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

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