Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Changing Culture in Washington State

Contract fire crews and equipment. Photo: Washington DNR.

“It’s not a question of whether we’ll have fires on these lands, but rather the degree to which we can reduce the damage they cause,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Prescribed Fire Manager Matt Eberlein.   

Washington State has suffered extreme fire seasons in the last five years that have dramatically affected communities and rural economies. Communities and lawmakers are pushing for solutions to the wildfire challenges in the state. Despite the political divisions in the current legislative session, lawmakers have found agreement around preventing another year of historic wildfires.  

In late March, after already passing unanimously in the House, the state Senate passed passed HB 1489 which seeks to ramp up firefighting efforts by increasing private contractors that the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can enlist during wildfire season. 

House Bill 1711 would have DNR prioritize forestland for treatment within a six and 20-year period and create a restoration plan. The legislation could save the state millions in reduced firefighting costs while protecting local rural economies. The bill is also supported by The Nature Conservancy of Washington and is making its way through the Senate now.

Senate Bill SB 5546 calls for the creation of a healthy forest treatment plan and directs DNR to set up a Forest Health Advisory Committee to assist in prioritizing forestlands and the restoration plan.

These pieces of legislation reflect a changing attitude in Washington state. Restoring forestlands, particularly through prescribed burning, has been heavily emphasized during this year's session following the launch of the Forest Resiliency Burning Project last year.

This project has already led prescribed burns at 15 different locations across the state to reduce forest density on high priority lands.  

We'll be keeping an eye on the legislative journey of these and other bills in Washington State so stay tuned! 

Read more here.   

Monday, April 17, 2017

Like a Good Neighbor...

Salmon River, Idaho.  Photo: WallDevil

David Groeschl is the State Forester for the State of Idaho and in a recent interview with Evergreen Magazine, he discusses how state and federal partners are utilizing the Good Neighbor Authority under the 2014 Farm Bill to implement high priority forest restoration projects on National Forests in Idaho.  

Groeschl says the prospects under this authority are very exciting with three projects already designated and several more proposed. Under the Good Neighbor Authority, the US Forest Service can enter into an agreement with the Idaho Department of State Lands to do more restoration work on federal lands using State resources and contracting authorities. "This provides a more timely, flexible and cost-effective way to get this work done," adds Groeschl.

In the interview, David Groeschl points out that 75% of all forestland in Idaho is owned by the federal government, over 20 million acres. The declining health of these National Forests poses serious resource, safety and economic risks to all Idahoans. "Anything we can do to help our federal neighbors helps everyone," explains Groeschl. 

This attitude - that fire, insects and disease know no boundaries and therefore, we're all in this together - is setting the stage for current and future collaborative work in Idaho.

The Cohesive Strategy recommends that states take advantage of the Good Neighbor Authority to increase the pace and scale of landscape resiliency.  

Read full interview here.  

Learnin' a Thing or Two in Nebraska

Ranchers leading a prescribed burn in Nebraska. Photo: Lenya Quinn-Davidson.
In America's heartland, prescribed fire is a long held tradition among ranchers and other landowners. The Fire Learning Network's Lenya Quinn-Davidson recently visited Nebraska as part of a prescribed fire learning exchange. 

She writes in her recent blog post that the Great Plains experiences similar issues to its western neighbors with its eastern red cedar invasion which drastically reduces plant diversity and results in the loss of other species, much to the detriment of wildlife and other values. Similarly too, fire plays an important role in Nebraska landscapes, not only beating back encroaching conifers at relatively low costs, but also creating habitat structure that favors a diverse assemblage of grassland-dependent species.  

Keeping back the eastern red cedar in grasslands and rangelands in Nebraska. Photo: Lenya Quinn-Davidson.
In Nebraska, prescribed fire has become a tool thanks to the capacities of local ranchers and farmers. This is also true in other states where prescribed burn associations have formed and grown in recent decades. This model of cooperative burning, which is based locally and driven by the landowners themselves, is one of the most promising models for landscape-level restoration and maintenance of grasslands and rangelands.  

The Cohesive Strategy encourages efforts to bring prescribed fire to landscapes that can benefit in multiple ways. Read more here about Lenya's visit to Nebraska and the interesting parallels she encountered there. 

Make a Plan Mondays

Always in search of creative ideas to help engage our communities in becoming more fire adapted, the folks in Central Oregon have come together to create Make A Plan Mondays - a six week installment series hosted by Deschutes County's Project Wildfire to highlight what citizens should do to prepare for evacuation. 

With support from the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network  the series kicked off today with Week 1: Evacuation Basics (the video above) and will proceed with new videos each Monday for the next five weeks. Topics include: Building Go Kits, preparing your children, preparing to evacuate special/vulnerable populations, preparing your business for evacuation, and preparing for pet evacuation. The promotion and videos run on Project Wildfire's website, local radio and TV and through social media outlets.   

"We have a great history of collaboration in Central Oregon so we worked with our partners to create a valuable message with information on evacuation preparation," said Alison Green, Program Coordinator for Project Wildfire. "Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, the American Red Cross and the Central Oregon Humane Society all play a starring role in delivering the message," Green added.  

The promotional blitz is all digital with web banners, wallpapers and videos and will be archived for further outreach after the six-week campaign is done.

Project Wildfire is a network hub in the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and strives to prevent deaths, injuries, property loss and environmental damage from wildfire in Deschutes County, Oregon. Along with their partners, Project Wildfire is making great strides leading a community to live with wildland fire.    

Making a Difference at the Community Level in Hawaii

Fuels reduction workday in action in Hawaii.  Photo: HWMO

We've highlighted the wildfire challenges in Hawaii before. Yep, Hawaii. The size and frequency of wildfires on the islands that make up the state of Hawaii have grown significantly in recent decades. Wildfires often burn a similar percentage of lands in Hawaii as they do in the western United States. Pablo Beimler with the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) published a blog post recently in which he discussed the recent accomplishments toward fire adapted communities on the islands. 

Hawaii's residents don't often make the connection between fire, drinking water availability and coastal water quality issues. Because the islands are so steep, its soil repels water and the weather often changes daily, fire's environmental impacts can be immediate. Runoff and debris from erosion following a fire has become a major concern - flooding coastal areas and smothering coral reefs which impacts tourism and fishery economies.

HWMO, with grants from the US Forest Service and State Farm Insurance, has used the Ready, Set, Go! and Firewise Communities frameworks as launching points to engage communities in fire adaptation efforts. They use the Ready, Set, GO! program to stimulate interest and once they identify community members who wish to take their action to the next level of preparedness, HWMO facilitates the Firewise Communities process. In total, HWMO has helped eight additional communities on Hawaii and Maui become Firewise since 2015!

These efforts not only build safer communities but help communities understand the risk and impacts of wildfire in Hawaii; prompting them to take and support actions to reduce that risk.  Fantastic Cohesive Strategy behavior! 

Read the full blog post here.   

Friday, April 14, 2017

Firesafe Flathead - Building Fire Adapted Communities in Montana

The interior of the Copper King Fire in Montana, August 9, 2016. Photo: INCIWEB  
There is so much Cohesive Strategy behavior occurring across the West that it has become a bit of a challenge to figure out what to highlight here that demonstrates what implementation looks like. That said, it is important for us to recognize that at the very base of Cohesive Strategy implementation are communities. People. Their lives, jobs, families, relationships. Their understanding about the wildfire risk around them and their willingness to take action to reduce those risks is a major part of the cornerstone to building Fire Adapted Communities and making meaningful progress towards Resilient Landscapes and a Safe, Effective, Risk-Based Wildfire Response.    

Communities (and all that the term implies) are the key-est of key stakeholders to implementing the Cohesive Strategy. Engagement of communities is absolutely critical to building support for projects that ultimately impact them. So when I came across this example of implementation, I was happily reminded that changing cultures and behaviors starts at the local level. 

FireSafe Flathead is a group of community members including homeowners association members, firefighters, emergency planners, state and federal resource managers who meet monthly to plan a more proactive, community-based response to the threat of wildfire. 

Their recent meeting in March focused on how best to connect people living in fire-prone areas with resources to help them protect their property. They are planning a number of public education events around defensible space and meeting with homeowners associations for property assessments. FireSafe Flathead is also facilitating the revision of the Flathead Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and hosting a community screening of "Era of Megafires". A great effort to make their communities more fire adapted!

We continue to see local, community-based efforts like these be the convening vehicle towards community action to reduce risk. Great work FireSafe Flathead! It's groups like you that ignite the spark (pardon the pun!) that builds awareness, results in action and leads to Resilient Landscapes, Fire Adapted Communities and a Safe, Effective, Risk-Based Wildfire Response. 

Read more here about FireSafe Flathead. And here.  


Beetle Infestation Ends - Resiliency Project Begins in Black Hills

Gale Gire, Silviculturist for Black Hills National Forest. Photo: Hannah Hunsinger, Rapid City Journal
The Cohesive Strategy seeks to improve the resiliency across landscapes against not just the negative effects of wildfire fire but insects and disease as well. The rugged mountain pine beetle has devastated many landscapes across the west, including an epic, 20-year assault in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 
The US Forest Service has officially declared that epidemic over with 2016's report that the number of beetle killed trees is less than in prior years - a solid sign that things are moving back to normal.

Their latest effort is the Black Hills Resilient Landscapes Project which will address not only the millions of tree deaths during the beetle epidemic but also the reduction in high intensity fire risk.  Current forest landscapes in the Black Hills are "out of whack," says Anne Davy of the US Forest Service.  If the project is approved, forest managers will spend the next decade working to make the forest more resilient to beetles and wildfires. The work will vary, but it will include removing some dead trees, igniting controlled burns, thinning dense areas to act as breaks against wildfires, cutting encroaching pines out of aspen and oak stands and away from grassy meadows, and culling some old or young pines to encourage a healthier mix of tree ages.
Researchers have suggested it might be wiser and more cost-effective to focus less on reactionary beetle control efforts and more on the creation of forest conditions to limit the damage from future epidemics. Forest managers in the Black Hills agree that the beetle devastation has highlighted the need for proactive thinking.  "We need to see some active forest management on the landscape, or we’re going to be having the same conversations with the same front-page headlines 20 years from now,” Ben Wudke of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association said, “with mountain pine beetles or catastrophic wildfires decimating the forest.”

Cohesive Strategy's Western Region met with stakeholders from South Dakota in 2016 for a shared learning workshop that highlighted the need for addressing the beetle killed forests.  it's great to see these efforts towards landscape resiliency moving forward!!  Stay tuned!

For the full article on the Black Hills Resiliency Project, click here