In many ways, FAC core values are consistent from place to place. However, two FAC practitioners, one from Leavenworth, Washington and one from Austin, Texas highlight some of the key components to being either a rural or an urban FAC initiative. Credits, from left to right: Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce; DJ Spiess and www.fermentarium.com via Flickr.

Topic: Communications / Outreach Defensible space / Firewise Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Type: Interview

Urban vs. Rural: When it Comes to FAC, What’s the Difference? [Part 2]

Author: Annie Schmidt, Justice Jones

Editor’s note: In this post, Justice Jones of the Austin Fire Department and Annie Schmidt of the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (formerly with the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition) continue the conversation regarding the nuances associated with different FAC settings. This is part two of a two-part post. Part one of “Urban vs. Rural: When it Comes to FAC, What’s the Difference?” can be found here.

How has your context shaped your work?

Annie

Chelan County is approximately 80 percent federally owned. The significant percentage of public lands surrounding the Leavenworth area drove much of the Chumstick Coalition‘s early FAC work. We focused on landscape-level, collaboratively-designed fuel reduction projects on USDA Forest Service land. Given the proximity and quantity of federally owned lands, focusing there was efficient. Over the past year, we attempted to accelerate prescribed burning efforts on public land through a pilot effort supported by the Washington State legislature (you should talk with Hilary Lundgren about that!). From a social perspective, the large fires Washington experienced over the past several years provided a number of opportunities for us to look at recovery planning, after the fire impacts and more. Our area’s emphasis on local tourism has also amplified our work with business resilience.

Landscape photo of smoke from a controlled burn in the distance.

Controlled burn in Washington. Credit: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Justice

The Austin Fire Department recently developed local best practices for environmental friendly wildfire mitigation with our watershed protection division. We also crafted our community’s first City/County Wildfire Evacuation Plan. In addition, we developed a delegation of authority with National Fire Protection Association and the Texas A&M Forest Service to implement the Firewise program at the local level.

What are three best practices for advancing FAC in your setting?

Annie

  1. Prioritize. Working with this large landscape, so much is doable that it can be hard to know where to start. Clear direction from the Chumstick steering committee helps with keeping us on track, moving in the right direction and staying focused.
  2. Use relationships. Rural communities run on relationships. I am sure that most communities do to a certain extent; nonetheless, the place-based, neighbor-to-neighbor approaches have been particularly effective here. When everyone takes a role, these relationships can power change.
  3. Feed the souls of your champions. The people who are the grassroots leaders – the spark plugs – they need to be recognized, appreciated and yes, sometimes even rested. It is easy to burn them out, especially in small communities where many of the same characteristics that make them a FAC leader make them the leader of the Parent-Teacher Association and the community food bank board chair and, and, you get the point.

    Group of people talking in the field.

    CWSC’s Steering Committee explaining the formation of the CWSC during the Pacific Northwest learning exchange. Credit: Hilary Lundgren, Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition

Justice

  1. Make FAC everyone’s issue. No one agency, entity or individual has all the answers.
  2. Own your role in facing the challenges of FAC and support others in understanding theirs.
  3. Be honest about capacity and ask for help. For the Austin Fire Department, that means telling residents we need their help in protecting/defending them.
Fire Department staff reviewing drill plans in a neighborhood.

Austin Fire Department running through a residential wildfire evacuation drill. Credit: Austin Fire Department

In part one of this series, you outlined what your organization is trying to achieve. Do you think that its vision would differ if you were operating within a smaller or larger population?

Annie

It is likely that the mission wouldn’t change as much as the areas that we emphasize would. We would still want a community that can live safely with wildfire, but how we would go about getting there would be different if we were dealing with 50,000 people instead of 50,000 acres.

Justice

Our approach might change but our vision of a fire adapted Austin and our zero tolerance for wildland fire fatalities would remain steadfast. That is the value of FAC; fire adaptation applies at all levels of our culture, from individuals to families to communities.

What other characteristics do you think influence the form, function and/or success of a FAC effort?

Annie

I think function and/or success can be influenced significantly by the number and type of resources a community has to bring to the table. The desire to adapt doesn’t change with the addition of an operational saw mill, but the ability to adapt certainly does. In many of our small, rural communities throughout Washington, the changing economy has presented extensive challenges to large landscape restoration and wildfire resilience. Resources to collaborate and support FAC can also be challenging in small areas where municipal resources and property tax dollars are stretched thin.

Justice

Other characteristics of importance include:

  • A community’s ability to recognize and accept risk;
  • A willingness to confront that risk and take action to address it;
  • A plan for how to mitigate risk and a team dedicated to achieving FAC goals;
  • And most importantly, formal leadership intent and support.
Conclusion

In the end, a community’s capacity to successfully apply FAC concepts comes down to its willingness to remember and embody its role in fire adaptation. It is that willingness, rather than a particular setting, that will yield fruitful fire adaptation endeavors.

It is, however, important to consider setting when designing approaches to capitalize on or stimulate a community’s capacity. Setting (including the natural, demographic and social elements) can influence tactics and shape what works best in any particular community. One of the many challenges with encouraging local fire adaptation is that each community is different. Recognizing those differences, and tailoring an approach to fit them, is one key to helping each community live better with wildfire.

Read “Urban vs. Rural: When it Comes to FAC, What’s the Difference? [Part 1]” here.

3 thoughts on “Urban vs. Rural: When it Comes to FAC, What’s the Difference? [Part 2]”

  1. Michelle Medley-Daniel says:

    Thanks, Annie and Justice, for this series! While I come from a context similar to the Chumstick, I’ve had the opportunity to see FAC practitioners in action in lots of contexts throughout the network. It holds true: to adapt you need a locally appropriate approach.

  2. Becca Samulski says:

    We’ll be trying to apply a framework of enabling conditions that cross contexts when framing up a program of support for engaging neighborhood liaisons. This was a fun series. Thanks team!

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