Practices, tools, and strategies for local fire adaptation

The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, together with Dr. Travis Paveglio, is pleased to share a new tool for fire adaptation practitioners, community members and policymakers! The Fire Adapted Communities Pathways Tool (FAC Pathways Tool or Tool) helps users identify a range of fire adaptation practices and resources that research and experience indicate are more likely to work in the places they live and work.

This Tool combines decades of research on community wildfire adaptation with practitioner-based knowledge and experience. It helps users identify a community, determine an initial “community archetype” and suggest fire adaptation practices, tools and approaches suited to similar communities. The Tool then helps users create a ‘pathway’ that is tailored to their community conditions. The Tool is also intended to inform progress on fire adaptation across varied regions, identify the most effective programs, grants or assistance for supporting community adaptation, and to demonstrate the diverse needs for wildfire adaptation to promote equity in ongoing fire resilience work. 

Why do we need different fire adaptation pathways?

One of the most important pieces of the fire adapted communities framework is that it is broad and can encompass the adaptation work that your community needs. It isn’t a one-size fits all approach, but rather a lens through which we can continue to change our relationship with fire. That open-endedness, while essential, can be difficult to navigate. One common question community members and practitioners ask is, “Where do I start?” The FAC Pathways Tool attempts to answer that question. It does this using community as the central lens for determining next steps. 

Previous research conducted by Dr. Travis Paveglio and his collaborators (including Dr. Matt Carroll, Dr. Daniel Williams, Dr. Catrin Edgeley, Dr. Pamela Jakes, and Dr. Amanda Stasiewicz) has focused on understanding the ways that diverse communities adapt to changing wildfire conditions. Travis and his collaborators have created and tested systematic frameworks for articulating the range of local conditions that influence divergent wildfire adaptation. Like FAC Net, their work (and the work of many others) consistently concludes that there is no singular way to adapt to wildfire. Recognizing and articulating those unique local conditions helps local people design relevant adaptation that reflects who they are, and which is much more likely to be effective in improving community relationships with wildfire. 

One component of Travis and his collaborators’ approach to wildfire adaptation is the “community archetypes”—broad patterns of community characteristics which tend to repeat across fire-prone areas.  Archetypes can help communities more quickly distinguish the types of adaptation practices likely to work in their place, share lessons with communities who share similar conditions and help explain why adaptation programs, initiatives or incentives are adopted in some places and not others. Research originally identified four archetypes (Working Landscape, Rural Lifestyle, High Amenity/High Resource and Formal Subdivision). This Tool introduces a fifth archetype (Commercial and Highly Developed), recognizing that our understanding of fire prone communities continues to evolve.

The research informing diverse community wildfire adaptation, including the archetypes and associated understandings about the applicability of various fire practices across community conditions, draws from decades of in-depth research with communities. 

What are “fire adaptation practices”?

When FAC Net was launched nearly a decade ago, one of the central questions we hoped to answer was, “What do we mean by fire adaptation? What are the activities, practices and programs communities can use to improve fire outcomes and strengthen their resilience?” These actions which advance fire adaptation are collectively known as “fire adaptation practices” or “FAC Practices.” Network members generously shared their work, and helped us think beyond the silos created by existing funding pathways and programs to add to the inventory of practices. 

In 2017, Network members completed an in-depth activity analysis and prioritization process furthering the collective understanding of FAC Practices. We used each network members’ individual practices to highlight similarities and differences across contexts and to spark connections and exchange among practitioners. Feedback on this initial FAC Practices work helped us populate the original FAC graphic and seed the beginnings of a larger inventory effort undertaken as part of this Pathways project. As part of the FAC Pathways Tool development process, we expanded on the early practices work to develop descriptions, resources and case studies for each practice.  

Over the past 10 years, FAC Net has continued to help communities examine their portfolio of FAC Practices to evaluate what is working (or not working) in their place, what strategic changes can be made to increase the impact of their work, and how deliberate actions can change their relationship with fire. While no single tool can replicate these deep and on-going conversations, the prompting questions posed by the Tool within the Worksheet and Action Guide build upon the strategy work FAC Net has done, and continues to do, with members. 

Why use the FAC Graphic?

The Fire Adapted Communities Graphic (FAC Graphic) is an easy and approachable way to understand the holistic nature of fire adaptation and the many valid approaches to working toward better fire outcomes. The existing FAC Graphic was developed using the insight, knowledge and experience of Network members across the country. Practitioners, through their on-the-ground work, have shaped our collective understanding of what it means to be a fire adapted community. 

The central teal ring of the original FAC Graphic contains ten categories of community adaptation (i.e., Public Health, Resident Mitigation, Safety & Evacuation, etc.) that help organize adaptation practices. Practices, listed in the outer green ring, highlight some of the many ways communities can take action to adapt to wildfire. The original FAC Graphic represents some, but not all, possible actions communities can take when adapting to wildfire. 

The FAC Graphic provided the scaffolding for creating the new, expanded graphics and descriptions of practices which are provided in the Tool and which can provide both a more tailored approach to diverse communities and a more expanded understanding of the adaptation practices which can be possible. It is important to note that while the FAC Graphic effectively communicates broad ideas, it was never intended to describe all of the valid practices communities are undertaking. Similarly, while the expanded graphics based upon community archetypes expand our conception of what may be possible in our communities, they are not intended to be a checklist or all-inclusive list of practices. 

The original Fire Adapted Communities Graphic (and foundation for the archetype-specific graphics contained within the FAC Pathways Tool).

How is the FAC Pathways Tool different from the FAC SAT?

The Fire Adapted Communities Self-Assessment (FAC SAT) was developed to help communities assess their fire adaptation efforts. The FAC SAT can help community members identify their community’s values at risk, identify community capacity to implement FAC activities, assess any gaps or limitations in funding, resources, partnerships and workforce/volunteers and prioritize future fire adaptation activities.  

Both the FAC SAT and the FAC Pathways Tool can help communities gain a deeper understanding of their place. The FAC SAT places a greater emphasis on understanding community assets and inventorying conditions.The FAC Pathways Tool places a greater emphasis on defining the social aspects of your community and provides more support during the selection of community adaptation practices. Both tools have a place in our toolbox. 

What is in the Tool?

The FAC Pathways Tool contains five new FAC graphics (one for each community archetype). A set of initial adaptation practices are suggested for each archetype. Each practice comes with a description and, where appropriate, case studies or resources to help users further their local adaptation work. In addition, users of the Tool are invited to think critically about the work they are undertaking or wish to undertake in their area. Worksheets, planning processes and prompts help users consider which practices to focus on. These strategy tools help communities examine the fire adaptation work they are undertaking, or considering undertaking, and make prioritization decisions. 

Completing the the Tool will result in:

  • a community description;
  • an initial community archetype which can help guide selection of adaptation practices;
  • a selection and analysis of practices that are likely to be successful in your community, including considerations, examples, and resources; and,
  • an action guide to facilitate your next steps.

How Was the Tool Developed?

The FAC Pathways Tool represents a truly collaborative, co-produced effort between practice and research. Dr. Travis Paveglio, Annie Schmidt, and Michelle Medley-Daniel spent many hours deliberating, experimenting, arranging practices across conditions, and writing descriptions of practices. There were definitely places along the way where we had to make careful choices or help each other consider the variety of ways users might engage with the ideas we were trying to synthesize. Yet, it was the combination of both practical experience and research approaches, valuing and building on both sets of knowledge, that enabled the design and completion of the FAC Pathways Tool. 

In addition to the work of Annie, Travis and Michelle, members of FAC Net, the Fire Learning Network, Indigenous Peoples Burning Network and TREX Coaches contributed ideas and practices to the Tool through a virtual exercise in 2021. The FAC Net staff team provided essential input into practice identification and development and FAC Net members had the opportunity to beta-test the Tool at their annual workshop in April of 2022. We are looking forward to working with more practitioners, communities and agency professionals to refine the Tool in the coming months. 

Workshop participants beta-testing the Pathways Tool at the April workshop.

What is Next?

This Tool is not designed to predict answers or assign your community to a box–it’s designed to provide a set of considerations and processes that help communities approach their own story of fire adaptation. You can help add to the richness of that story by testing this tool and providing your feedback. 

We are still learning about all of the local characteristics and conditions that influence wildfire adaptation practice, including the full range of social diversity and its influences on wildfire adaptation. This includes recognizing the importance of cultural diversity in historically underserved populations. We know there are other community archetypes to be explored, and a better understanding of whole communities will lead to more equitable wildfire resilience. Your participation–using and expanding on this tool–will help document a fuller range of cultural contexts and communities, each with their own knowledge, values, assets and fire adaptation needs. 

Utilizing this Tool, expanding it to advance fire adaptation support or assessing how adaptation is occurring across communities is about continual learning.That will continue to be a central tenet of our work. For instance, we are experimenting with the best ways to help communities identify their archetype in step two of the Tool. While the Tool provides one approach to help communities identify their archetype, two other options were developed and are available in an Appendix. And if none of the archetypes provide you with a useful starting point, another version of the tool allows you to build your new adaptation wheel from ALL of the practices articulated across the archetypes. It is through trial, testing and practice that we will be able to further refine the approach used in the FAC Pathways Tool. If you are interested in participating in further development of the FAC Pathways Tool, fill out this quick form!

Aside from refining information in the Tool, it is important to know that the Fire Adapted Communities Pathways Tool was never intended to be a paper-based tool.  An interactive, web-based version is in development now and expected to debut in late 2022. We know the paper-based document is long (and quite possibly overwhelming); that was not the intent nor is it the stopping point. Please read and follow the step-by-step instructions in the Tool carefully to greatly reduce the amount of material you have to digest. The interactive web-based tool will streamline use of the Tool. 

Finally, this Tool is not the only new tool in development at FAC Net. We are working on a suite of strategy tools to help practitioners transform their fire cultures. Tools tackling difficult issues like scale, governance and program alignment are in the works. We look forward to sharing those with you in the coming months. 

How Can You Access the Tool?

Visit this link https://fireadaptednetwork.org/resources/fac-pathways-tool and download the tool today!

Is There Support Available for Communities to Use the FAC Pathways Tool?

Limited support may be available to pilot the Fire Adapted Communities Pathways Tool in your area. If you are interested or your community would like to participate in the testing and development process, please fill out this brief form.

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