Re-Visiting Community Wildfire Protection Plans

By: Annie Schmidt

Topic: CWPPs

Type: Meeting / Event Tools / Resources

In 2003, Congress passed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) and Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) were born.  HFRA requires CWPPs to be collaborative, include prioritization of fuel treatments, and recommend measures to reduce structure ignitions in a community. Outside of those requirements, and the three required signatories (applicable government, local fire department, and state forestry agency), the contents of the CWPP are largely left to the community to determine.

CWPPs have become a key tool for communities seeking to plan for wildfire. However, as time has passed, communities across the country have wrestled with implementation, plan updates, effective communication, engagement strategies and more. In May of 2020, FAC Net convened participants across the country in a CWPP-focused learning group to help connect practitioners to each other and current research. Known as CWPP 2.0, this learning group met monthly from May until December 2020.  Many of the presentations have been made available on FAC Net’s YouTube Channel here! A summary of the themes and takeaways presented below is also available on the FAC Net Resources page.

Part 1: Key Themes and Takeaways from CWPP 2.0

CWPPs for Purpose

Practitioners and researchers have long recognized that CWPPs not only create valuable roadmaps for wildfire risk reduction but also serve as essential tools for learning and relationship-building. The concept of “CWPPs for Purpose” captures the desire among CWPP 2.0 participants for CWPPs to be about more than a plan on a shelf, but instead to be living documents driven by the outcomes desired by the community. Key takeaways:

  • Be clear on your purpose (relationship building, risk reduction, etc.) before you begin.
  • The purpose of the CWPP can help drive implementation as well as updates.
  • Don’t be afraid to boil the CWPPs down to the essential items for your place. Documents in the future are likely to trend shorter, or to have concise summary pages.
A screenshot of a video conference call with 12 participants

CWPP 2.0 small group discussions helped practitioners identify next steps for their CWPP processes.

Virtual Engagement

COVID-19 has impacted the way wildfire practitioners work in multiple ways. There is an increased demand for online material that is accessible, interactive, and that can leverage individual action. Key takeaways:

  • There are a range of virtual formats, tools, and software that can be employed; effective online engagement requires more than shifting public meetings online.
  • Virtual engagement can create opportunities for different stakeholders (and possibly more of them) to participate while simultaneously creating barriers for others.
  • In some cases, individual outreach may be necessary to uncover the concerns and ideals of underrepresented stakeholders.
  • Moving forward, a mixture of virtual and in-person engagement will be necessary to effectively engage communities.
A screenshot from the Community Wildfire Protection Plan in the City of Santa Barbara

Amber Anderson, Wildland Fire Specialist with the City of Santa Barbara, presented on the engagement efforts for the Santa Barbara CWPP update. Begun before COVID-19, and with a fixed completion date, the Santa Barbara CWPP process had to rapidly adapt to virtual outreach and engagement as COVID-19 impacts increased.

Implementation

Throughout CWPP 2.0, practitioners were clear that implementation success is critical to the CWPP process. Key takeaways:

  • Implementation plans should be tailored to the community. In some places, specific implementation plans (e.g., clear timelines, cost estimates) help move projects forward while in other places, a more general approach enables communities to complete projects with multiple partners and funding streams.
  • The relationships built during the CWPP process are what carry implementation forward.  Investing in those relationships during the process, as well as between plan updates, is critical.
  • A plan update schedule helps to keep plans current and moving.

Long-Term Recovery Integration

Practitioners felt it was critical to begin addressing long-term recovery in the planning processes whether as a stand-alone planning process or within a CWPP. Key takeaways:

  • Long-term recovery is an opportunity to engage a broad range of stakeholders, including those from sectors such as infrastructure and public health.
  • Modeling of post-fire effects has advanced and can provide good insight into potential post-fire effects.
  • Inclusive engagement of all sectors and stakeholders is a critical component to successful recovery planning.
Screenshot of a map

Post-fire effects modeling completed by the Forest Stewards Guild in Colorado. Image courtesy of the Forest Stewards Guild, 2020.

Part 2: Resources that Can Help

In addition to the themes that emerged throughout the CWPP 2.0 learning group, several resources shared within the group have been rounded up and presented here. Note that not all of these resources will work in every community and that this is not an all-inclusive list!

If you are looking for a general CWPP overview…

Take a look at both Preparing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan: A Handbook for Wildland-Urban Interface Communities and its update Community Guide to Preparing and Implementing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. While older, these documents are relatively brief and provide a good foundation. The Community Guide also considers CWPP implementation.

If you are a fire department…

A Fire Service Leader’s Guide to Preparing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan was designed to supplement an earlier resource. The Leader’s Guide is brief (16 pages), includes some immediate post-fire considerations, has an updated style and feel, and provides a good overview for fire service leadership.

Cover of book titled A Fire Service Leader's Guide

If your state provides a template or guidance…

Find it and read it! Many states, including (but not limited to) Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah provide state-specific direction to those completing a CWPP. Work with your state forestry agency to determine if your state has this guidance.

If you are working on a CWPP and a Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan…

FEMA prepared Integrating Community Wildfire Protection Plans and Natural Hazards Mitigation Plans.  This document highlights opportunities, benefits, and methods of plan integration. It is an excellent resource for those who are already working on a Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan or are more familiar with that document.

If you are looking for a template…

The US Fire Administration released Creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan in late 2020. While the guide itself is brief, it contains links to multiple fillable forms. This document highlights newer resources such as the USDA Forest Service’s new Wildfire Risk to Communities portal. Note that these templates may not meet the needs of any specific state-level guidance.

Cover of a book titled Creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan

If you are seeking more holistic community engagement…

The 2008 Engaging Socially Vulnerable Populations in Community Wildfire Protection Plans is a good starting place. It takes a more holistic and inclusive approach to CWPP development. This document actively seeks to engage diverse populations and includes the concept of social vulnerability in CWPPs.  This document is older, however, and may be best used in concert with other documents that are more current but not necessarily specific to CWPPs. Other resources include Tips and Tools for Reaching Limited English Proficient Communities in Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery;  In the Eye of the Storm; and resources from the Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities.

If you are interested in the research…

Several good resources exist. Best Management Practices for Creating a Community Wildfire Plan is an older resource but contains an excellent “two-minute” guide on pages 2-3. This research also summarizes multiple considerations for CWPP creation, including the importance of scale. The recent work by Dr. Melanie Colavito of the Ecological Restoration Institute (completed December 2019), Assessment of Community Wildfire Protection Plans in Arizona and Communities-at-Risk Throughout the West provides key factors for CWPP effectiveness in Arizona and throughout the West. Dr. Colavito’s webinar presentation to the CWPP 2.0 learning group is also available here.

If you would like a CWPP StoryMap…

Several examples are available online, including  one from Missoula County, Montana and another from Santa Fe, New Mexico. These Story Maps provide an opportunity to clearly communicate CWPP objectives in an interactive, map-based format while being visually engaging and allowing for layers of information beyond simply text. With the continued emphasis on online communication tools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the overall desire among practitioners to make CWPPs more widely accessible, more and more CWPPs are being moved to a similar format. In addition, StoryMaps allow CWPPs to be living documents that can be easily updated.

Screenshot of Missoula County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Story Map

If you are working on CWPP evaluation…

A Community Wildfire Protection Plan Evaluation Guide provides evaluation guidance and key questions. Evaluation is often overlooked during the CWPP process and this document provides an evaluation framework in the format of a working document complete with fillable tables. Case studies also highlight the importance of evaluation prior to updating your CWPP.

From the FAC Net Blog Archives:

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4 thoughts on “Re-Visiting Community Wildfire Protection Plans”

  1. Excellent job of pulling lots of useful information together into one place. Thank you!

  2. Elizabeth A Davy says:

    Great review of CWPPs, I will send to our group as it may be time to review and revise in Fremont County

  3. Terry Lawhead says:

    Outstanding information and so many references to great helpful resources, all clearly presented, thank you.

  4. Jodie Barram says:

    Thank you for the comprehensive recap! I’m going to share the information with some communities I’m working with. It’s nice to have so many resources in one place.

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