Photo Credit: New growth on the forest floor post-fire. Photo courtesy of Canva Creative Commons
Editor’s Note: This is the second blog in a three-part series focused on wildfire recovery. If you missed Part One, all about the release of a new Wildfire Recovery Graphic and the importance of framing recovery in a way that includes all facets of our community, you can find it here! Part Three, featuring resources from our state and federal partners, will be coming later this fall. While it is impossible to cover all of the resources and work occurring after a fire, it is our hope that this round up of current work and resources will help those seeking to better recover from wildland fire.
After a fire season haunted by COVID-19, communities across the country are beginning the long road to wildfire recovery. Some communities are still fighting fire, with residents, local fire districts and federal suppression resources doing all that they can to minimize loss and damage. Some places, less impacted by wildfires in 2020, are actively engaged in the integration of recovery into fire adaptation. Communities are bolstering long-term recovery organizations, advocating for federal, state and local assistance, weaving post-fire considerations into their Community Wildfire Protection Plans and working to plan for a recovery that begins after the next fire. Regardless of where these communities are in their recovery efforts, all are working to adapt to and better live with wildland fire. We have selected just a few of these inspiring, innovative and wide-reaching efforts and resources to highlight and share why we love them. After each example or resource, we have identified the corresponding element (or elements) in the Wildfire Recovery Graphic.
Planning For Long-Term Recovery Before the Fire
After participating in several learning exchanges throughout the Pacific Northwest, Project Wildfire in Deschutes County, Oregon, was inspired to begin planning for long-term recovery. The effort is being led by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with Project Wildfire, the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry and other federal, state and local agencies, who have come together with local residents to create a long-term recovery plan. Outreach has focused on creating an inclusive process for diverse stakeholders to have a voice in long-term recovery planning. Presentations on this effort have shared this collaborative approach with other fire network members and laid the foundation for similar work in other places.
You can read about post-fire planning needs, but they may not hit home and may quickly get brushed aside for other urgent work. [FAC Net-sponsored learning exchanges] enabled face-to-face and place-based connections that gave us a deeper understanding of post-fire recovery and really started us working on this in earnest.
~Ed Keith, County Forester, Deschutes County
What We Love: The diverse and inclusive planning process which brings the whole community together in advance of disaster.
Wildfire Recovery Element: Planning and Preparedness
A Couple of Examples that are Shifting the Policy Landscape for Better Recovery
- The Wildland Fire Leadership Council and Western Governors’ Association, as part of a Shared Stewardship Memorandum of Understanding with the US Department of Agriculture, are collaborating to create a “roadmap” of federal assistance available after wildfires. This guidance, informed by wildfire practitioners from diverse agencies and localities, is designed to help state and local governments better address post-fire needs.
- The Burned Area Learning Network (BALN), an initiative of the Fire Learning Network, was formed in 2016 “to accelerate learning by peer-to-peer knowledge sharing to improve social and ecological outcomes following wildfire.” The BALN has worked with partners on post wildfire policy at a national level to help increase post-fire capacity and improve coordination across scales and agencies.
What We Love: Ongoing partnerships help shift the policy landscape to better address post-fire needs.
Wildfire Recovery Element: Planning and Preparedness
Multiple Efforts to Move Landscape Recovery Forward
- BALN partnerships in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains led to a successful Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation grant to complete a climate-ready reforestation project in the Las Conchas burned area. The project helps the landscape recover and plans for fire’s eventual return. By leveraging private grant funds to plant trees in groups that mimic their natural distribution on the landscape, a more fire-resilient landscape is created during recovery. Partners include the Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, National Park Service, the Santa Clara Pueblo, US Geological Survey and several universities.
- The first After the Flames Conference in 2019 brought post-fire practitioners together to identify wildfire recovery needs across agencies. In 2020, After the Flames hosted several webinars including a two-day science symposium and a focus on fluvial hazard zone mapping.
- The new fire program at Oregon State University Extension recently hosted a post-fire webinar series to help those impacted by wildfire move forward with actions to protect themselves and their landscape. The webinars presented a step-by-step approach to residents and provided effective navigation of technical and financial assistance programs. The first webinar included the actions residents need to take in order to return home safely, as well as shared a broad-array of agency partners providing information on the technical and financial assistance available post-fire. (Bonus: check out our recent interview with Carrie Berger the OSU fire program’s new program manager).
What We Love: The science-based approach to better management actions after wildfire.
Wildfire Recovery Element: Risk Assessment, Life Safety and Landscape
Meeting the Needs of the Agricultural Community
The Okanogan Conservation District has been actively working in wildfire recovery since the 2014 wildfire season in Washington State. Their innovative iBAER program provides much needed post-fire risk assessment to private landowners. The Conservation District also provides technical assistance to residents in the area, many of whom are agricultural producers. The need for dedicated assistance tailored to agricultural issues resulted in the Conservation District creating this form which specifically identifies agricultural assistance needs. USDA programs can provide other resources for agricultural producers impacted by wildfire.
What We Love: The inclusion of agriculture-related needs from the beginning of the recovery process.
Wildfire Recovery Element: Agriculture
Mental Health Matters
InvestigateWest published an insightful article on the impacts of disasters on mental health that is an important read for wildfire practitioners. After a wildfire, survivors often report psychological symptoms such as depression or anxiety. These symptoms can exist regardless of whether homes have been lost or a federal disaster has been declared. Too often, the mental health impacts of wildfire are lost in the sea of other needs. There are, however, resources to help. The Disaster Distress Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every single day of the year. The helpline can be reached at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746. Helping children through disasters presents its own unique set of challenges, however good resources do exist. Ready.gov maintains an excellent list of resources for children and parents.
While the previous resources focus on mental health in the community, if you are a wildfire practitioner or first responder please don’t neglect your own well-being. The NWCG Mental Health Subcommittee has curated a number of important resources to help address firefighter mental health. For chronic stress, the Stress First Aid Self Care Guide provides important guidance. In times of acute crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is a free and confidential resource for you or someone you love. Talking about mental health is vital not only for our own well-being but also for the communities we serve.
What We Love: The resources help protect and nurture our communities, as well as ourselves.
Wildfire Recovery Element: Community
Recovery Must Be Recovery For All
The impact of wildfire is not equitable across our communities. Research has indicated that census tracts that are predominately Black, Hispanic or Native American have a 50% greater vulnerability to wildland fire. Similarly, the recovery process has often missed many of our community members. The NAACP created “In the Eye of the Storm” to help advance equity before, during and after disasters. While not wildfire-specific, Module 5 (starting on p. 75) deals specifically with equity and justice in disaster recovery.
What We Love: The practical approach to addressing equity throughout disaster planning, response and recovery.
Wildfire Recovery Element: All
FAC Net has featured post-fire recovery resources on our blog before. Here are a few highlights:
- iBAER: How We Formed, Funded and Dispatched a State and Private Lands Burned Area Emergency Response Team: “Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams, the people who assess ecological, hydrological and forest conditions after a wildfire, are not cheap. And, BAER teams are usually federal employees, working on federal lands. What happens, then, when private or state lands burn in a wildfire and need ecological assessments? In the spirit of learning by doing, Washington funded and deployed nonfederal BAER teams (think “iBAER”) in 2014 and again in 2015, and we thought others could learn from our effort.” (READ MORE)
- When Wildfire Hits the Ranch: Lessons Learned from the Thomas Fire: “Immediately after the fire, ranchers faced challenging realities. With their winter feed burned up, would they ship animals out to other, unburned pastures? Or, should they sell animals and de-stock? Or, should they feed their stock with hay until next spring? Our emergency hay program provided livestock owners with five days’ worth of hay, buying them a little more time to consider their options. While five days is only a drop in the bucket (many of these ranchers were out by as much as 120 days’ worth of feed), they greatly appreciated this relief. The California Office of Emergency Services reported that this program was a first for our state. Given how finite, yet critical the support was, I encourage others to consider working with their local government to outline and plan a similar effort.” (READ MORE)
- Block Captains: Community Leaders Emerge in the Wake of the 2017 Sonoma Fires: “Even as we put so much effort into recovering from the disaster that had just struck our community, we needed to build resilience into the future at the same time.” (READ MORE)
- Equity in Action: Long-Term Disaster Recovery in North-Central Washington: “The Okanogan County Long-Term Recovery group dictum —’What does this person need to recover from this disaster in this community?’—guides each step of the process. This is, in fact, the definition of equity: to give people what they need, taking what has been and is happening around them into consideration. Implicit in [their] motto is the idea that the people impacted by adversity know better than anyone else what they need, and it is up to them to define the terms of their recovery.” (READ MORE)
- Six Resources to Help Communities Recover After Wildfire: “This resource round-up is designed for community-level wildfire practitioners (people working on the ground in communities) to help with the sorting process. There is definitely more information available, but this is a great starting point if you are looking for post-wildfire recovery information.” (READ MORE)
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