The Action, Implementation and Mitigation Program
It’s that time again, the time when reflection and hope are paramount as we ring in a new year. 2020 has been a unique year that will certainly go down in history. Covid-19 changed many aspects of our lives from how we work to how we spend our free time. But one thing that has not changed is the need for us to adapt and live better with fire and to mitigate the risk in our communities before the next wildfire season arrives.
This year 49,815 fires burned over 8.75 million acres (https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm). Our friends and affiliates with the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition in Colorado, Plumas County Fire Safe Council (PCFSC), Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC), and Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council (YSRCDC) in California had busy fire years, while other affiliates endured smoky days and lesser known incidents. The Cameron Peak Fire burned into the Big Thompson watershed while the Creek Fire forced some YSRCDC members to evacuate, and SRRC members focused their time on emergency home hardening efforts in their communities due to the approaching Red Salmon Fire. To say that the year has been trying seems to be an understatement of the challenges we have all endured. Yet through perseverance, organizations across the country have accomplished so much. Like the tallest pine, our resolve and strength stands tall even in the heaviest of storms. With 2020 coming to an end we wanted to share some of the collective successes of the many programs offered by Coalitions & Collaboratives.
The Action, Implementation and Mitigation (AIM) partnership released three rounds of funding in 2020, funding over five-hundred thousand dollars of capacity building projects to twelve organizations from California, Colorado, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and Hawaii. A special summer round of funding was released to address Covid-19 impacts to wildfire organizations experiencing a reduction in staff. The third round of funding is still in process, and when completed will reach close to $1 million in grants. AIM grants are awarded on a competitive basis, focusing on increasing local resources and reducing wildfire risk in high risk communities. Projects include the development of burn plans, creation of new positions and implementation of project work within the wildland urban interface. As we look forward to 2021, Coalitions & Collaboratives will be offering two funding opportunities in the spring and fall.
The Mitigation Field Guide
AIM team members have been working over the past 12 months creating the Mitigation Field Guide. The guide will be similar to the Incident Response Pocket Guide for fire professionals, however, the content will focus on useful tools, guidance and quick resources for the mitigation specialist. The pocket guide will be a resource that can be used by all mitigation professionals and includes extensive mitigation information including mitigation guiding principles and information that mitigation professionals can use at all stages of mitigation activities. The guide is in the draft phase and we hope it will be released soon.
Funding is only one component of a successful wildfire mitigation program. A few other essential elements are tenacity, strategic planning, community understanding and trust, effective partnerships, and support. Reducing community wildfire risk is no easy task! Often mitigation professionals need to plan for A, B, and C because weather or community buy-in are not always in a project’s favor.
Wildfire organizations are committed to a more resilient future, and contain a unique band of professionals who have stood up and challenged the status quo, operating with passion, navigating social, political and environmental mitigation challenges with their hearts on their sleeves. With this in mind, COCO expanded the Mitigation Mentors program to support wildfire mitigation professionals during any part of their journey, whether they are AIM awardees or not.
“Wildfire risk reduction activities are not easy and require passion and skill. When we first started developing the wildfire risk reduction programs at the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, we faced a steep learning curve. We made mistakes and learned hard lessons. If only we had someone to guide us through the work and steer us away from pitfalls- someone that could have shared what works and what does not, someone who shared Mitigation Best Practices. The Mitigation Mentors Program is based on this simple idea: share mitigation best practices and provide critical support as you embark on your risk reduction journey.”
Every AIM awardee is assigned a Mitigation Mentor for the life of their grant, with intentions to create lasting relationships that continue many years into the future. We are proud to say that the one-on-one mentor relationships have been successful in helping organizations reach their mitigation goals, even though the conversations and guidance occured on a Zoom call instead of face to face. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on, someone to bounce ideas off and to seek guidance from; the Mitigation Mentors program is here to help.
A few highlights from the Mitigation Mentors Program in 2020:
- Conducted a virtual S-212 Wildland Fire Chainsaws for Meade County FireWise. During this virtual training, Mentors provided real life and real world examples from years of experience
- Hosted a virtual Home Ignition Zone training
- Supported the review and development of a job description and tasks for a new mitigation employee
- Helped with risk assessments using the Interagency Fuel Treatment Decision Support System
- Assisted two organizations develop templates to conduct Home Ignition Zone Surveys
- Assisting in the establishment of a new non-profit in northern Colorado
Thanks to all of the mentors and to all of you for asking the hard questions and doing the hard work!
Mitigation Best Practices (MBP)
training & Job Aids
Since 2016, COCO has worked to increase the professional skills of the Mitigation Specialist through the development of training and resources. You may have heard us refer to the Mitigation Infrastructure as our strategy. To facilitate the expansion of the Mitigation Infrastructure, the Mitigation Best Practices training was created and is the first of its kind.
We believe (and social science research has shown) that most high-risk communities recognize the need to mitigate fire risk and want to take action but do not have the resources to move mitigation forward. In other words, the biggest barrier to community fire adaptation is not motivation or desire at the community level, it’s the lack of local capacity. While billions of dollars have been spent developing a state-of-the-art wildfire response infrastructure that provides consistent training and qualifications, a leadership structure, and a secure funding stream, far less has been spent building, maintaining, and strengthening local community wildfire risk reduction efforts.
To help close the gap, the Mitigation Best Practices course provides training to mitigation practitioners to build local capacity and maximize resources. The training helps professionals overcome daunting challenges, such as a shortage of staff or equipment, and unreliable funding sources. We must spend our time looking for project funding at the expense of on-the-ground action. The need exists to develop an infrastructure, like that of the suppression world.
In 2020 COCO hosted two Mitigation Best Practice trainings. One in-person training was held in Boise, Idaho in February and one virtual training was held in the summer. A total of 56 students completed the training. Seventeen participants from eight states completed the virtual training and we received very positive feedback from participants on the online format. Communications with the U.S. Fire Administration are underway to increase the number of individuals we can reach. Until then, a new session of the virtual training will take place February 1, 2021 and with a full class roster.
Please join us in future trainings by visiting the MBP training page and signing up for the waitlist!
Mitigation Best Practices Toolbox
The amount of information available on the internet can be daunting. Far too often we are sent links, videos, maps and stories; usually without time to review all these resources. In consideration of this and out of the utmost respect for your time, we have developed a curated Mitigation Toolbox that is available on the COCO website. The toolbox contains vetted information about all facets of mitigation from capacity building, funding, building and maintaining partnerships, and structure hardening that we believe is high quality and that will be useful to you. Click here to view the toolbox!
Community Mitigation Assistance Team
CMAT has developed Covid-19 procedures and protocols with a designated USFS Covid-19 liaison. One of the ways the team is adapting is by implementing a hybrid approach where Team members participate in-person and virtually. This style was used during a CMAT with Teller County in Colorado and was well received.
New CMAT member training is set to take place in March of 2021. Virtual trainings and hybrid CMATs will allow the team to safely continue helping communities that are requesting assistance.
To learn more about the CMAT program or to read the Teller County report please visit COCO’s CMAT page!
A year to Remember
The COCO team looks forward to continuing our work, helping organizations overcome obstacles they are facing to achieve their mitigation goals whether it be through funding, training or mentorship. The 2020 successes have all come to be because of our partnerships and relationships with the organizations we are lucky to work with. We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together in 2021!