Photo Credit: Stakeholders of the WKRP gather at site of previous prescribed fire to see benefits. Photo by Kate Lighthall

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) and attend their field trip for the Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management and Capacity Development Project (see the recent blog post about the meeting).

Like most collaborative projects, there are many stakeholders representing diverse interests who have come together to find shared values and goals for their landscape. Moving from agreement in principle to agreement in practice, however, is the true test of collaboration.

“We’re going slow and starting small,” I heard from many of the stakeholders from the WKRP. “This is good advice,” I thought as I watched the environmental representative keep her eye on the tall Doug firs (owl habitat needs tree canopy) and the Karuk Tribe’s food security coordinator keep her eye on the huckleberries (they need sunlight). I found myself wondering how such diverse interests would get past the initial shared values and goal setting to actual implementation of treatment projects to achieve those goals.

The answer, I know, is through a rich collaborative process – one that is facilitated to move slowly and build trust over time. This is happening with the WKRP effort and I have no doubt that their unhurried and steady progress towards returning fire to the landscape will meet their shared goals and vision.

This type of community and stakeholder involvement is the core philosophy of the National Wildland Fire Management Cohesive Strategy. Simply put, people are dying, homes and communities are burning up, we are losing natural resources and habitat to extreme wildfire, and we can no longer afford the soaring costs of fire suppression. Cohesive Strategy promotes collaborative efforts at all levels to find solutions to the wildland fire challenges across all jurisdictions. The three overarching goals of the Cohesive Strategy are to Restore Resilient Landscapes, Create Fire Adapted Communities and Safe & Effective Wildfire Response. The path to achieving those goals? Collaboration.

The “C word” gets thrown around a lot these days and although it’s becoming a bit cliché, the process of collaboration continues to be noted for its ability to bring diverse stakeholders to consensus and subsequent success.

This sounds like a huge undertaking on the national scale. Where successful integration of the Cohesive Strategy is easy to see though, is at the local level, as in the WKRP model. Land management agencies are working together with diverse stakeholders to identify shared values and goals, and turn that vision into treatment projects that make meaningful reductions in risk across landscapes.

 The WKRP identified six clear objectives through their collaborative planning process:

  • Fire adapted communities,
  • Restored fire regimes,
  • Healthy river systems,
  • Resilient bio-diverse forests/plants and animals,
  • Sustainable local economies, and
  • Cultural and community vitality.

Each of the proposed activities discussed on the field trip – using prescribed fire, training and using local workforces, biomass utilization, mechanical fuels reduction, training and using local fire crews – will work synergistically toward achievement of all six values.

Sound familiar? Restoring resilient landscapes – check. Creating fire adapted communities – check. Safe and effective wildfire response – check.

I like the way Tom Harbour, director of fire and aviation for the US Forest Service sizes it up: The Cohesive Strategy is “a commitment to the philosophy that as stakeholders, we all share responsibilities for managing our lands; protecting our nation’s natural, tribal and cultural resources and making our communities safe and resilient for future generations.”

In Northern California, the WKRP is integrating the core tenets of the Cohesive Strategy by utilizing a collaborative process to identify values and goals that address their six values that, in turn, make meaningful progress towards achievement of the three goals of the Cohesive Strategy.

More information and demonstrations of Cohesive Strategy success can be found here.

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