What we've learned in other areas of the globe, such as Tanzania, influence our thinking about community-led conservation in nearby areas, such as the Emerald Edge in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington.
Written by Hilary Lundgren, Director of Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition (CWSC)
Photographed by Brain Shurgrue
Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on my porch editing a community After the Fire Resource guide. As I was just about to hit save and shut down the computer to join my family on a camping trip, when my neighbor yelled “What’s up with the flames over the road?” Within a few seconds, I received a call from a friend who moved to town last week asking “Do we need to be worried about smoke? What do we do? Is this normal?” After a quick call to Chelan County Fire District 3 (CCFD3), it was clear that things were “not good.” Homes were being threatened. Early in my career, I spent time digging fireline, working on an engine, and spraying water, i.e., working on the landscape. In this ‘new’ position with the Coalition and as a member of the Fire Adapted Community (FAC) Learning Network, I'd been working with the community. My time and energy has been dedicated to helping to prepare our homes, landscapes, families, and businesses for the inevitable. I had never worked so closely with a community of individuals where life as we know it could change with one ember. Honestly, the moment that I heard that ‘it’ was happening, I froze. And then I cried.
Now what? Were we ready? Was I ready?
We had done our work before the fire. It was now time to trust the work of the landowners--and begin our during the fire work. I took a deep breath, collected myself, packed up my computer and headed down to the station.
When I arrived, the CCFD3 Auxiliary was in full force: answering phones, preparing food for the firefighters, and sharing information. The power was out for many Chumstick area residents and the cell tower had burnt down, so those who lost phone service (which was a significant population of Leavenworth area residents and visitors) were desperate for information. As residents called or stopped by the station, we signed them up for the Chelan County Emergency Alert registry to be notified via text, voicemail, or email of any evacuation or shelter in place notices. (Residents were still able to receive texts.)We shared Incident Management Team and Emergency Management notifications and fire status updates on social media to keep our community informed. As the evening came to a close, the winds died down and fire behavior changed.
On Sunday morning the community was still on high alert and still seeking any type of information. The CWSC took an opportunity to distribute Chelan County Special Needs Registry sign-up forms (the registry allows emergency responders to identify and notify those who may require additional assistance of potential risks and notices during a disaster), evacuation guides, and evacuation level notices (all forms in English & Spanish) at local area churches and the Red Cross temporary shelter. At each stop, at least one person knew someone who would benefit from registering with the County’s Registry. Many of the pastors and priests also service areas outside of the Leavenworth area (Peshastin, Monitor, Cashmere, Wenatchee) and were able to distribute informational materials to Hispanic communities and with rural congregations.
While smoke was in the air, CWSC began to receive calls and photos from landowners who were immediately taking action to reduce their risk. Residents were raking pine needles off of their roof, cleaning gutters, and removing fuels from around their home. (They wanted to know when CWSC, in partnership with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, would be offering a Fuel Reduction and Chipping cost-share program!)
As the fire moved away from homes and into forested areas, the community began to feel a sense of relief. CWSC worked with CCFD3 to distribute After the Fire door hangers (created by FAC Learning Network members) that include post-fire watch-out situations and recovery resources. The Incident Management Team hosted a community meeting where they shared the progress of their efforts. The number of organizations and fire-centric entities and organizations present at the meeting (US Forest Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, NOAA, CCFD3 and Auxiliary members, National Weather Service, Burlington Nothern Railway, Red Cross, Chelan County Public Utility District, Cascadia Conservation District, Chelan-Douglas Health District, Chelan County Roads Department, as well as many others) demonstrated the success of interagency coordination. The CCFD3 Chief, Kelly O’Brien, noted that in his 20+ year career he has never had an incident run so smoothly. Residents were given many accolades for doing their work – preparing their home and landscape – but above all creating a space for response entities to do their job safely and effectively.
At the meeting, CWSC and Cascadia Conservation District were able to share After the Fire resource guides and informational pamphlets generated by the FAC Learning Network and NOAA (and even a few pages from the draft Leavenworth area After the Fire Resource Guide that we were working on when the fire broke out…). CWSC took the opportunity to remind residents that the work is not over. Even though the flames were not at our door-step, a change in weather conditions in combination with the changed landscape still poses a risk (unstable slopes, debris flows, and falling trees are potential post-fire considerations). The CWSC also stressed the importance of contacting insurance agents to verify flood insurance policies.
As I reflect over the last few days, the principals of the prescribed fire 4 Rights Campaign launched by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Pacific Region (shared by a fellow Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network member) keep coming to mind. The 4 rights, Right People, Right Place, Right Time, and Right Choice, can easily be translated to the success of this wildfire incident:
Interagency and community organization coordination, communication, and support resulted in safe and effective response; firefighters from CCFD3 and other local fire districts were prepared and well trained; the CWSC’s connections with partners has allowed us to share information faster and support those seeking assistance (right people). Work of the residents created a landscape to reduce the risk of wildfire to their homes and create defensible space for firefighters (right place). Weather conditions played a significant role in fire behavior and allowed fire fighters to conduct burnout operations resulting in a low-moderate severity burn (right time). Individuals who have taken steps to prepare themselves, their organizations, and community are leading the path toward becoming a truly fire adapted community (Right Choice).
Yesterday it rained. Today the weather is cool and clouds are in the air. Firefighters are packing their tools and refueling their engines and their bodies for the next incident. The plume has turned into a few puffs of smoke. Organizations are assessing the post fire impacts on the landscape and to homeowners. With each conversation and each action, we will learn, we will share, and we will continue to prepare. Maybe next time I won’t cry.
The Chumstick Coalition is the Washington host site of National Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and Member of Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network which are working to engage communities across the Nation and in Washington to take actions to share how they are reducing their risk before, during and after wildfire.
Written by Heather Cole, Puget Sound Community Relations Manager
Photographed by Snohomish Conservation District
Local food and burgeoning partnerships coming together for the first time.
On the banks of the Snohomish River, the Snohomish County agriculture community hosted a farm-to-table event at Swans Trail Farms on Tuesday, Aug. 16. What made this night different from all other nights? This was an event to find middle ground in a landscape barely holding onto its wild salmon and to its local farms. This was an event for the restoration and tribal community to come together with the agriculture community, to share a meal and to engage in real dialogue.
There were more than 70 of us, with mixed and matched seating at round tables in a beautifully restored dairy barn. There were no shortages of big names- Will Stelle (NOAA), Sheida Sahandy (PSP), Mark Clark (Washington State Conservation Commission), Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Terry Williams (Tulalip Tribes), Dan Bartelheimer (Snohomish County Farm Bureau), Snohomish County Council Chair Terry Ryan and Council member Hans Dunshee, to name just a few. But it was the conversations that were most important. I was sitting next to Janet, a NOAA regulator on my right and David, a retired firefighter and veteran cattle rancher on my left. Getting to know each other as people was the first step.
Dinner was a delight for the eyes and the taste buds- locally grown potatoes, beets, carrots, succulent local beef, salad and blueberry cobbler for dessert. Food is something we all share- three times a day.
After our bellies were full and our souls were content, the hard work began. We talked about our ties to the land, our most pressing concerns and ways that we could better work together towards a multi-benefit approach. Each table had a chance to share with the larger group.
The Sustainable Lands Strategy (SLS) was brought up as an example of a Snohomish County collaboration where fish, farm and flood control interests are making more progress working together rather than against each other- through finding multi-benefit actions. Farmers shared their frustrations about acquiring permits and Scott McKinney from the Department of Ecology, said it was difficult for him too to get permits. This brought the house down with laughter.
Daryl Williams, with the Tulalip Tribes, also shared a tribal perspective on agriculture. He shared that when his father was in boarding school, he was forced every day to pick up rocks in order to clear the land for farming. Many tribal elders had these types of bitter memories. However, today the younger tribal members are seeing farming as a way to give their tribal people access to healthy food and medicines. Tribal members have the highest rate of diabetes of any other ethnic group and they found eating a traditional tribal diet would significantly lower their susceptibility to diabetes.
By 8:30 the night was coming to a close, the sun was setting over the Snohomish river and the full moon was resting clearly in the sky. Last night was different from all other nights as barriers were talked about, assumptions were challenged, and most of all organizations were seen as people that were full of possibilities.
Thank you to Mo McBroom and Michelle Dietz from The Nature Conservancy for both attending and participating in the evening and exemplifying TNC support. Thank you to the Snohomish Conservation District for their tireless effort to coordinate and facilitate a tremendous evening. We have a lot more work to do to find agreement, but for now we started the dialogue and we broadened the community.
For our June Volunteer spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to a volunteer who’s seen all of our preserves… but hasn’t necessarily visited all of them in person! Susan Bernstein has been volunteering every Tuesday with our Marketing team on photo management for over a year.
Read below to learn more about how she supports our visual story-telling and why she volunteers!
The Nature Conservancy: What is your volunteer role? Do you volunteer anywhere else?
Susan Bernstein: For over a year now I’ve been helping to move the Washington chapter’s image archive to a cloud-based service (the Photo Vault). The goal is to make a curated collection of interesting and useful photos, mostly taken for The Conservancy by professional and volunteer photographers, available to and easily searchable by staff.
Over the years I’ve volunteered with other Nature Conservancy groups, including Eastern Conservation Science and the Global Marine Team.
TNC: Where are you from? How long have you been living in Seattle?
SB: I’m from Montreal, and have dual Canadian and American citizenship. My husband and I moved to Seattle from the Boston area in 2005 in order to live in the west, where we had always loved to travel. What a great move!
TNC: Anything about your career or schooling you would like to share?
SB: For many years I enjoyed a stimulating career with one of the Internet’s originators in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing programming, product development, and consulting in network and educational technologies. My undergraduate days were spent at McGill University, graduate years at Columbia. I began my professional life as an educational research psychologist.
TNC: What inspired you to start volunteering with The Nature Conservancy?
SB: Originally, I was seduced by the beautiful ecoregional maps made by the science team back east, and volunteered to help. At the time I was really interested in land conservation. As I learned more about biodiversity, freshwater, and oceans, I continued to find ways to work with The Conservancy. Here in Seattle, being able to focus on Washington State interests me.
TNC: What's your favorite thing to do when you're not volunteering?
SB: My husband and I like to take road trips. When we moved here, we decided that we’d visit every one of Washington’s 39 counties, which I think we’ve finally accomplished. We hike, discover geological features, visit wineries and power generators and university campuses, learn a lot, have fun.
TNC: How does volunteering make you feel?
SB: Useful. I really appreciate opportunities to use and extend my skills and knowledge to support conservation. Interacting with folks in the Seattle office is stimulating, as is learning more about Conservancy projects in Washington.
TNC: What is your favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?
SB: I’m not sure I could pick a favorite. Ramsey Canyon Preserve in southern Arizona is a treasure. Closer to home, I love hiking the Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing in any season.