Photo Credit: KFACC members work through the collaborative process in October 2019.
Editor’s Note: Standing around the hood of a truck pouring over a map has long been acknowledged as a powerful collaborative moment. But how can we take that moment and plan for it? How can we incorporate the knowledge transferred in those conversations into broader, strategic wildfire planning efforts? Read on for a description of one community’s successful collaborative mapping project by Rose Shriner and Hilary Lundgren. Rose is the part-time project manager for the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative and the coordinator for the Kittitas Fire Adapted Communities Coalition. She continues to work locally and regionally in Central and Eastern Washington forests and on community resiliency efforts focused on multiple scales. Hilary Lundgren is the Director for the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (WAFAC). WAFAC is a peer learning network that supports local action, connects people to resources, facilitates results, and informs and influences on-the-ground projects to help Washington better adapt to wildfire. They engage communities, agencies, and organizations, so together they can develop and act on place-based strategies and priorities. The Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, Kittitas Fire Adapted Communities Coalition, and Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network are all stewarded by the Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council.
Formed in 2017, the Kittitas Fire Adapted Communities Coalition (KFACC) sprouted from an abstract idea to collaborate around wildfire. Now, KFACC is a group of 20 people who work with researchers, state, and federal partners to strategically increase local wildfire resilience throughout Kittitas County. Over the last two years, KFACC has spent days crowded into a small, hot conference room determining how to work across ownerships, implement sequential mitigation projects aligned with data and science, and coordinate private land fuels reduction treatments with larger scale state and federal forest restoration treatments.
…and as with all grand aspirations, there is no roadmap. So, KFACC created one. Literally.
With maps of completed and planned forest restoration treatments and priority watersheds outlined in the 20-Year Eastern Washington Forest Health Strategic Plan, we combed the County for areas where private, state, and federal landowners might be willing to work together. With 25% of the county categorized as high priority treatment areas, we chose the Cle Elum watershed; a watershed that hosts the most concentrated area of private land ownership of any of the forested watersheds in upper Kittitas County. Other simultaneous efforts driven by large landowners in priority watersheds to both the north and south made it logical to connect the efforts and bridge the gap.
With the watershed identified, we wanted to know if there were more opportunities to reduce wildfire risk in our communities. Is it possible to connect completed and planned shaded fuel breaks and forest restoration treatments? How can communities contribute to place-based resilience? We knew we had to ask the people who know fire, these communities, and this place. Using a map to center the conversation made sense because it would give us the opportunity to focus the conversation and combine suppression, restoration, and forest health treatment into one conversation.
We handed our partners (including the Washington Department of Natural Resources, local fire districts, Kittitas County Conservation District, Washington Farm Forestry Association, US Forest Service and private landowners) markers and a simple paper map, showing only roads and imagery. We asked them to draw lines, circles, and stars to identify areas where wildfire mitigation and forest health treatments could change fire behavior, and to share their priorities for reducing wildfire risk to the communities. As participants were drawing, they shared their priorities and reasons for selecting certain areas instead of others. During this conversation, we were able to capture hard-to-get local and institutional knowledge on large Post It notes. Together, KFACC began to piece together strategic fuel breaks across the landscape.
By cross-referencing the map with the notes, we had access to key information. We transferred all of it into GIS (and you can check out our work in progress here!). This was the first time that the work, strategy, and vision of those working on the tenets (resilient landscapes, effective response, and fire adapted communities) of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy at a watershed scale were visible and displayed in an accessible format to all stakeholders.
We worked hard to identify and map stakeholder priorities and values. We still needed to align actions within each of the three Cohesive Strategy buckets and prioritize them. In addition, we had identified many strategies beyond the capacity of the Coalition and its partners to collectively implement in the foreseeable future.
We needed help, so KFACC requested assistance from Dr. Travis Paveglio from the University of Idaho and Dr. Catrin Edgeley from Northern Arizona University. Experienced in convening communities and stakeholders to find new and alternative pathways and scales of fire adaptation in fire-prone landscapes, Dr. Paveglio and Dr. Edgeley posed three questions:
- Where progress had been made, where could we potentially expand or extend fire adaptation efforts?
- Where did we need to build or strengthen partnerships to make progress?
- Where are little to no fire adaptation efforts occurring?
By answering these questions, we were able to pinpoint locations and start to tease out the steps to develop what Dr. Paveglio referred to as “small, but manageable projects to advance larger goals”– all based on a community’s level of engagement in fire adaptation efforts.
As a result, and with continued support from Dr. Paveglio and Dr. Edgeley, we refined a two-year strategic plan that outlined a set of locally aligned actions and priorities aligned with state and national initiatives. The findings, process, and recommendations are captured in a workshop report to help us move forward.
Collaboration and maps are like onions– both have layers! Approaching geospatial data collection and collaborative assessment is a journey. We thought that a collaborative mapping process might be easy and straightforward. However, undertaking the process revealed more about maps and how to better work together to make decisions.
- Federal, state, and local partners have a lot of information! Sharing clear objectives and desired outcomes can help to identify features (line, point, or polygon) and their attributes more efficiently. That will help you build a useful map that tells your story and informs future actions.
Software and Data Integration
- ESRI software is like Costco, not everyone has a membership. Most agencies use ESRI proprietary software, while others, especially smaller capacity organizations may not have a subscription or technical capabilities.
- Use open source software. QGIS is an excellent alternative to ESRI and allows mostly seamless integration of ESRI shapefile data.
- Free mapping platforms can be used to present geospatial data on the web for free. SarTOPO, MapBox, CartoDB offer integration of GPX and Shapefile information.
Share Information and Request Feedback
- Use a paper map and markers. Quite often, this can be the most effective tool in a meeting — and offers stakeholders an opportunity to ‘show and tell’.
- Consider breaking the maps up into sections. During this process we presented maps at different scales and extents (community, neighborhood, landscape, watershed broken into quadrants) to help keep discussions focused within a specific geography.
- Request partner feedback early and often. Ask partners to review various iterations of the map. In one instance, a fire chief drew a line representing an important strategic fuel break, but the line was not delineated in GIS. Fortunately, this oversight was caught in a subsequent review! This could have resulted in missed implementation opportunities.
Create a Collaborative Decision Space
- Snacks, coffee, and time management! Set aside enough time to ensure that you are collecting the information that you need, but respect others’ time and energy. We found that three 4-hour in person meetings were an effective and efficient use of time. Good coffee and snacks go a long way!
- Listen without the intent to reply when working together in the cross-ownership boundary landscape — different stakeholders have different values, just like the values at risk on the landscape. By pausing before response, you may find the common value or common understanding that otherwise would have remained hidden. Allow for a safe space to let someone communicate their ideas as best as they can.
- Lift up the tension in the room. Acknowledge different viewpoints, they can lead you to identify common values under the surface. This changes your perspective and elevates the project.
- We cannot expect success at every fork in the road. It took us 100 -120 years to get the landscape conditions we have, it is going to take some time to get ourselves back to a more resilient condition. Take bite sized pieces and acknowledge the small wins to maintain momentum…slow progress is always progress.
- Things are not going to be perfect. The map is never done – it is a living, breathing tool!
This summer and fall, KFACC will embark on further data analysis and input from local stakeholders to support fire entities’ map refinement. We are looking forward to working together to refine potential operational delineations (PODS) across private, state, and federal lands with different blends of community fire adaptation. That’s a future installment!
Our minds are not static, neither are maps.
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