Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 State & Private Forestry Report Out

The 2016 State and Private Forestry Report is out. The report illustrates just a few of the accomplishments, new initiatives, and on-the-ground impacts that are a result of more than five years of Forest Action Plan implementation.  Lots of great Cohesive Strategy behavior highlighted!  Click here for full report.  

Developers Building Firewise Communities From the Ground Up

Developer Chris Heftel, right, and homeowner Mike Thompson discuss wildfire safety measures in the River Bluff Ranch community. Photo:  Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

More and more homes are being built in the wildland urban interface WUI) across the West. This brings into question who is responsible for the home and fire protection of these developments. The Cohesive Strategy strongly encourages and supports the creation of Fire Adapted Communities in which individuals, neighborhoods, cities, counties (and all stakeholders really), understand their risk and take the steps they can to mitigate them. 

It's a different commitment for each stakeholder. Local governments and elected officials can adopt codes and ordinances that restrict building in the WUI and support development and land use regulations that require Firewise standards for those who choose to build in fire-prone areas. 

In Washington, a developer took matters into his own hands when he developed the River Bluff Ranch subdivision near Spokane. The websites and brochures that are full of mitigation advice weren't enough. They became the rules as the development was built in preparation for wildfire from the ground up with fire resistant siding and roofing. In addition, Covenants, Codes and Restrictions (CCRs) will enforce the Firewise landscaping requirements.  

In Deschutes County, Oregon, in order to obtain a building permit, developers must agree to utilize Firewise building and access standards and leave CCRs in place that maintain Firewise landscaping throughout the development.  In addition, the Homeowners Association must secure and maintain Firewise Communities/USA recognition. Caldera Springs is one such development near Sunriver, OR and The Tree Farm in Bend, OR is just getting underway now. 

In Plumas County, there are more homes in the WUI than in any other northern California county - 7,494. Plumas officials have taken significant steps to ensure additional homes built in "the stupid zone" will be prepared for wildfire. (A term one humorist coined to described areas where experts have identified one hazard or another and determined that they are dumb places to build homes). Developers are now required to provide Firewise improvements to help protect homes such as multiple access roads and structural fire protection.

Activities like these are an important piece of the Cohesive Strategy Implementation puzzle and contribute significantly towards communities to becoming more fire adapted.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fall Meeting of WFLC in Boise

WFLC members and others on field tour of Pony and Elk Complex Fires near Boise, Idaho September 7, 2016.  Photo:

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) met September 7th and 8th in Boise, Idaho. The activities for their fall meeting included an eye-opening field tour of the 2013 Pony Fire, a tour of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and a productive face-to-face.


"We're actually learning a lot from Idaho about how to get things done to reduce the threat of fire in the first place. Restoration activities, improvement of rangeland conditions, fire breaks, all of those things," said Robert Bonnie, Deputy Undersecretary with the Department of Agriculture. 

The face-to-face meeting kicked off with an informative presentation about Resiliency on Tribal Lands and show from members of the Yakama Nation and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.  

The US Forest Service updated the Council on the "Life First" engagements around the country. It is clear that this initiative has impact far beyond the Forest Service as many states and other fire agencies are embracing the concepts of "stop, think and talk before acting," and risk-based decision making (a core principle of the Cohesive Strategy). WFLC examined how lessons from these engagements and those learned from the 2016 fire season can expand the learning environment and tie these concepts to existing agency protocols. 

Other meeting highlights included the National Strategic Committee (NSC) which updated the WFLC with outcomes from its face-to-face meeting two weeks prior where members finalized a review of Cohesive Strategy ideas and opportunities spanning the last six years. The NSC also challenged the WFLC with the questions - what is the role of the NSC moving forward and what is its composition? WFLC was supportive of the work to date and appreciated the candid conversations about how the NSC might evolve to  better serve the WFLC and the greater objective of implementing the Cohesive Strategy. The group committed to a refreshed look at the structure and purpose of the NSC over the months ahead. 

WFLC also heard updates on the original four priorities: Large Landscape Collaboration, Smoke Management, Environmental Compliance and Reducing Risk to Communities, as well as the efforts underway for the 2017 National Cohesive Strategy Workshop which will bring best science and Cohesive Strategy implementation together for greater understanding and achievement. 

The local news captured the WFLC visit here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Using Fire for Resource Benefit Can Assist in Restoration and Maintenance of Sierra Nevada Forests

In our continued support of using fire for resource benefit, I've come across this study, recently released that suggests that fire management approaches used by the National Park Service in Yosemite National Park could assist in the restoration and maintenance of Sierra Nevada forest ecosystems.
The authors compared wildfires that burned between 1984 and 2009 among ecoregions, forest types, and land management agencies in the Sierra Nevada, Southern Cascades, and Modoc Plateau of California.  

Irrespective of forest type, high severity percentage and high severity patch size were lower in Yosemite National Park than on Forest Service lands. Yosemite fires were also smaller on average than fires on Forest Service lands.  

The authors suggest that restoring fire as an ecological process, including increased management of wildfires for resource benefit, would reduce fuel loads and stand densities across broad scales even under current climate conditions. This fire regime restoration could enhance the resilience of forest ecosystems and reduce the impacts of future wildfires on Forest Service lands in the ecoregion.

For more about the study and management implications, read the research brief here.  And read full article here.

The Wrong Carrots and Sticks for Reducing Wildfire Losses.

Blue Cut Fire in California, August 2016.  Photo: Mike Nelson, EPA

Ray Rasker, Executive Director of Headwaters Economics, offers his perspective on how to mitigate losses from wildfire in his recent op-ed piece in the LA Times.  

Wildfire is not the problem, Rasker says.  The problem is people living in dangerous places and the reason people continue building on fire-prone lands, despite the known hazards, is because we have the incentives all wrong. Typically, new home construction is approved on or near the most flammable of lands.  When fire comes, federal and state agencies send in crews and air tankers to defend private homes. Most of the cost is borne by taxpayers, and by firefighters, especially those who lose their lives.  

Rasker suggests that communities that focus on better incentives as well as where and how homes are built, will be better suited to withstand wildfire.  
He suggests the new Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program, which offers assistance to communities in the form of land-use planning advice and detailed wildfire risk mapping as one way to confront the development issue. Communities that participate learn how to adopt land use and development codes to encourage developers to set aside open space and recreational trails as fuel breaks in fire prone settings, and how to use building codes to require ignition-resistant construction materials.
Another approach is to enact a community rating system, where cities and towns that put in place safety restrictions on development would become eligible for a cluster of rewards, such as free land-use planning assistance, detailed wildfire-risk mapping or targeted fuel reduction on nearby federal lands. Funding channels could be directed to those efforts in the highest-rated communities.
The Cohesive Strategy supports a variety of methods and actions through which communities can better prepare themselves for wildfire.  Land use planning, development codes and standards, and local government ordinances can all be part of the solution to mitigating losses from wildfire.  
Read full opinion piece here

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Plumas County Taking Steps to Protect Homes Built in the "Stupid Zone"

Valley Fire destroys home in community of Seigler Springs in California, 2015.  Photo: Marcus Yam, LA Times

We are living in “Stupid Zones,” a term coined by the late Ed Quillen, a humorist and Denver Post columnist who used the term to lampoon areas where experts have identified one hazard or another and determined that they are dumb places to build houses. 

Jane Braxton Little reminds us of this funny yet sobering term in her recent article about whose responsibility it ought to be if we exercise our private property rights to build a home in the wildland-urban interface.

The Stupid Zone evolved over decades as landowners were encouraged to develop remote forested areas.  It was an era when the common belief was that we could and should, control wildfire.  Today, Little points out, the science makes it clear that this thinking is flawed. 

Local officials are starting to get it.  Plumas County has more homes in the WUI than any other Northern California county - 7,494. Plumas officials have taken significant steps to ensure that additional homes will not be built in the Stupid Zones. 

Developers of new subdivisions are now required to provide a variety of Firewise-type improvements to help protect homes during wildland fires. Two access roads and structural fire protection are just a couple of the new requirements.

Plumas officials stopped short of prohibiting building in the WUI but the current dilemma begs the question - if we choose to build a home outside of fire protection boundaries, in a wildfire prone area, should we be responsible for the costs of defending our home?  Quillen would say yes.  

Read her full article here
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Native Traditional Methods Revived to Combat California Drought and Wildfires

Prescribed fire training exchange in northern California in 2015.  Photo: Mid Klamath Watershed Council
Renee Lewis authored an intriguing article this summer, highlighting the cooperative efforts between California Native American Tribes and the US Forest Service to tend the land in ways that help ease droughts and create barriers to wildfires. 
Lewis notes that as California battles its worst drought in 1,000 years, a number of Tribal members and scientists are working with US Forest Service officials to revive traditional land management practices that can help contain wildfires and lessen the effects of drought. 
California's Amah Mutsun, Karuk, Yurok, Hupa and North Fork Mono Tribes, among others, have traditionally carried out controlled burning every year in the fall, to preserve useful plants and prevent larger fires.  
North Fork Mono Tribal Chairman Ron Goode said he has been receiving more requests from the US Forest Service to share knowledge of traditional land management techniques since the current drought began gripping the state. 
Goode’s technique to combat drought and wildfires focuses on restoring meadows, which he said achieves dual purposes: keeping more water in the ground by thinning the forest canopy, and thus also creating clear, wetter areas that act as buffers to large fires.
Read the full article here