Sunday, July 8, 2018

New Tool Allows Oregon Residents and Land Managers to Track Current Wildfire Risk

Oregon Explorer. Photo: Oregon Department of Forestry
The Oregon Department of Forestry recently released the Advanced Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer, a new tool that allows residents to track current wildfire risk to their exact location anywhere in the state. The tool uses a variety of data including historical wildfire data, local vegetation and weather. It offers resources as well.  Residents can generate a report specific to their address that shows how much defensible space should be cleared around their homes, wildfire history and local contacts for more information. 

The tool is also intended to provide a data-based risk assessment for planners and forest managers as they prepared for where wildfires are predicted to grow more intense.  

The Cohesive Strategy strongly supports the use of science and technology to help stakeholders achieve landscape resiliency goals, fire adapted communities and a safer, more effective wildfire response.

Test drive the new tool here

Read the full article here

The True Costs of Wildland Fire - Updated 7-9-18

Tubbs Fire aftermath. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle
To "live with wildland fire" is at the core of the Cohesive Strategy vision. But to understand what that truly means for us in the West's fire prone environments, we must understand the full impacts and costs of wildland fire. 

State and federal agencies routinely capture costs and impacts in terms of dollars spent, houses and acres burned and sadly, lives lost. We now know however, that the true costs of wildland fire go far beyond those measurements.

Headwaters Economics approached this issue in their recent study of the Full Community Costs of Wildfire.  In summary, the report suggests:

  • Almost half of the full community costs of wildfire are paid for at the local level, including homeowners, businesses, and government agencies.
  • Many of these costs are due to long-term damages to community and environmental services, such as landscape rehabilitation, lost business and tax revenues, and property and infrastructure repairs.
  • By comparison, our analysis suggests suppression costs comprise around nine percent of total wildfire costs. The remaining costs include short-term expenses, or those costs occurring within the first six months—and long-term damages accruing during many months and years following a wildfire.
  • Communities at risk to wildfires can reduce wildfire impacts and associated costs through land use planning.

Review the Headwaters Economics full report here

In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released their review, Costs and Losses of Wildfire, in November 2017. This report enumerates all possible costs of wildfire management and wildfire-related losses as well as the economic burden of wildfire for the United States. 

The review includes an assessment of costs associated with:

  • preparedness  
  • mitigation
  • fuels management
  • suppression
  • legal and incarceration costs
  • research and development
  • deaths and injuries
  • psychological impacts
  • evacuation
  • structure loss
  • timber loss
  • burned area rehab
  • housing market loss
  • tax base loss

Read the full NIST review here

In April 2010, the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition and Council of Western State Foresters produced a report, The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western US. Using data from case studies of large fires in the 2000s, the report concludes that a range of total wildfire costs are anywhere from 2 to 30 times greater than the reported suppression costs. The report also makes recommendations for continued investment in active forest management, a fire funding fix, and development and implementation of the Cohesive Strategy.

Read the full WFLC/CWSF report here

These reports can be used to help stakeholders better mitigate potential losses and budget for the true costs of fire to avoid the painful trade-offs between fire mitigation and fire suppression. 

Update 7-9-18:

Since we first published this blog piece, Bob Zybach contacted us to share some work on this issue that he and others completed for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center in 2009.  Take a look here. It includes a one-page check list that is intended to make initial estimates of total fire costs, and to ultimately be used in conjunction with a more comprehensive ledger for better tracking costs and losses over time. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

2018 Cohesive Strategy Workshop a Huge Success

Second pic: Joe Stutler moderating a panel of State Foresters - Dave Celino, Massachusetts; Darryl Jones, South Carolina, Peter Daugherty, Oregon; Jeff Whitney, Arizona.  Third row:  George Geissler relating the national Cohesive Strategy focus from the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC). John Ruhs, NIFC Fire Direction for the BLM. Fourth row: the three regional coordinators for the Cohesive Strategy effort - Larry Mastic (NE), Gary Wood (SE) and Kate Lighthall (W). Photos: Kate Lighthall. 

Over 170 practitioners ranging from national, regional and state leaders to on-the-ground practitioners from across the United States gathered in Reno, NV March 26-29 for a shared learning experience centered around implementation of the Cohesive Strategy. 

The goal of the workshop was to provide a innovative, interactive, learning environment where people can learn from the experiences of others - in terms of success as well as barriers to achievement. With Micro-Talks, hands-on sessions, panel discussions, and an inspiring wrap up from John Ruhs, NIFC Fire Director for the Bureau of Land Management, the Workshop exceeded all our expectations. The program and presentations are archived here. We are looking forward to #CohesiveStrategy2019! Stay tuned for details! More photos and information from the Workshop here. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

WFLC Meets in Colorado Springs - Witnesses Cohesive Strategy Implementation at the Local Level

From top left: Field tour to local children's camp where prescribed fire used immediately adjacent to buildings to reduce risk. 2nd row: subdivision visit to see impacts from 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire and community investment since then; Western Governors Association update at WFLC meeting. 3rd row: visit to Colorado Springs Fire Department to learn about local recovery programs; the WFLC meeting. Photos: Kate Lighthall

Members of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council met in June in Colorado Springs, Colorado to view and understand on-the-ground successes that support WFLC priorities and the goals of the Cohesive Strategy. The first day of the meeting included a field tour that highlighted activities based on Cohesive Strategy principles at the local level including prescribed fire, smoke management, wildfire response, competing priorities, post fire recovery and collaboration. The tour showcased how these activities are working to address challenges, opportunities and successes of partners along the Front Range of Colorado where several destructive fires have taken lives and destroyed over 1,000 homes in the last six years.  

The following day, the group convened to hear updates on priority issues and national legislation from Western Governors Association, the Intertribal Timber Council, the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition, the Council of Western State Foresters and the three Cohesive Strategy Regions.  

WFLC continues to focus on their top priorities provide strategic leadership to their organizations and the Regional Strategy Committees:
  • Work environment  
  • Active Management 
  • Mitigation post fire impacts
  • Integration of technology and data
Through their discussions and viewing of on-the-ground implementation of the Cohesive Strategy, WFLC members and partners gained valuable insight that will continue to set the stage for how local implementation is impacted by policies and directives nationally.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council is an intergovernmental committee of Federal, state, Tribal, county and municipal government officials convened by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Defense and Homeland Security dedicated to consistent implementation of wildland fire policies, goals and management activities. The Council provides strategic recommendations to help ensure policy coordination, accountability and effective implementation of Federal wildland fire management policy and related long-term strategies through a collaborative environment to help ensure effective and efficient wildfire management, promote fire-adapted communities and create resilient landscapes to achieve long-range benefits for society and nature. 

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