wildfire

Resilient Forests, Resilient Communities

Resilient Forests, Resilient Communities

A bill in the state Senate would fund much-needed wildfire prevention, suppression and preparedness activities, investing in the health of Washington’s iconic forests and the resilience of our communities.

Urge Congress to Support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Urge Congress to Support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would allow the Forest Service to access disaster funding rather than having to "borrow" from its regular forest health accounts to fight wildfire. Learn how you can support the effort.

Hot Topic: Wildfires and Wildlife

With the onset of climate change and growing human populations, more people are severely impacted by wildfires. But humans aren’t alone in losing their homes to wildfires—animals are also at risk.

Join our forest ecologist Ryan Haugo along with other wildlife and fire experts for a conversation about Washington’s increasingly hot landscape and the animals within struggling to survive.


Tuesday, Oct. 4
Naked City Brewery
8564 Greenwood Ave. N.
7 p.m.

Note this is a 21 and over event. 


Panelists include:

·        Paul Hessburg, Research Landscape Ecologist, USDA-Forest Service

·        Ryan Haugo, Senior Forest Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy

·        Jim Watson, Wildlife Research Scientist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Moderated by Fred Koontz, Vice President of Field Conservation, Woodland Park Zoo

 

Space is limited! Click here to register. 


What Not To Do When a Wildfire Threatens Your Home

Written by Patricia Sarmiento, Volunteer writer
Photograph by John Marshall

Emotions run high when disaster strikes. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on disaster preparedness and make plans for what you’ll do during a wildfire before one ever comes your way.

There’s a few do’s and don’ts of reacting to an emergency wildfire situation. Many of us already know the do’s, so here’s a reminder of what you shouldn’t do during a wildfire.

Don’t Assume Everyone’s Clued In

Call 911 immediately–don’t assume someone else already has. Don’t assume your neighbors and local loved ones know about the wildfire breakout, especially if they’re at work or school in another area. Notify everyone of the potential danger.

Go ahead and get in touch with everyone in your family so you can talk about setting your wildfire action plan into motion.

Don’t Leave Your Home without Taking a Few Precautions

Unless you need to leave your home as soon as possible, go ahead and beef up your home’s ability to withstand a nearby fire by taking a few precautions such as:

  • Removing debris, yard waste, and firewood from your yard

  • Distancing your grill from your home

  • Shutting off all gas and propane suppliers

  • Closing windows, vents, and doors

But remember–lives are always more precious than things. If you feel unsafe while preparing your home for a nearby wildfire, leave immediately.

Don’t Wait to Take Action

Before you take precautions for protecting your home, know what your criteria are for deciding to evacuate. At what point will you know that it’s time to pack up and go?

Having this criteria in mind before you put your home-preparedness plans in motion will help keep you focused during times of panic. Know when you need to drop what you’re doing and get out and don’t be afraid to leave earlier than planned if you feel unsafe.

Don’t Return to Your Home without Permission

If you do evacuate, be prepared to leave for good, or at least for an extended period of time. Don’t return to your home without checking in with the proper authorities first. Don’t assume your neighborhood is safe again when there’s a possibility it might not be.

This is why it’s a good idea to keep a battery-powered radio in your emergency wildfire kit. You’ll be able to tune into the news and stay updated on the status of the wildfire.

Hopefully you’ll never need to use these disaster plans–but if a wildfire ever strikes, you’ll be glad you made them. Remember that when it comes to wildfires and other natural disasters, a detailed plan can be the most powerful tool in your toolkit.


Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their shih tzu in Maryland.

IN THE NEWS ON FIRE

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Photography by John Marshall

Once again our state has set a grim record. For the second summer in a row, we are experiencing the largest wildfire in our state’s history. Nearly 1 million acres have burned, hundreds of homes have been lost, and, most devastating, three firefighters lost their lives fighting the blazes that blanket North Central Washington.

Read our Board Chair Byron Bishop’s guest opinion column about actions we can take now to reduce the threat. It appeared in the Seattle Times, Sunday, Sept. 6

The Conservancy has been advocating for and working on strategies to improve our resilience to these megafires.

Here’s a roundup of recent news coverage:

Seattle Times, Nov. 9: Legislature needs to provide the funding to pre-empt wildfires

Seattle Times editorial on the need for Legislative funding for fire solutions

Seattle Times, Nov. 9: Congress needs to address wildfires like any other disaster

Seattle Times editorial in support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which is a Nature Conservancy priority for Congress. It would bring funding stability to the Forest Service, which has to spend money designated for improvements on fighting fires.

KING-TV, Oct. 15: Forest restored to pre-wildfire condition

KING TV’s new environmental reporter, Alison Morrow, did a feature story on the collaborative restoration project at Oak Creek Wildlife Area, designed to make the forest more resilient in the face of wildfire.

Seattle Times, Oct. 11: Fighting Fire With Fire

Front-page storyon the importance of controlled burning in fighting wildfire, and the barriers to getting more done in Washington:

“We have a set of regulations that are fairly outdated,” said Reese Lolley, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Eastern Washington Forest Program. “More and more, I think we are looking at how do we better live with fire, and how do we use it as a tool.”

Our forest scientists played a critical role in helping the reporters develop the story.

The Olympian, Sept. 27: Dramatic climate shifts require attention to forests, water

Guest opinion column by Washington State Director Mike Stevens and Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Wenatchee World, Aug. 30: Preparing for the next megafire

“The federal and state agencies, local government, and stakeholders through groups like the Nature Conservancy and the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, know what to do and are ready to go.”

Tri-City Herald, Aug. 28: Wildfires should have natural disaster status

“Federal Agencies have run short of wildfire suppression money eight times since 2002, according to The Nature Conservancy in Washington State.”

Seattle Times, Aug. 26: Why we have such large wildfires this summer

“Analysis by the Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service found that about 30 percent (2.7 million acres) of Eastern Washington federal, state, tribal and private forestland needs some kind of thinning or treatment to reduce the risk of wildfire. That could include cutting smaller trees or using planned fires to thin the forest.”

Wenatchee World, Aug. 19: We burn, but we have initiative

“‘We need to be proactive in reducing these hazardous fuels,’ said Lloyd McGee of the Nature Conservancy. That requires controlled burns and mechanical treatment.”

Yakima Herald, Aug. 19: New tools needed to improve wildfire prevention

“Collaborative efforts between the state, the Forest Service and the Yakama Nation at thinning fuel and restoring forest health have reduced fire risks, said Mary Sutton Carruthers, coordinator of the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative.”

Wenatchee World, Aug. 18: Leaders search for solutions for wildfire management

“‘We’re fighting a war. To win a war sometime we have to learn how to live with the enemy,’ said Lloyd McGee, Eastern Washington Forests Program manager for The Nature Conservancy.”

Yakima Herald, Aug. 6: Advocating for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

“‘We’re going to fight these fires and pay for them one way or another, but this sets up a more rational way of funding that doesn’t impact other programs,’ said Cathy Baker, governmental relations director for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. ‘We’re really pleased with the strong bipartisan support for solving this. They just haven’t gotten there yet.’”

Preparing for fire in Washington

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How communities are working to increase their resilience in the face of fire.

Written and Photographed by Mary Sutton Carruthers, Tapash Collaborative Coordinator and Reese Lolley, Eastern WA Forests Program Director

We are in the midst of what is now the largest wildfire season on record in Washington with forecasts of dry lightning potentially igniting new fires. All corners of our state are burning or have burned this summer. Most residents have felt the effects of smoke and many are reeling from the destruction of personal property, and most devastating of all is the tragic injury and loss of life of those bravely protecting what we value. Washingtonians are realizing that there is a collective and individual responsibility to increase the resiliency of our communities, forests, grasslands, and our ability to proactively live with wildfire.

This type of disaster resilience is built at the community scale and with that in mind, The Nature Conservancy and its partners has supported the establishment of Fire Adapted Communities both regionally and nationally. From a homeowner clearing out brush around their house and making exterior improvements to resist fire, to county residents and organizations coming together to create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, to county governments and builders working together to make homes safer and less likely to burn, to businesses developing disaster resilience plans, to state, federal, and private organizations working together to achieve landscape scale forest restoration, Fire Adapted Communities assume responsibility for living in a wildfire prone landscape by taking pro-active steps towards increasing resiliency before, during, and after a fire. While firefighters have an immensely important and sometimes dangerous role, individuals and communities can take responsibly and make investments before fires that make wildfire response safer and more effective.

Fire Adapted Communities also incorporate many existing programs to help residents better prepare for wildfire including the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Communities program and the International Association of Fire Chiefs Ready, Set, Go! program.

The Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (WAFAC) was launched earlier this year and provides member communities with resources to engage with other WAFAC participants so that they can share information, resources and lessons learned. Learning networks connect and support people and organizations that are leaders in their communities, passionate problem solvers and want to share what makes a difference with the goal of accelerating existing and developing new approaches to preparing before, during and after wildfire. Currently, the communities in Washington include Okanogan, Chelan- Leavenworth, Yakima, Kittitas, San Juan, and Lincoln counties, as well as the Flowery Trails Community Association in Stevens County and the Seattle City Light-Skagit Hydroelectric Project in Whatcom County. These communities are educating residents on what they can do to prepare for the inevitable wildfire. They are reaching out to builders, home owners associations, county commissioners, businesses, and insurance companies to spark the discussion about how to collaborate to increase resiliency, and they are engaging landowners over best management practices following wildfires.

This year, we grieve for the lives lost in the act of protecting us from wildfires. We are in shock that north central Washington is leading again with an unprecedented amount of wildfire. Fire has touched us all, from the Idaho border to shrub-steppe lands around Moses Coulee to the San Juan’s to the outskirts of the Hoh Rainforest, and in many places and communities in-between. The importance of working to make these great places and landscapes more resilient and neighboring communities safer have never been more apparent. The Nature Conservancy is leading these efforts by supporting Fire Learning Network, Fire Adapted Communities, Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and through their membership in forest collaboratives working to increase the pace and scale of large watershed restoration, and through their support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.

While current trends and climate science indicate that wildfire season is lengthening and acres burned will continue to grow in orders of magnitude compared to last century, there are actions we can take to increase our resilience and reduce the costs to people and nature living in a landscape that is on fire. Let’s not wait this time. Read more about two solutions we believe can provide relief from the worst of today’s megafires: through funding & improving management.

Minimizing the Impact of Megafires: Funding and Improving Management

Two Strategies for Consideration at Senate Committee Hearing in Seattle

Written by Carrie Krueger, Director of Marketing
Photographed by John Marshall

As the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets in Seattle to examine this summer’s disastrous fires, The Nature Conservancy encourages the Committee to focus on two solutions the organization believes can provide relief from the worst of today’s megafires:

1. Support and fund the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy: The Cohesive Strategy is the result of a five-year collaborative planning effort that aligns governments at all levels to help develop fire-adapted communities, resilient landscapes, and to improve wildfire operations. It provides an approved mechanism to get all layers of government working together, including cities, counties, states, Tribes and Federal Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Homeland Security. The Cohesive Strategy works to:

  • Manage vegetation and fuels through thinning and controlled burns;
  • Protect homes, communities, and other assets;
  • Manage human-caused ignitions
  • Effectively and efficiently respond to fire.

2. Fix the way emergency firefighting is funded by passing a fire-funding solution such as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA): As the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior suppress the emergency fires, they have to dip into funds set aside for other projects—including some of those that can help reduce the risk of fires in the first place. This is different from how other natural disasters are paid for, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. The Nature Conservancy encourages Congress to continue its work to find a bipartisan solution to fix the fire-funding problem, like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA) that creates a disaster funding process for emergency wildfires. WDFA has the support of hundreds of conservation, forestry, outdoor industry, sportsmen’s organizations and more.

“Today the Forest Service has already spent close to all of its firefighting budget for the year, so we know they will need to transfer money away from other programs soon—affecting programs that conserve the water, wildlife and wood resources our forests provide,” said Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy. “We need a solution now to stop crippling the federal agencies managing our natural assets with disruptive funding shortfalls.”

“Climate change, drought, and insects and disease, and more people living closer to forests have created an urgent need for restoration,” said Mike Stevens, Washington State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “Only a commitment to restoration and the funding necessary to make it happen at scale can break the cycle of catastrophic fires that are taking such a tremendous toll on our state.”

America’s forests are the source of half our nation’s water; support one million forest product jobs; grow the largest and oldest trees in the world; are home to thousands of American wildlife species; and generate more than $14 billion of recreation and other economic activity on Forest Service lands alone.

Today these essential benefits are in jeopardy, due to the unhealthy state of our forests and the dangerous megafires that result from these conditions. For example:

  • The U.S. Forest Service estimates more than 100,000 square miles of the forests they manage—an area bigger than Oregon—is now at risk for megafire.
  • 55 years of records from the National Interagency Fire Center reveal that nine out of our 10 largest fire seasons have occurred after 2000, with three of our largest fire seasons coming since 2006.
  • Since 2007, six states have experienced record-sized fires—Arizona, California, Georgia, Texas, New Mexico and Washington. New Mexico and Washington each broke their own records twice in this time period.
  • Insurance experts estimate there are nearly 900,000 residential properties (worth a total of $237 billion) at “high” to “very high” risk of wildfire in 2015.

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Wildfire’s Cycle of Renewal on the Eastern Washington Landscape

Written by Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources
Photographs by Washington State Department of Natural Resources

In mid-June, I stood with TNC’s Washington State Director Mike Stevens and a group of biologists and foresters at the top of Three Devils Road, in the heart of the devastation wreaked by Washington’s 2014 Carlton Complex fire. As we looked across the valley in Okanogan County, we saw hills spiked with blackened trees, almost as far as the eye could see.  

Under the glare of the June sun, I felt a renewed sense of grief for the loss of homes, habitat and forestlands taken by that firestorm, which had destructive power and speed unmatched in Washington’s wildfire history.

As Washington’s elected Commissioner of Public Lands, I have responsibility for the Department of Natural Resources, which manages 5.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic, forest, agricultural and rangelands. As part of that responsibility, I oversee the state’s major wildfire fighting force, which protects 13 million acres of state and private lands. I am also charged with protecting forest health.  

The long-term health and resilience of this magnificent landscape was the purpose of our mid-June trip. Along with Mike and his TNC team, we had with us DNR foresters who have decades of experience in fighting fire and planting trees over these hills. In addition, we had renowned University of Washington professor Jerry Franklin, whose definitive work on forest ecology is essential reading for those of us who care deeply about this topic. University of Washington professor Jon Bakker, an ecologist with expertise in ecological restoration, brought an additional dimension of knowledge to our group.

What can we do to build resilience and help healthy forests flourish in this region? As we walked the hills and pondered, we noted how dry-pine forests in eastern Washington have extended their range over the last 100 years. There was discussion among us about the effect of that extension on forest health, and whether it might be the result of historic fire suppression.  

As we looked closer at the burned landscape, we saw grass and wildflowers on some of the hills. Proud, old “yellowbelly” Ponderosa pines, native to our region, were standing scorched but alive in their groves. In other areas, small timber salvage operations were underway to assist local economic recovery and help DNR meet its obligations to the state trust.

While the people and the landscape will long bear the marks of the Carlton Complex, the cycle of renewal of this fire-prone landscape has begun again.  This time around, we should strive to build resilience into these native forests that will help them better endure the inevitable vicissitudes of wildfire.

LEGISLATORS PUT $10 MILLION TOWARD FIRE-RISK REDUCTION

SEATTLE — On Tuesday, the Legislature approved $10 million in the capital budget for forest hazard reduction by the state Department of Natural Resources, the largest single increase in funding for forest health ever made by the state, but just half of what was originally requested.

Already this year there have been 324 wildfires across Washington. Last year’s fire season was the biggest on record in the state, with the largest fire — the Carlton Complex — destroying more than 250,000 acres. More than 1 million acres of Washington’s landscape has been consumed by wildfire since 2009.

“As we approach an unprecedented wildfire season due to changing climate and decades of fire suppression, these investments are more critical than ever,” said Mike Stevens, The Nature Conservancy’s Washington state director. “While this represents the single largest legislative appropriation for forest health, there is much more that we need to do to ensure resilient communities and forests in face of increasing amounts of fire.”

“The health of our forests is important to wildfire prevention.  Dead or dying trees are fuel for potentially catastrophic wildfire,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who leads DNR. “We appreciate the Legislature’s investment in this critical effort to improve forest health and the resilience of Washington forests.” 

Fire and forest health experts believe some of the uptick in the number of fires earlier in the season is due to years of persistent drought on the east side of the Cascades, which have weakened forests and made them more susceptible to insects and disease. Ailing forests become flammable “tinder bombs,” ready to ignite from a human-caused spark or lightning strike.

The appropriation includes $9 million for forest hazard reduction work on state and in certain circumstances, private non-industrial timber lands, to reduce the risk of fire, insect and disease to state lands, and $1 million for grants to local communities for the Firewise program, which helps communities take action to increase public safety, and reduce wildfire risk and losses.

DNR and a coalition of advocates developed the original $20 million capital budget request based on an October 2014 report to the state legislature titled “Eastern Washington Forest Health: Hazards, Accomplishments and Restoration Strategy.”

Up-front investments in in forest treatment can save millions in lost asset value for state forests and firefighting costs, protect homes and other property, and generate immediate economic benefits. Recent studies indicate that $1 invested in restoration can yield $1.60 in wildfire suppression cost reductions, and that $1 invested in restoration also generates $6 in overall economic benefit.

The following links offer additional information on the importance of forest health and its relationship to wildfire:

KING 5: Bug infested forests raise fire danger in Washington

KOMO 4: DNR: ‘These forests are tinder bombs’

CONTACT

Tom Bugert
The Nature Conservancy 
(509) 885-6991
tom.bugert@tnc.org