Fire Adapted Colorado

West Region Wildfire Council Informal Learning Exchange Nov 2017

Jonathan Bruno, Chief Operating Officer for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) as well as President-Elect of the Board of Directors for Fire Adapted Colorado recently visited the headquarters of the West Region Wildfire Council (WRWC) in Montrose, CO.

Additionally, and somewhat serendipitously, Hannah Thompson, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for the North Carolina Forest Service, happened to be in the region and was interested in meeting with WRWC staff. Prior to Jonathan’s presentation at the monthly gathering of the West Region Wildfire Council member’s meeting, the Council staff hosted a meeting with Mr. Bruno and Ms. Thompson to discuss and share wildfire adaptation best practices while brainstorming potential solutions for each other’s challenges – an informal learning exchange. Hannah described some of the challenges that she faces as the lead for wildfire mitigation activities in her state agency as well as some of the solution oriented ideas, that she is considering, to address some of those challenges. Jonathan and council staff explained how their programs work and the practices that they utilize to realize effective outcomes that have tangible benefits on the ground. Hannah explained that the North Carolina Forest Service is likely going to be developing and implementing a new or revised cost-share incentive program and is considering utilizing aspects of the WRWC Cost-Share Program as a model for their new program.

Hannah’s knowledge of the WRWC model stems from a Community Meeting Assistance Team assignment in North Carolina – where Jonathan Bruno and other CMAT members worked with Hannah and other community stakeholders to strengthen their existing mitigation programs and activities. This lead Hannah to eventually reach out to the WRWC staff and arrange the November 2017 meeting.

The group learned from Hannah about some of the different challenges that WUI residents face in North Carolina, especially related to the typical fire season in that region as well as the fact that windblown leaves (from deciduous trees and shrubs that make up a large proportion of the fuel type) can create a significant flashy fuel hazard within the home ignition zone – and that these leaves may accumulate immediately ahead of an advancing wildfire.

Practitioners in the arena of wildfire adaptation (including, but not limited to: risk assessment, mitigation and community/ecosystem resiliency) are relatively few and far between – so the opportunity for several leading practitioners (two from Colorado and one from North Carolina) to meet in person and learn from one another directly – presents a fairly rare opportunity for this kind of learning exchange. It is these kinds of opportunities that the Fire Adapted Learning Network as well as Fire Adapted Colorado seek to foster and facilitate.

To round out the opportunity, Jonathan Bruno then gave a presentation to the WRWC members at the monthly Council meeting held at the Montrose Fire Department. Council membership is composed of people from across the six county, western Colorado region representing HOA’s, Fire Districts, County Planning and Emergency Management Departments, the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, the USDA Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management as well others that have an interest in the wildfire issue. Jonathan provided excellent and detailed information and background on CUSP’s nationally recognized, science informed and fully integrated approaches to land management for the betterment of the ecosystem as well as the communities that live within them. Jonathan highlighted CUSP’s history and watershed-wide focus on multi-benefit projects and programs for soil conservation, wildlife habitat, structure/community protection, source water protection and forest health. Jonathan shared some of CUSP’s key lessons learned, including the need to have a diverse portfolio of projects and disciplines, the need to use science and the importance of being inclusive, setting realistic goals and getting creative with potential funding mechanisms.

Overall, the informal and serendipitous learning exchange is a product of the growing statewide and national networks of wildfire adaptation practitioners. When it comes to wildfire, the challenges that all of our communities face are too extensive and complex to face alone… when opportunity knocks… we can, and we should, learn from one another.