Recently in Colorado Springs, Colorado the annual Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network workshop and a meeting of Fire Learning Network (FLN) leads overlapped. This led to some great opportunities for the two groups to meet and share stories, insights and encouragement with one another.
Investing in FAC and Fire Restoration Projects
On their first night together, practitioners from both groups enjoyed drinks and appetizers and attended a poster session, during which they had the opportunity to invest $250,000 in “firebucks” in one another’s projects. Representatives from each FLN landscape and FAC community took turns standing by posters that showcased their projects and roaming around and checking out other projects. After deciding whom to support with their firebucks, participants submitted their checks along with comments explaining their reasons for providing the support.
On the spot, we compiled the grant totals and gave away some fun prizes to the respective FLN and FAC Learning Network winners. Of the $10 million game dollars that were distributed, $850,000 went to the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, making them the FAC Network winner, while the top FLN project was the Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) program, which was awarded $800,000 in firebucks. The rest of the funds were distributed to the other projects – no FLN or FAC Network member went unfunded during this activity!
Keys to Success
Wide-ranging comments came with the checks, though a few themes emerged. Particularly telling was that few of the comments called out technical success. Rather, relationships and relational “agility” were considered to be most important.
In many cases, partnerships were noted as reasons for success – especially as a means of collaborating with agencies to overcome bureaucratic barriers. About the Southern Blue Ridge FLN, one funder said, “I like the large number of partners this group has engaged.” Supporting the success of the Austin Fire Department, one funder wrote, “Excellent leadership with excellent vision and savvy. They are taking key steps – engaging other government partners, networks beyond their communities, and pushing the envelope with their departments.” Noted about the Prescribed Fire Training Exchange program was, “Broad partnerships, mixing agency and trained local burners.” One funder of the Klamath-Siskiyou FLN noted “multi-stakeholder partners who are taking action.” A noted component of Firescape Monterey’s (FLN) success was “demonstrated courage in getting litigious partners to work together.”
Engagement of stakeholder communities was also a noted asset. The Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition was praised for “reaching out to second homeowners.” The Coalition for the Upper South Platte was lauded for its “emphasis on volunteer community members which builds shared learning and problem solving.” The Florida Forest Service was noted for “the use of volunteers – neighbors helping neighbors” and Project Wildfire for “empowering communities.”
Strong and engaging leadership was lauded by many of the grantors. As one grantor noted in an award to the California Fire Safe Council, “Positive sparkle and intelligence of the representative. People give money to people!” Underscoring the importance of building relationships through leadership, a grantor said about the Centennial Valley landscape: “The leader’s charisma and can do attitude” was key to success and, “willingness (and ability) to genuinely connect with people is key.” About the Mercer County Soil Conservation District, one grantor said, “The leadership is key. The relationships and the amazing successes they have achieved without any money is a testament to their ability and passion.” The “enthusiasm and confidence of the leader,” of Dovetail Partners was a noted component of their success.
Many other unique reasons were given for supporting an organization, from passion to adaptability to perseverance over the long haul.
The work of sharing learning was not limited to the comments on checks. As the game space teetered between frank discussion and all-out party, practitioners couldn’t help but share lessons learned, challenges and inspiration with one another. One comment that was heard in many conversations was “We have so much in common!” While the FAC Network is focused on community adaptation to wildfire, the FLN is focused on fostering collaborative landscape restoration through prescribed burns. But the line between the wildland-urban interface and wild landscapes is often a blurry one. Through this game and the rest of our time spent together, practitioners found commonality of purpose and good reason for increased collaboration and continued learning.
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