A Thank you to a mitigation pioneer
I remember this particular moment well: I was sitting on the back patio of my suburban home on the Front Range of Colorado with my wife, Jennifer. It was a nondescript, lazy weekend day. As the Operations Director at the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, I had just finished a week of field work that involved out-of-state volunteers, chipper breakdowns, and saw work. The phone rang showing a number from Boise. As a true collaborator and team player, I let it go straight to voicemail. After the message bell chimed, I listened to the voice mail.
“Hello, this is Pam Leschak, National Wildland Urban Interface/Fire Adapted Communities Program Manager for the US Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management for the Washington DC office. Please give me a call as soon as you can.”
Oh no, I thought. Who’s mad at me now? What have I done wrong?
Curiosity got the better of me; I called Pam back immediately. You see, I have worked in partnership with the USFS for years and never once had a Forest Service employee reached out to me on a weekend; let alone someone from the D.C office; let alone Pam Leschak!
A year earlier I had met Pam at the first partnership meeting of the newly minted Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC-LN) in Boise. It was the first time I met other wildfire mitigation folks from across the country. At the meeting I presented on what fire adaptation meant to my organization. I whizzed through slides on our fuels work, the chipper program, the suppression module, on post-fire recovery efforts and tree plantings, volunteers and our successes.
When I finished, Pam thanked me and noted very simply, “this meeting is not about post-fire; it is about wildfire mitigation.”
That interaction in Boise, led me to believe that the call was regarding my lack of understanding of wildfire mitigation… or worse. But, on the call, Pam noted a need to change the trajectory. She mentioned that the current process was not working and that we needed to all do something different – we needed to help. At the time of the call, the Chelan Complex and First Creek wildfires in Washington State were slowing down, but had burned across a large landscape. The communities of Lake Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Chelan were feeling the heat. Pam had been contemplating the idea of a mitigation strike team for some time—a group of mitigation subject matter experts, many of whom were involved in that first Fire Adapted Communities meeting, who could drop everything to help a community increase their resilience to wildfire. She asked if I was interested.
Of course I was.