfire Protection Plan meeting to report on Ashland Fire and Rescue’s 2017 accomplishments and progress to date.
When you get back to your desk, what unexpected thing has come up that needs your attention?
Ashland Fire and Rescue is located right in the middle of town, so people often stop by to see if I am in the office. When I am away from the office for a morning or afternoon, more times than not, there is a message or a business card on my desk from someone who wants to talk to me about becoming Firewise or getting a free home assessment. I love that our city is small enough that residents can pop in when it is convenient for them.
Work is over; another long but fulfilling day is behind you. What’s next?
Outside of work, I try to spend as much time as possible in the forest and on the river. If it is spring, fall or winter, you can find me on one of the beautiful hiking trails in the Applegate Valley. In the summer, you will find me on the Klamath or Rogue River, taking it easy with my husband and two kids.
When you’re wrapping up your FAC memoir, what will your last sentences be?
The most fulfilling part of my career has been working with a diverse group of landowners and professionals. The conversations that I’ve had, around the table or in the forest, have been life changing and there is nothing that can replace that genuine human connection. I’ve always thought of myself as a forester “for the people,” so being a FAC practitioner has allowed me to connect humans to the landscape around them in the most fulfilling way.