The Chipper Day contractor had to hire additional help to remove/chip all the slash that homeowners collected this year. Photo Credit: Gloria Erickson.

Topic: Communications / Outreach Wildfire risk assessment Type: Best Practices Success Story / Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned from a Successful Year of FAC Outreach

Authors: Gloria Erickson

The morning of our first Firewise Demonstration Day, I wondered, “Is anybody going to show up?” I had learned many lessons from our first Chipper Day the previous year (June 2014). Make sure the landowners want to participate. Just because the CWPP indicates a high-risk area doesn’t mean the landowners recognize the risk, or know how, or even want to do anything about it. Get buy-in well before the fire season.

January was when I began.

Jeff Jackson, our regional Firewise Specialist, and I had given a few FAC/Firewise presentations in our area. We had received some nice local press coverage. As a result of these efforts, I was approached by a few landowners who wanted to do some work on their own properties and were interested in our offer of providing a chipping contractor to help dispose of the hazardous woody debris they removed. I asked each of them to give me a list of all the landowners on their road. I would send a letter out to each landowner asking if they were interested in participating in three things:

  1. A hands-on Firewise demonstration.
  2. A free Firewise evaluation of their property.
  3. A “Chipper Day,” where we would provide the chipping contractor free of charge.

If they were not interested, why? I explained that if we had enough interest on their road, I would write a grant to our Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Firewise program requesting funding for these events.

I received a healthy response from landowners on four major roads surrounding Ely, MN. We wrote and received a grant to conduct four public, hands-on Firewise demonstrations and to hire a contractor to chip all of the woody debris the landowners removed from their properties.

The Chipper Day contractor had to hire additional help to remove/chip all the slash that homeowners collected this year. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

The Chipper Day contractor had to hire additional help to remove/chip all the slash that homeowners collected this year. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

Use Firewise Demonstrations to Create Demand

We planned to conduct these Firewise demonstrations in early summer 2015 to capture the attention of seasonal folks as well as permanent residents. We got the word out by doing short presentations at township meetings, road/lake association meetings/picnics, and volunteer fire department meetings. We sent emails, postcards and flyers. Articles were published in the local newspaper and various lake association newsletters. We also advertised in the local newspapers and the local radio station. All of this could not have been achieved without the help of our wonderful road ambassadors, support from all the various agencies – Forest Service, DNR, volunteer fire departments and Lake County Emergency Services — and the local media.

This resident gathered this material from her property by herself. Spruce budworm had hit this area hard, and there were a lot of standing dead balsam. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

This resident gathered this material from her property by herself. Spruce budworm had hit this area hard, and there were a lot of standing dead balsam. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

Our Firewise demonstrations were held on volunteered private properties and were open to the public. They were two hours in length, and conducted by our regional Firewise Specialist, with additional information being provided by our local fire chiefs, a Forest Service representative and the Lake County emergency manager. The large fire truck the fire chief brought was a powerful visual when discussing access issues. We provided food and beverages, Firewise brochures, and a “walkabout” of the property, discussing and showing ways landowners can make their properties more resilient to wildfire. Property owners were encouraged to ask questions throughout each event.

The positive feedback we received from our agency partners was overwhelming, but more important were the positive responses from the landowners themselves. Approximately 90 people attended our demonstrations; we signed up 75 people for individual Firewise evaluations, and best of all, word was spreading. I was getting more calls from landowners interested in hosting their own Firewise demonstrations and Chipper Days.

During the demonstration events, residents of the four roads chose the end of summer/beginning of fall to have their respective Chipper Days. This would give them plenty of time to do the work and still enjoy the summer.

Time to Deliver

Can one complain about a TOO-successful event? These folks, mostly the “over 60 crowd,” did an incredible job of thinning and stacking the hazardous woody debris they removed from their properties. I have pictures and stories of neighbors helping neighbors; of working in 90-degree weather with humidity levels to match; and of using an old boat to haul 20 loads of wood down a mile-long driveway. Each road’s Chipper Day turned into a 3- to 5-day affair. We tried to chip most woody debris on site, but ended up hauling most of it away to be chipped or burned later this winter because of the unexpected large volume. Lesson learned: make sure you have extra contractor capacity and large-scale disposal options, and the funding to pay for them, prior to each event, just in case.

Charlie Ragan (left) and his wife are seasonal residents who hired a local college student to cut and pile all of this slash in order to reduce fuel levels and improve ingress/egress on their property. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

Charlie Ragan (left) and his wife are seasonal residents who hired a local college student to cut and pile all of this slash in order to reduce fuel levels and improve ingress/egress on their property. Photo credit: Gloria Erickson.

Results of these events: approximately 1,511 landowner volunteer hours donated, approximately 5,400 pounds of hazardous fuels removed, and 75 individual Firewise evaluation requests. We also trained four new Firewise evaluators. And, one road association has formed a committee to work on an evacuation plan for their road.

I also have four roads with contact lists ready to roll for next year. My homework is to build capacity and find additional funding sources. It is obvious to me that there are landowners who are ready and willing to do their part. Continued partnerships and collaboration are vital to keep this momentum going to help all of our neighborhoods live with wildfire.

This FAC outreach and work could not have been completed without the ongoing support and financial backing of our partners at the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from a Successful Year of FAC Outreach”

  1. Becca says:

    Awesome story and approach! There is ALWAYS more slash than you think there is going to be. I had that lesson handed to me on a project last year, too.

  2. Bill Brash says:

    Great story Gloria and a better outcome. Keep up the good work.

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