Wednesday, June 14, 2017

GAO Releases Report on Factors Influencing Federal-NonFederal Collaboration and Actions to Be Taken

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on reducing wildland fire risk and pointed specifically at the potential for increased collaboration between federal and nonfederal agencies as a way to identify and implement solutions.  This is a key aspect of the Cohesive Strategy. 

GAO interviewed officials from the five federal agencies responsible for wildland fire as well as several nonfederal stakeholders including state and local officials, homeowners, and representatives from non-governmental organizations.  Through the interviewed, multiple factors were identified as affecting federal - nonfederal collaboration around reducing wildland fire risk to communities.  The Good Neighbor Authority and the Tribal Forest Protection Act were noted laws that enhance collaboration because they provide authorities to work on projects across boundaries.  The interviews also highlighted the Cohesive Strategy as helpful because it strongly encourages coordination across multiple agencies and stakeholders as well as a comprehensive set of fire management goals.  

In some cases, the GAO reports, collaboration is hindered by the difficulty in sharing project costs and resources between federal and nonfederal entities. Some officials interviewed pointed to the need for greater and more widespread implementation of the Cohesive Strategy.  We definitely still have work to do. 

The GAO also made a recommendation for the federal agencies work with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) to develop measures to assess progress towards the goals of the Cohesive Strategy. The WFLC has taken on this charge in the past and its proven more of a challenge than originally anticipated. Stay tuned for an update from WFLC after the Department of the Interior and Agriculture address the recommendations in the report.  

Click here for the highlights of the report and here for the full 74 page document

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

County Commissioners and Collaborative Land Use Planning - a Learning Lab Exercise

County commissioners participating in Learning Lab.  Photo: Kate Lighthall.

The Western Interstate Region (WIR) of the National Association of Counties (NACo) held their annual meeting and workshops in Sunriver, OR last week.  This provided a great opportunity for Cohesive Strategy's Western Region to host a Learning Lab demonstration around the engagement and collaboration between a local developer, an environmental group, and federal and county agencies that resulted in consensus between the parties to allow the developer to move forward with their new Fire Adapted Community subdivision.  An all-hands, all-lands approach.  

Each of the characters described their interactions with this group and the reasons why they came to the outcomes they reached.  Throughout the descriptions, the facilitator asked the audience what they learned about fire adapted communities and the value of collaboration in the building permit process. Commissioners responded with a variety of thoughts ranging from "I had no idea the county could act in this way to bring about agreements that satisfied opposing sides" to "Now I see the connection between fire adapted communities, resilient landscapes and an integrated response." 

The key, each presenter agreed, was their willingness to "think outside the box" of the regular planning process. Through their collective education around fire planning, Fire Adapted Communities, ecosystem and active forest management, they all came to agreement about how to design the development for the benefit of all stakeholders. The result of this collaborative planning effort is the model process that can now be undertaken in communities across the West.  

The Cohesive Strategy strongly promotes these collaborative efforts and "out of the box" thinking that lead to consensus between stakeholders about how to have positive impacts on resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities and a safe and effective wildfire response. 

South Dakota's Wildfire Awareness Coloring Contest Winners Announced!

Winning artwork by Layla Norrie, ages 3-7 age group.  Photo:  South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire. 

Each year, budding artists in South Dakota submit their interpretations of a wildfire awareness theme. This year, South Dakota Wildfire Awareness Month’s Coloring Contest winners are Layla Norrie and Paden Belkham. Both were awarded a plush Smokey Bear toy and serious bragging rights!
The contest theme this year was “Be Ember Aware” which encourages members of the community to learn about the danger of embers during a wildfire and what they can do to reduce the risk. 
Winning artwork by Paden Belkham, ages 8-12 age group.  Photo:  South Dakota Division of Wildland Fire. 
There were 333 total entries with 162 in the three to seven age group and 171 entries in the eight to twelve age group. 
South Dakota Wildfire Awareness Month is planned by interagency cooperation and was created to promote wildfire awareness, safety, and prevention through public events held throughout South Dakota to remind citizens of the dangers of wildland fire and the simple steps that can be followed to prepare for and prevent wildfire. 
To learn more about South Dakota Wildland Fire Awareness Month, please visit:

Using Drones and Technology to Combat Fires

A member of a fire crew holds a quadcopter drone deployed near a recent wildfire. Photo: National Park Service.
To combat the destruction of wildland fires, rangers at Grand Canyon National Park are using unmanned air systems, or drones, to help firefighters safely scout fires. The drones can be used to scout locations for fire lines to slow or cut off a wildfire’s progress.  All of the information comes back to the point of command, so decisions can be made in real time about fighting the fire safely and effectively.

Justin Jager, Interagency Aviation Officer for Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests said the drones are used in conjunction with traditional methods. Operators use the devices to scout fire lines or communicate information to other personnel in the area.  

Operators using drone to locate potential fire lines.  Photo: National Park Service. 

Jager says drones will continue to be a valuable tool, and one that operators and managers at Grand Canyon National Park and the neighboring Kaibab and Coconino National Forests are working to develop more fully. Operations in search and rescue, firefighting and biological studies are being used to create standard operating procedures for land management agencies nationwide.

The Cohesive Strategy encourages the development and use of technology to improve the safety and effectiveness of firefighting resources. 

Read more here

Climate Resilience Toolkit - Adapting to Climate Change on the Klamath

One of many Klamath River Prescribed Burn Training events. Photo: Will Harling.

The Karuk have an innate relationship with fire. Tribal members maintain that the age-old practice of prescribed burning holds the answer to climate adaptation planning in the Klamath River range. Recently, the Karuk's story about utilizing fire as a cultural resource and it's positive impact toward climate adaptation in northern California was included in the US Climate Resilience Toolkit.  

The Toolkit offers steps to resilience, case studies, tools and expertise to help communities build climate resilience in the face of changing environments. 

Fire is foundational to the Karuk Tribe, who live and manage 1.48 million acres of their aboriginal lands along the Klamath and Salmon Rivers. They continue to use fire for a variety of reasons including the enhancement of food resources and cultural materials, cultural education, and to reduce available fuels for high-severity wildfire.  

The Karuk are now working to revitalize Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as a tool in wildland management systems.  Indigenous burning is increasingly being recognized as a valuable component in the ecosystem and a tool for restoration. The Tribe has researched and published two reports concerning social and environmental climate changes and the long-term effect the Karuk people are facing with regard to knowledge sovereignty and the vulnerability of their TEK.   

One report - Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Need for Knowledge Sovereignty - emphasizes two key concepts:

  • that TEK is not an isolated application, but a living system that requires ongoing practice for survival. 
  • that it is impossible to attempt to remove TEK from its original context.
A follow up report - Retaining Knowledge Sovereignty - stresses the federal obligation to maintain Karuk knowledge sovereignty and provides strategies to promote traditional knowledge sovereignty including reference to the Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives.

60 Minutes Episode featuring Jack Cohen and Robert Bonnie

Fred Roach's house left standing following a devastating fire in the Kern River Valley, CA.  Photo: CSB News 
Did you miss last night's episode of 60 Minutes? Featuring Robert Bonnie, former Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, and Jack Cohen, retired researcher for the US Forest Service, the episode revolved around the conundrum we face as a nation around wildland fire. 

A hundred years of fire suppression, a growing wildland-urban interface population, drought and extreme weather conditions are all contributing to the volatile conditions we are facing today.  

In the interview, Jack Cohen says what we do around our homes makes the difference. Robert Bonnie says we will always have to live with fire and now we have to fight it differently than we have in the past. 

My favorite part is when the interviewer asks, "Is there something the public doesn't get?"  The answer is yes.

Read the full interview and watch the episode here.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Short-Term Costs for Long Term Dividends in the Sierra Nevada

The Cohesive Strategy says we'll need to understand risk and be willing to accept some short term risks for the long term gain. In the Sierra Nevada, managers are thinning trees and putting fire on the ground "on their terms" to make the forest more resilient and store more carbon. Take a look.