Friday, March 23, 2018

Trans-boundary Wildfire Risk Assessment in Arizona Can Help Determine How Stakeholders Co-Manage Risk

Through a partnership with Arizona Landscape Restoration Partnership, principal investigator Alan Agar and his team have released a case study on trans-boundary wildfire risk that offers a number of newer concepts and methods related to trans-boundary risk governance for the state of Arizona. The methods and results can be used to better define the scale of risk and develop "all-lands" strategies to address drivers that perpetuate wildfire problems. These concepts fit squarely within the context of the Cohesive Strategy.

Risk governance concepts were originally stimulated by trans-boundary risk issues such as floods, pollution, environmental hazards and disease but only recently have been discussed in the context of wildfires. The Arizona case study describes newer risk assessment concepts based on the principle that trans-boundary risk has a spatial and functional scale that is determined by a host of social, institutional, biophysical and ecological factors. Investigators mapped the spatial structure of wildfire risk to Arizona's communities in terms of the amount  of contributing land tenures and then discuss the implications for managing wildfire risk. The results illustrate how this type of risk assessment can facilitate managing wildfire risk at a multi-jurisdictional scale and facilitate dialogues between federal, state and private land management organizations and the communities they impact. 

We are looking forward to learning how Arizona stakeholders utilize this information and additional studies within these concepts across the West. 

Read through full Story Map here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Updating Your CWPP is a Good Place to Start

Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake, MT.  Photo by Levi Tucker
With the 2017 fire season still fresh in the minds of many, some communities are taking proactive steps prior to the 2018 fire season to improve fire outcomes and better live with wildland fire. In Missoula County, Montana, stakeholders are tackling a robust revision of their 13-year-old Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

Prodded by last summer's historic fire season that saw over 230,000 acres burned in the county alone, local stakeholders are working together on a more aggressive approach to community wildfire planning.

The goal is to create a "fire adapted" community, not to eliminate wildfires, said Adriane Beck, director of the county's Office of Emergency Management. 

The newly revised plan (now out for public comment) explains, "Eliminating wildfire from Missoula County is not possible or desirable. However, by understanding the environment, reducing the number of unwanted human ignitions, using prescribed fire as a tool when appropriate, and taking other measures to reduce wildfire spread and intensity around developed areas, it is possible to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property from the wildfires that still burn in Missoula County."

The Cohesive Strategy is mentioned throughout the plan as a way to achieve improvements towards their ability to respond to fires, create resilient landscapes and promote fire adapted communities across the county. 

Interestingly, the plan provides a revised definition of the wildland-urban interface (WUI) as "any area where the combination of human development and vegetation have a potential to result in negative impacts from wildfire on the community." This lends support to the emerging idea that stakeholders ought to consider all fire-prone areas in their planning efforts, not just the traditional definition of the WUI.

The plan's multi-pronged approach calls for a variety of stakeholder actions including:   

  • Update and utilize land use maps and local area plans, with wildfire-risk data to steer growth away from more hazardous areas.
  • Utilize land conservation tools such as the open space bond to buffer developed areas from wildfire.
  • Adopt development regulations that require best possible hazard mitigation to protect communities, neighborhoods, fire professionals, and properties/structures in the event of a wildfire.  
  • Review and identify priority landscapes and options for forest thinning.  
  • Prescribed fire use should be advanced in areas where it is determined to be the appropriate treatment for achieving ecological restoration or hazard reduction goals and objectives.
  • Implement post-fire recovery activities. There may be opportunities to leverage long-term post-fire planning that can support future wildfire and prescribed fire activity.
  • Engage with industry professionals on mitigation programs, activities, and opportunities to improve public education and outreach across neighborhoods and communities.
  • Promote having neighborhoods and communities develop mitigation activities and evacuation plans through programs such as Firewise Communities/ USA and Ready, Set, Go!
  • Promote and support fire departments to increase capacity and funding. 
  • Establish wildland fire response agreements between the county and fire districts.  
The Cohesive Strategy supports efforts at the local level to increase a community's preparedness to receive fire.  A CWPP that addresses a wide selection of stakeholder roles and actions is a strong tool that can help a community become more fire adapted, see greater progress towards landscape resiliency and increase the safety and effectiveness of its wildfire response. 

See more here.  See Missoula County's draft CWPP here

Friday, January 26, 2018

Summit County Colorado Adopts New Land Use Regs to Reduce Wildfire Risk

Battling the Peak 2 Fire near Breckenridge, CO in July 2017.  Photo: Hugh Carey,

Summit County in Colorado has adopted new land-use regulations intended to reduce wildfire risk and made major updates to its Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).  
"The Peak Two Fire was a sobering reminder of how real the threat of wildfire is in Summit County," Commissioner Dan Gibbs said in a statement, referring to the July wildfire that burned 80 acres near Breckenridge. "We're very fortunate that the fire didn't make its way into our neighborhoods, but we have to be proactive in taking concrete steps to reduce our exposure to those types of risks."
Amendments to the Land Use and Development Code include new requirements for assessing wildfire hazards and potential mitigation measures when updating master plans and as part of any new rezoning, planned unit development or subdivision application.
New landscaping regulations also set requirements for creating defensible space, or areas around a structure thinned of vegetation to create firebreaks.  
"We wanted to ensure that the Countywide Comprehensive Plan, the Basin Master Plans, the Land Use and Development Code and the Community Wildfire Protection Plan all speak the same language and are aligned with one another to support our wildfire mitigation efforts," Summit County Senior Planner Lindsay Hirsh said.
The Cohesive Strategy is an "all hands, all lands" approach which means that stakeholders at all levels can do their part to help reduce risk.  In this case, we applaud the County Commissioners in Summit County to do what they can to help their communities become more resilient and fire-adapted in their fire-prone environment. 
Read the full article here

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Integrating TEK and World Renewal Ceremonies into Fire Adaptation

The late LaVerne Glaze, a Karuk basket weaver, harvesting willow, overlooking the Klamath River. Photo: Frank Lake, USDA Forest Service and Karuk Tribe.

Bill Tripp, Karuk Tribal member and Deputy Director of Eco-Cultural Revitalization for the Tribe's Department of Natural Resources shares his experiences in a recent FAC Network blog with using Traditional Ecological Knowledge to identify priorities for land management projects.

The Karuk Tribe's Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and belief systems are constructed and preserved through stories, practices and interactions with the natural world. Rooted in northern California, members of the Karuk Tribe celebrate a number of rituals including World Renewal Ceremonies. These ceremonies are a key part of their community's social fabric. They align the Karuk culture with ecosystem process and function. In their world view, cultural resources have a life and each life deserves consideration when planning projects, including fire adaptation projects.
The Western Klamath Restoration Partnership, a forest restoration partnership that the Karuk Tribe co-leads (and one of the original Cohesive Strategy funded projects), references these ceremonies when identifying which resources and species to prioritize when making land management plans and decisions.
The Partnership began with a narrow focus on five species: willow, the Pacific fisher, the northern spotted owl, Roosevelt elk, and the Pacific giant salamander. Each for the their own reasons, the Partnership considers these habitat and ecosystem needs when prioritizing restoration projects.  
Traditional burning is an important eco-cultural practice for the Karuk Tribe and is a valuable part of the restoration process.  Rather than thinking about "ecosystem services that benefit humans," they prioritize "human services that benefit ecosystems."  In this way, the Partnership can consider the species' habitat, wildfire issues and human usage of the landscape when planning restoration projects.
For more about the five species and their specific roles within the TEK approach to restoration planning, click here

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

There is No "NO-FIRE" Option

Photo by McNair Evans

At the recent Cohesive Strategy meeting in New Mexico, I heard several of our members say the time has come for people to understand that there is no longer a "no-fire" option.  Equally as true, there is no "no-smoke" option either. 

In a recent article by Zach St. George, he shares a detailed account of California's fire history and the sobering reality that as a society we must understand there is a need to return fire to the landscape in order to avoid the catastrophic results of fire and smoke we are experiencing now.  

Holding up the 2017 fire season as a vision of the future, St. George says, many are arguing for a change in tactics in the long war against fire. Full fire suppression is not the answer. 

In suppressing fire, we have only made a trade, swapping more frequent, less dangerous fires for less frequent, more dangerous fire. It's time to trade back. 

Not an easy task however, thanks to expanding population growth into areas once frequented by small, helpful fires. While using prescribed fires to treat landscapes is gaining more support,  smoke from these fires, even if it's less of an impact than wildfire smoke, is still hotly contested by the public and air regulatory agencies.  

Still, there is no "no-smoke" choice either. In support of this reality, the US Forest Service (Region 5) and Sierra Forest Legacy signed an MOU in which they agreed to "increase public education and awareness in support of ecologically sensitive and economically efficient vegetation management activities, including prescribed fire, forest thinning and other fuel treatment projects." Following their lead, 22 other parties joined the memorandum including Cal Fire, the National Park Service, the BLM, the Sierra Club and several regional air quality management boards.  

Mr. St. George notes, "with the aftermath of prescribed fire on one side and fire suppression on the other, it seems like an easy choice...capable of righting many of the wrongs of fire suppression."

An easy choice yes, but implementation of a widespread prescribed fire program will take years. Cal Fire aims to treat 20,000 of its 31 million acres within its responsibility area, and more into the future.  This is a drastic improvement over years of burning only 2-3,000 acres, but it regularly burned 60,000+ acres as recently as the 1980s. Baby steps. 

The Cohesive Strategy is a strong supporter of returning fire to the landscape where possible as part of an all hands, all lands approach to changing the devastating trajectory we are on. 

Read St. George's full article here.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Transparent Communication is NOT an Option

Dave Lasky, now a module lead at Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module.  Photo: Mike Caggiano, Colorado State University.  

In the FAC Net's new blog series, Fantastic Failures, Dave Lasky bravely shares the painful lessons learned from his experiences with pre-fire mitigation efforts and the devastating 2010 Four Mile Canyon Fire on Colorado's Front Range. The lessons are extremely valuable and worth sharing.  

Mr. Lasky details his past efforts as a fire and fuels crew boss and the over 600 acres treated within what became the Four Mile Canyon Fire perimeter. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent to remove hazardous fuels in the area with the intent to reduce fire severity and protect homes. 

The fire burned 6,181 acres and consumed 162 homes. Following the fire Senator Mark Udall commissioned a study to determine if previous fuels treatments had meaningfully prevented structure loss. The study answered that question with a resounding NO - years of work had not significantly reduced structure loss.  In his words, Mr. Lasky was left feeling "about two inches tall."

So what did he learn?

Doing something is NOT better than doing nothing. They cut fewer trees than they should have, just to accomplish "something," hoping that communities would allow them to reenter and accomplish more. Now he is interested in applying limited resources to only those communities that are fully committed. 

It's NOT just about cutting trees in the WUI. In retrospect, Lasky says, "we spent far too much money on fuels reduction and not enough on assisting residents with fire resistant building materials and landscaping." Embers from nearby fire were the cause of structure losses.

Mitigation is an ongoing process, NOT an event. Reducing fuels along roadways proved ineffective without routine maintenance of the grass that grew in the absence of the trees. The fuel breaks did not hold. 

Treatments are NOT complete until prescribed fire is introduced. Cutting trees and leaving slash piles without funding to promptly burn them is not mitigation but simply rearranging the fuels into a potentially more hazardous situation. Theirs created ladders to the tree canopy and in some cases allowed for flaming logs to roll downhill jeopardizing firefighters.

Transparent communication is NOT optional. In an era of climate change and commensurate extreme fire behavior, Lasky says, "we have an ethical responsibility to be more forthcoming with residents about the limits of risk reduction". He compares mitigation now to airbags in a car. "Airbags can save lives but if you drive into a telephone pole at 90 miles an hours, airbags won't do much." 

For more on Mr. Lasky's valuable lessons learned, read the full blog post here.  And if you're interested, the full report on the Four Mile Canyon Fire can be found here

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Wildfires - The Answer

Photo by Matt Howard

Bob Roper, retired Nevada State Forester and retired Ventura County Fire Chief has put his 40+ years of experience on the table in his recent essay: Wildfires - The Answer.  Jim Peterson, the editor of Evergreen Magazine calls it, "a brutally honest assessment of the underlying and still unresolved problems associated with the West's wildfire crisis," and praises Roper saying "he has artfully lanced a festering boil the political classes continue to ignore."

We like it because Chief Roper, a long-time participant in the development and implementation of the Cohesive Strategy, offers a series of plausible actions that can be taken by all levels of government (federal, state and local) in addition to efforts by non-governmental agencies and the public, to make meaningful progress beyond simply calling for another "blue ribbon" study to analyze the problem.

Within the context of the Cohesive Strategy, Roper calls on stakeholders to take actions that will have meaningful impact on the issue including:

  • Revision of EPA standards to allow for more controlled fires,
  • Streamlining of the environmental review process,
  • Development of a firefighting funding source for federal fire agencies that does not rob prevention and mitigation funding,
  • Development and enforcement of building standards and practices in fire-prone areas,
  • Creation and enforcement of defensible space programs,
  • Greater emphasis on personal responsibility,
  • and more.

Read his complete list of actions and full essay here