Recently, I spent 6 days at the FEMA National Fire Academy in Maryland in a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) class, (I graduated!). A CWPP is a written plan or road map that a community uses to prepare for wildfires that require local resources to protect the community much like we did with our recent wildfires.
A CWPP is designed through collaboration between state and local fire agencies, homeowners, and interested stakeholders. The plan implements the community’s values and serves to protect natural and community resources and public safety. Planning also enables communities to address their development patterns in the Wildland Urban Interface and determine how they can reduce their risk through alternative development patterns. The plan includes prioritized recommendations for the appropriate types and methods of fuel reduction and structure ignitability reduction that will protect the community’s essential infrastructure.
Specifically, the plan includes community-centered actions that will:
Educate citizens on wildfire, and ways to protect lives and property;
Support fire rescue and suppression entities;
Focus on collaborative decision-making and citizen participation;
and Develop and implement effective mitigation strategies.
CWPP plans are updated approximately every five years in conjunction with the county Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) provided communities with a tremendous opportunity to influence where and how federal agencies implement fuel reduction projects on federal lands.
For more than a decade, Congress has made the protection of communities from wildfire a national priority. Yet, since the establishment of the National Fire Plan (2000) and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA 2003) the issues regarding deteriorating health of our forests and the need for greater community protection from wildfire are still prominent. Fire suppression costs have exceeded $1 billion in recent fire seasons so communities, interest groups, and land management agencies must continue to express their concerns to Congress regarding mounting risks to life, property, and the environment. A Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is the most effective way to take advantage of this opportunity. Additionally, communities with Community Wildfire Protection Plans in place will be given priority for funding of hazardous fuels reduction projects carried out under the auspices of the HFRA. Fires are usually costlier to suppress in the wildland-urban interface – the areas where homes are intermixed with forests and wildlands. Debris burning in the WUI is the most frequent human cause of wildfires, but these human-caused fires can be prevented and the excessive cost of fire suppression reduced. The first step in wildfire prevention education is to raise awareness of the responsibilities of living in a fire-prone environment.
The CWPP collaborative process is effective in improving coordination and communication between emergency response agencies and the community. The goal of protecting communities and natural resources from wildfire cannot be accomplished by any one person or entity so we must work together to identify and pursue a pathway to success thru collaboration. Collaboration is simply people working together to address a shared problem that no one of them could effectively resolve alone. Each participant brings to the effort knowledge, skills, ideas, and resources, and these decision-makers need to stay actively engaged throughout the collaborative process, and the other participants need to know what the collaborative group’s “decision space” is and how much weight its recommendations will carry with the decision-makers.
The use of a collaborative process is one of the requirements that Congress established for a CWPP. Developing and adopting a CWPP opens the door to significant local community benefits, including being able to:
1) define and set the boundaries of the community’s WUI;
2) identify and prioritize areas for hazardous fuel-reduction treatments on USFS lands in the WUI;
3) recommend the types and methods of treatment to be used; and
4) influence how federal funds for projects on non-federal WUI lands may be obtained.
Additionally, the collaboration should stimulate or strengthen local efforts to reduce structural ignitability, enhance emergency management and communication, and foster public education and action to reduce wildfire risk to life and property. Perhaps most importantly, collaborative processes help build trust and good working relationships among the participants. Effective collaboration ensures that all bases are covered in the planning process, that potential problems or roadblocks are identified and dealt with, and that good use is made of available time and money. It builds strong local support for the CWPP. Getting and Keeping People engaged with the process is important to keep the process moving toward developing the emergency plan.
Our local Firewise/FAC Citizen’s Coalitions that have been developed in recent years are the collaborative group that makes this happen and creates among the members a sense of ownership that takes the process to the people to protect them from wildfire. For more information on CWPP contact Frank Riley, Executive Director, Chestatee-Chattahoochee RC&D Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.