A New Networking Tool for FireWise of Southwest Colorado
Authors: Pam Wilson
One of the challenges that we face at FireWise of Southwest Colorado is how to best communicate with partners across our three-county region. Sharing information online has some distinct limitations: our monthly E-News gets to be too long if we add success stories; our annual Accomplishment Report is also a robust 35-40 pages without even including partners’ accomplishments; and, not everyone follows Facebook. We fear that the important details in these documents can easily get overlooked, or that technological barriers limit partners’ ability to connect.
So, in 2014, we decided to try a new approach to facilitate more in-person communication and bring our numerous partners from all three counties together for a one-day Wildfire Collaboration Conference: Working Better Together. About 40 people attended the first workshop last May. We had productive discussions around wildfire issues facing our region and identified possible actions to address those issues.
In January 2015, we hosted a second conference. About 40 people attended this workshop and represented a much wider cross-section from all three counties. Our Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) Learning Network liaison, Molly Mowery, set the stage for the workshop with a great presentation about FAC concepts and the benefits of being engaged in the FAC Learning Network. Molly also shared the collaborative efforts of other FAC Learning Network participants and some of their accomplishments.
This was a helpful segue into the remainder of the afternoon which focused on both FireWise efforts and partners’ activities across our three-county region. Our range of speakers included:
- Kevin Heiner, Regional Director for the Southwest Conservation Corps, outlined their programs for young adults and vets and described the wide variety of stewardship projects accomplished on both public and private lands, including wildfire mitigation.
- Columbine District Ranger, Matt Janowiak, shared an overview of the 1,100-acre prescribed burn that the District completed next to Deer Valley Estates, one of our Firewise Communities, this past fall. Matt spoke of the need for more collaborative efforts around prescribed burning in the future.
- Upper Pine River Fire Protection District talked about their wildland fire crew and the mitigation work they have undertaken when not actively engaged in firefighting.
- A local mitigation contractor, Jon Westrup, discussed his concerns over local fire department(s) doing mitigation work and the economic effect it has had on local contractors, of which we have many in the area.
- We also heard from the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership – a collaborative group in Archuleta County that is working on a fire risk assessment for the Pagosa Ranger District. This partnership has a particular emphasis on protecting water infrastructure and looking at ways to reduce wildfire risk in critical watersheds.
- FireWise wrapped up the day with a presentation about our variety of programs and recent accomplishments in 2014.
Our primary goal for the day was finding an effective and engaging way to share information across the region, and potentially connect partners on opportunities to work together. Another goal was to see if these workshops were helpful to the participants and whether they should be continued. Both goals were successfully met – the group suggested continuing to meet twice a year and even offered up suggestions for future workshops, and we had rich discussions around numerous project linkages, getting past current barriers, and exploring new relationships. The conferences were a successful experiment that reminded us of the value in facilitating in-person meetings; FireWise has definitely found itself a new information sharing/networking tool!