Jan 09, 2018
Working Together: That’s the Central-Oregon Way [A Day in the Life with Alison Green]
By: Alison Green
What did you do prior to working on community wildfire resilience? How did you get into FAC work?
Prior to Project Wildfire, I fought fire for the USDA Forest Service, performed recreational site surveys, and worked for a property management company. Juggling multiple projects, daily challenges, and dynamic environments certainly prepared me to work on fire adapted communities issues. No matter the job, working with people to solve complex problems is always my favorite part. The jobs that let me spend time outside provide an extra bonus.
When the opportunity to coordinate Project Wildfire presented itself, I saw it as a chance to blend my passions for working with people and natural resources. Project Wildfire’s work is so closely tied to fire adaptation goals that I dove into FAC work before I even knew that’s what it was called.
Where might your job take you today?
I never have the same week twice. One week, the focus could be finishing up a revision on one of our seven Community Wildfire Protection Plans. The next, I’ll be meeting with partners to coordinate our FireFree program, a free hazardous fuels disposal program for local residents. The next, maybe it’s discussing wildfire preparedness with local landowners. Project Wildfire has a great amount of operational flexibility, which complements the abundance of topics that need to be tackled.
My work does have a seasonal cycle to it. This time of year, you can find me working on grant applications or four-star Firewise USA™ assessments. I am also meeting with the local fire districts, Forest Service employees, and landowners to work on spring projects, such as prescribed fire communications. When spring hits, we will be busy planning our next FireFree event. Last year, residents brought in almost 3,800 dump trucks full of hazardous fuels, and this year, we’re hoping to exceed that.
The other heavy lift during the spring is implementing as many curbside chipping projects, which we call Sweat Equity Projects, as possible before fire weather hits. Deschutes County and Project Wildfire coordinate and fund the chipping contractor, which provides an incentive for folks to do the work without having to plan or pay for debris disposal. By asking residents to accomplish the defensible space work themselves, they tend to better maintain their properties afterward. The whole premise behind this program is Project Wildfire teaching folks to fish instead of fishing for them.
Last spring, we also developed a video series, Make-A-Plan Monday, that highlighted what citizens should do to prepare for evacuation. The topics ranged from basic evacuation to pet considerations to business preparedness. The videos were released over a period of six weeks, prior to fire season. These videos featured partners from the Humane Society, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the American Red Cross.
What’s a project that you’re particularly proud of?
One particular neighborhood comes to mind when I think of my time with Project Wildfire — Lane Knolls. Lane Knolls is a community on the east side of Bend with abundant western juniper and brush vegetation. When we began working with them, 80 percent of their community’s brush was continuous, and in some places eight feet high, or taller. Many residents chose to live in Lane Knolls without considering the fire risk and, at first, did not have an interest in changing the vegetation.
Five years, and many meetings later, we are now working with their homeowner’s association to finish treating their commons area. Together, we have reduced their wildfire risk, but the residents have done the lion’s share of the work. Educating and empowering folks to do the right thing is inspirational.
Tell us about a time that FAC Net made a difference in your work.
FAC Net continues to provide excellent learning opportunities to Project Wildfire so that we can work with our local partners to push the envelope. FAC Net’s members helped inspire the Make-A-Plan Monday campaign, our prescribed fire messaging campaigns, and Deschutes County’s Long Term Recovery Plan.
Our local discussion around long-term recovery was borne out of FAC Net’s Pacific Northwest Learning Exchange, which also involved the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition and the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative. After visiting central Washington and discussing fire recovery, we realized how far behind the recovery curve we were. As with all topics FAC Net advances, we began to build a path forward with the power of our connections. In partnership with organizations and individuals from central Washington and southern Oregon (and FAC Net), we planned and implemented another learning exchange; this time exclusively focused on long-term recovery.
We walked away from both of the learning exchanges with a better idea of where to start our recovery planning efforts, and who we need in the room for that discussion. Project Wildfire is now building partnerships with organizations that we had considered non-traditional in the past (such as food banks, the faith community, and non-profits who can handle donations and cash) and look forward to advancing this important topic in 2018.
Project Wildfire and the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project (DCFP) received some great press coverage in 2017. What is the secret to those efforts’ momentum?
An emphasis on working together is locally coined as the “central-Oregon way.” However, three decades ago, we all did business quite differently. The group of people now serving on the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project’s steering committee normally only saw one other in court, contesting forestry projects. Our region had integrated fire response efforts, but advancing FAC, and advancing it together, was just emerging.
Eventually, the central Oregon “players” recognized that wildfire jeopardized whatever they valued most (tourism, recreation, home loss, natural beauty, industry, etc.). Consequently, we realized that working together toward common goals ultimately made sense. Do we all agree on what actions need to be taken and in what order? No. But each stakeholder involved in the DCFP and Project Wildfire agrees that we need to make our forests more resilient and our communities more fire adapted.
What motivates you?
It’s hard to put my finger on one thing that motivates me. Being raised by two Forest Service employees, I developed a love for our natural landscape at an early age. My work is my own way of contributing to the health and sustainability of our National Forests.
The people are why I come to work each day, without a doubt. They challenge and inspire me to think of bigger and better solutions for Deschutes County.
Work is over; another long but fulfilling day behind you. What’s next?
With more than 2 million acres of public land outside of my back door, I’m constantly soaking up the outdoors with my husband, 4-year-old daughter, and pugs. With a busy work schedule, any time I get to spend with my daughter is invaluable.
Any other thoughts?
My job is not about fire; it’s about people. At the end of the day, people drive or hinder the FAC process. The best part of working with people is the diverse interactions I have on a daily basis. I might get the opportunity to work with someone who has been working on FAC for decades or someone brand new to the idea. Each interaction is different and challenging in its own way.
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