Summer after summer, Washington residents are living with thick smoke, intense wildfires and evacuations in and around our communities. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Our priorities for the 2019 Legislature touch upon all our work, and all our lives, whether we live in the Palouse, along the coast, or in between. They include tackling climate change, protecting the natural and cultural wealth that makes Washington special, and improving equity in environmental policymaking so that all of us can benefit from cleaner, healthier air and water.
Written & Photographed by Reese Lolley, Director, Forest Restoration and Fire
Last week was the second annual Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network communities and steering committee workshop! It was held in Wenatchee where seven communities shared their outcomes of being in the trenches for a year, and three new communities were brought on to learn about how Fire Adapted Communities provide a framework and approach to adapt to live in fire prone environments and reduce community risk.
There are three elements of being prepared and resilient to increasing amounts of fire predicted in Washington:
To put unwanted fires out effectively to project people and places, and manage those that can have defined benefit.
While The Nature Conservancy does not have a large role , there is a nexus. Traditionally, the act of suppression has been the focus.
Greater than 2.7M acres of forests east of the Cascade crest are in need of active restoration (thinning and or controlled burning). Water, wildlife, and fire do not recognize ownership boundaries. Working in large watersheds, using strong restoration evidence base to set initial goals, collaboratives plan and coordinate projects leveraging resources across ownerships to increase pace and scale of outcomes having a collective positive impact.
FIRE ADAPTED COMMUNITIES (LEARNING NETWORK)
Empower people in communities to take action to prepare, reduce risk, share lessons learned and be resilient living in a fire environment. Learning Networks are developed to accelerate growth and develop innovations, to engage solutions for complex problems.
It's amazing what the local community along with partners and The Nature Conservancy have accomplished in three short years:
- Washington was the first National Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network member to expand to a statewide FAC network, which is now being replicated in other states.
- $500,000 invested by Bureau of Land Management into the state network.
- We have fostered organizational and fiscal capacity of the South Central Resource Conservation and Development Council for future management of this effort.
- We've engaged a WA-FAC steering committee of Federal, state, private, and NGO organizations that provide member communities with greater access to resources as well as facilitating understanding and sharing across and within organization silos of excellence (just recently brought on State Commerce).
- We have ten communities across the state that are taking a diverse set of actions that is reducing their wildfire risk, and sharing those lessons learned with each other with various tools within the network as well as sharing outside the network with other communities, including policy makers.
It is exciting to see these results not only making a difference in communities, but also for how this work indirectly supports our lands work in creating more resilient forest conditions for wildlife, water, and people.
From one Fire Chief engaged in WA-FAC-LN said, “there was no way a year ago I would of signed onto a letter to the Governor encouraging him to sign a Prescribed Fire Pilot Bill and exclaiming how important controlled burning is as a part of the soultion," but how excited he was do so recently, to a Northeast Washington home owner association member at last week’s meeting making a statement to the group that “in Washington we need to learn to live with fire, that by engaging communities and supporting their efforts in reducing risk, it will allow land managers to manage a lot more fire for multiple objectives that will in turn make forests more resilient and communities safer."
Changes in culture are hard to measure, while we are far from community members taking actions to prepare for fire being as normal as preparing for an earthquake in San Francisco or living in a flood zone, we are trending in the right direction!
This is a testament to what can be done with a little vision, leadership and developing and working with a network of committed partners!