Oct 24, 2017
How Salt Lake City’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan Generated Action in Less Than a Year
By: Jennifer Hansen Brianna Binnebose
May 22, 2017 marked a significant date for us in the Wasatch Front. Salt Lake City, Utah’s state capital and largest wildland-urban interface, completed its Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
This is the biggest CWPP that the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land’s Wasatch Front Field Office has completed to date. Our staff provided no-cost facilitation and guidance to community partners throughout the CWPP’s development. To match our efforts, the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s Chief Karl Lieb committed Captain Chad Doyle to lead the process from start to finish. The result is a thorough, comprehensive document that is already stimulating action, while also providing an example of how communities elsewhere can use our office’s newly refreshed CWPP template (.DOC) to develop a locally relevant plan that works toward the goals outlined in Utah’s new wildfire policy.
So what made the planning process work? Two words: “commitment” and “partnerships.” The commitment from the fire department to step up and take an active role in developing it, and the partnerships formed between the fire department, other city departments and community stakeholders to accomplish shared goals. The amount of collaboration between all of the groups involved reflects the vision that Utah’s leadership has for CWPPs and how these plans can fit into Utah’s fire policy. The Community Fire Council that formed to develop and implement the plan includes a large and varied group of partners, who not only support the plan but have also identified specific areas where they will contribute to its implementation. They even identified a specific point of contact who will stay involved. Getting from “Point A” to “Point B” was no easy task and required a lot of hard work on the part of Captain Doyle over the course of seven months. In fact, the planning and overview section of the plan is affectionately called “Chad’s Diary” because of his diligent documentation.
You might be thinking, “For years, communities have been developing CWPPs and diligently carrying out the planned actions. What makes this community plan special?” The Salt Lake City CWPP isn’t necessarily the best CWPP we have in the Wasatch Front, but it is an excellent example of how to make the new template work for an individual community and again, it demonstrates some big wins regarding commitment and partnerships that will support our statewide wildfire funding policy.
For example, while the Salt Lake City Fire Department was already conducting wildfire education and outreach, completing and implementing a CWPP was never before a high priority. Additionally, various groups such as the University of Utah, Red Butte Gardens and Salt Lake City Public Utilities had previously pursued fuels reduction projects, each with varying levels of collaboration and sometimes negative public feedback. A prime example occurred in 2009, when a fuels reduction project was proposed in City Creek Canyon; Creek Canyon is a primary recreation area, and also an important watershed, in Salt Lake City. This project was met with resistance from various groups such as the birding community, residents and recreation groups. Some opponents recognized the wildfire risks and safety needs of the area, but felt that overall, the project would negatively impact the area and that it wasn’t part of a comprehensive management plan.
Developing the CWPP meant taking a step back to re-engage with stakeholders like these and giving them a seat at the table right from the beginning. As a result of this approach, a resident who was initially a vocal opponent of the fuels project joined the Community Fire Council and now encourages fuel reduction in his neighborhood, and he is coordinating with the Salt Lake City Fire Department on wildfire risk home assessments.
The collaboratively-produced plan outlines several exciting activities, including:
- Adding a wildland fire element to the Salt Lake Fire Department’s training program that emphasizes structure assessment, wildland fire response, etc.;
- Coordinating with This Is The Place Heritage Park to utilize their property and pond for helibase operations, and conducting mitigation work on their property in partnership with Team Rubicon and local church volunteers;
- Partnering with the Hogle Zoo for educational events;
- Holding “Garden Weed Pulls” (to be sponsored by the Salt Lake City Fire Department);
- Integrating Firewise landscaping best practices into the Salt Lake City Open Space Lands’ re-vegetation projects; and
- Continuing Salt Lake City Public Utilities’ wildfire risk mitigation actions, but with increased community support.
And those aren’t just proposed plans; we’re already making progress! To date, 17 partners and numerous community members have documented over 5,000 hours of sweat equity to develop the plan and jumpstart its implementation (actions taken range from prevention to preparedness to mitigation). Captain Doyle said this about the experience, “This has been inspiring — to see how the community and departments within the city have come together and started down a much-needed path to make our community safer. It has been a pleasure to be a part of this process.” Not bad for a group that just started planning a year ago.
Post by Brianna Binnebose, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land
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