Photo Credit: Kara backpacking in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Katie Wolt
How did you get into community wildfire resilience work?
I’ve been working on fire adapted communities efforts since I started at the Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D). Part of my role at the RC&D involves helping staff the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (WAFAC). I’ve also been the Washington Prescribed Fire Council (WPFC) coordinator for over three years, but it wasn’t until I started working with the RC&D that FAC became integrated into my work. I’m grateful for the opportunity. Working on FAC has been incredibly beneficial, not only for the work being accomplished by both organizations but the experience has also broadened my perspective and capacity to create stronger connections between our landscapes and our communities living with fire.
When you get to work on Monday morning, what are your top priorities for the week?
My projects and priorities are constantly changing, so I keep a running list of projects and associated tasks, which I review at the beginning of each day. And hopefully by the end of the day, I get to cross some of them off! Right now, my list of things to do includes wrapping up reporting for a large project and calling WAFAC communities to touch base and update them on staffing changes. My other main to-do, at the moment, is supporting the development and coordination of the Cascadia TREX (coming to Washington this fall!).
Who might you talk to?
That depends on the focus of my work that day, but there are a few folks who I tend to be on the phone with more than others. I talk to WAFAC staff every week about FAC efforts and our statewide learning network. I am also often bugging Reese Lolley of the Washington Chapter of The Nature Conservancy about the coordination and development of the WPFC; Reese is WPFC’s current chair. We might also discuss the WPFC Annual Conference or other fire-related projects. Lately, I’ve been talking a lot with Hilary Lundgren — formerly with the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, now with WAFAC — as we’ve collaborated on several projects over the past year, and we are now planning the Cascadia TREX.
Are you working on any projects that involve a large group of partners?
We just wrapped up a large prescribed fire project in Washington, the 2928 Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot Project, which included local, state and federal agencies, forest collaboratives, community organizations and several FAC communities. The project funded controlled burns on state and federal lands while requiring that we assess the benefits and impacts of burning. In conjunction with burning, we implemented a large-scale outreach effort to notify communities of when and where burning was happening, and to explain why controlled burning is essential for forest health and wildfire risk reduction. Stay tuned for more on the outcomes of that project!
Oh, and have I mentioned that we are hosting a TREX?! This is a big undertaking and will be the focus of a lot of my time over the next few months. Hilary and I are co-coordinating and planning that in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy and other agencies from across the state. A TREX in Washington has been on our minds for a few years now, so I’m happy that we are able to bring this training opportunity to our community. The TREX model is exciting because it bridges many of our priorities and provides a platform for engaging multiple partners, programs and projects. Yes, we are providing training opportunities, increasing capacity and expertise for conducting controlled burns, restoring forests and reducing wildfire risk (among other objectives). However, it’s also an opportunity to engage communities and partners and increase their knowledge about prescribed fire, so we’re excited about it in many regards.
What different types of shoes do you wear on the job?
Flats, boots, sandals, flip-flops, barefoot … does the RC&D have a dress code?! I work almost entirely in the office or from home, so my work boots haven’t gotten dirty in a while. Though a lot of my work can be done in a variety of shoes, strapping on boots and getting that “real life” experience, whether it’s on a burn or a field tour with community members, is invaluable to keeping my work grounded. I’m trying to carve out some time to volunteer on prescribed fires in the Puget Sound area so that my boots can see some action, I can maintain my qualifications, and I can re-engage with practitioners.
Where might your job take you today?
I just got back from Leavenworth, Washington. I have been making monthly trips to that area over the last year while working on various projects and meeting with partners for the 2928 Pilot Project. The Cascadia TREX will be based in Plain (15 miles north of Leavenworth), so that project is taking me up there as well. It’s not a bad place to get some work done!
When you get back to your desk, what unexpected thing has come up that needs your attention?
Relationships and people drive this work, and they also provide their own set of challenges to navigate. More often than not, the unexpected thing has to do with a misunderstanding, a miscommunication or something more complicated that needs to be addressed. I’m learning that this is just the nature of the work, but I’m always trying to improve my own communication.
Work is over; what’s next?
I’m loading up my backpack and heading into wilderness for a few days. No cell phone service, no email, just my home away from home on my back. See you on the trail!
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